The antecedent brewery to Anheuser Busch was founded in St. Louis in 1852, setting a precedent of high achievement in local brewing that continues to this day. Demand for breweries in St. Louis has been strong since and now supports a thriving craft scene of remarkably high quality, from hidden gems to breweries of international renown. In this article, I survey several notable craft breweries in St. Louis and the surrounding area.
Side Project Brewing
Leading the city’s beer scene in terms of both quality and innovation, Side Project Brewing is heavily influenced by brewing and blending techniques developed in the Zenne Valley in Flemish Belgium. Side Project specializes in barrel-aged beers such as the wild-fermented lambics, fruited sours, imperial stouts, and barley wines. Side Project also produces a handful of aged dry-hopped beers and IPAs under its ‘Shared’ brand. Side Project excels at each approach, though the aged imperial stouts are particularly worth seeking out.
In 2019, RateBeer ranked Side Project Brewing among the top-10 breweries in the world. Side Project has two locations within two blocks of each other: one location is the actual brewery, while the other, called The Cellar, has an extensive list of offerings from its own brewery (and many others) along with one of the most extensive whiskey lists in St. Louis. Most ‘releases,’ whereby beer is sold for off-site consumption, occur on Saturdays at noon from the back door of the brewery. Lines for releases often extend for blocks, while bottle shares take place in the parking lot prior to the release. It is not uncommon for some of the brewery’s most sought after stouts, including Derrivation, Beer:Barrel:Time, and O.W.K., to fetch more than $500 a bottle on the secondary market.
While the beer at Side Project is exceptional, be prepared for an atmosphere very aware of its own significance, as there is no food on offer and tabs could easily exceed a hundred dollars for patrons not driving. Regardless, any real craft beer enthusiasts should make this their first stop for beer in St. Louis.
Narrow Gauge Brewing Company
Another requisite St. Louis craft-brew destination is Narrow Gauge Brewing Company, which specializes in hazy, New England-style IPAs. Narrow Gauge produces a number of full-flavored dry-hopped IPAs with strong notes of tropical fruits and the notable lack of any pronounced, piney bitterness. Narrow Gauge brews its beer from the back of an unassuming Italian restaurant called Cuigino’s, where menu highlights include stuffed meatballs and the St. Louis original toasted (i.e. fried) raviolis.
2nd Shift Brewing
2nd Shift Brewing is among the most underrated breweries in St. Louis. 2nd Shift moved its operations from New Haven to the Hill neighborhood of the city in 2016, where it occupies a large, open, warehouse-like space. The atmosphere of the brewery is laid-back and casual, while the staff are friendly and knowledgeable. 2nd Shift offers a remarkably diverse lineup of beers from light lagers and wheat beers to double IPAs and barrel-aged stouts, in addition to a number of impressive barrel-aged sours. Highlights include the bourbon barrel-aged stout Liquid Spiritual Delight, Don’s Dirty Dozen (aged with 12 strains of Brettanomyces), and the popular Belgian-style Hibiscus Wit. In addition to fantastic beer, 2nd Shift has tasty food served out of a walk-up window by local restaurant Guerrilla Street Food. Heavily influenced by Pilipino cuisine and with a few options for vegetarians, Guerrilla Street Food offers several delicious dishes of braised meat served over rice with the option of a slow-cooked egg with a perfectly viscous yolk.
4 Hands Brewing Co.
4 Hands offers good beer and even better food. The small kitchen in the brewery is operated by the James Beard award-winning chef of Sidney Street Café, Kevin Nashan. The menu is limited, but includes the exceptional house-smoked brisket sandwich that would be worth a visit regardless of the beer. Beyond beer, 4 Hands distills its own gin and vodka under the brand 1220 Artisan Spirits. 4 Hands is also the closest brewery Busch Stadium, making it a great place to enjoy a few beers before a Cardinals game.
Scratch Brewing Company
Southeast of St. Louis, across the Mississippi River in rural Southern Illinois, is one of the most unique breweries in the Midwest — Scratch Brewing Company. Scratch, a farmhouse brewery tucked away amongst the trees outside of the Shawnee National Forest, is known for its use of unconventional, often foraged, ingredients. Nettle, elderberry, hickory, acorns, juniper, ash leaves, roselle, paw paw, and several mushroom species including oyster, chanterelle, and hen of the woods are among the unusual ingredients used in their beer. The use of uncommon ingredients is certainly not done purely for novelty’s sake; the product works. Moreover, the setting is stunning and worth the trip out.
The craft beer offerings in the St. Louis area are impressive in their quality, quantity, and variety. The city is a worthwhile destination for beer enthusiasts not only on account of the breweries mentioned above, but also thanks to Perennial Artisan Ales, Civil Life Brewing Company, and Modern Brewery, among many others.
What are your favorite craft breweries in St. Louis or the Midwest? Let us know in the comments!