In many ways, the craft beer landscape of St. Louis has mirrored the development of its northern neighbor, Chicago. Like Chicago, it lagged significantly behind East and West Coast craft beer hubs in its timetable. Like Chicago, it took until the end of the 2000s for the revolution to truly catch hold. And finally, like Chicago, it underwent a swift and miraculous metamorphosis that has rapidly turned the city into a bonafide craft beer destination.
The truly incredible thing is that most of this development has been accomplished within a span of only four years. In that timeframe, nearly a dozen new breweries got on their feet within city limits, erasing any lingering stigma that the shadow of Anheuser Busch might cast over St. Louis as a potential site for craft brewing innovation. Today, the city’s brewing community is composed of a remarkably diverse blend of philosophies. There are hardcore traditionalists, irreverent American punks and mad scientists experimenting in the latest bacteria-infused sours—and they’re all brewing within blocks of one another. The city has embraced craft brewing, and the rate of growth continues unabated.
So, with so much to see, where should visitors make sure to hit while they’re in town? Below are the most essential breweries, bars and booze-centric sites in Paste’s Craft Beer Guide to St. Louis.
Many of St. Louis’ breweries are still in their infancy, relatively speaking, but there are still many wonderful taprooms and brewpub locations you should physically visit.
1. and 2. Schlafly Taproom/Bottleworks
I’m rolling Schlafly’s brewpub (the Taproom) and production facility (the Bottleworks) into one in an effort to simplify. As the “old soldier” of the St. Louis craft brewing community since 1991, Schlafly blazed a trail and proved the city had a thirst for something besides Budweiser. They’re still an absolutely vital and vibrant part of that community, beloved for classic beers like Schlafly Oatmeal Stout and yearly releases such as their outstanding pumpkin ale. Which location you visit will depend on your priorities: The Bottleworks has the overall brewery tour, while the Taproom features a few more experimental releases and a fantastic in-house restaurant. But really, you can’t go wrong either way.
3. Urban Chestnut Brewing Company
Why do only one thing well when you can do two? Urban Chestnut divides up its beer portfolio into the “reverence” and “revolution” series, focusing on traditional and experimental styles respectively. Every beer stands out—they have essentially claimed certain styles as their own by making better examples than anyone else in town. Best everyday lager in St. Louis? Easily their Zwickel. Best hefeweizen? Urban Chestnut Schnikelfritz. The list goes on. Originally opening with just a small brewery tasting room in 2011, they recently opened a much larger production facility and “bierhall.” They are, with no exaggeration, one of the best brewers of German craft beer styles in the U.S. today.
4. 4-Hands Brewing Co.
On the other end of the spectrum from Urban Chestnut you’ve got 4-Hands, which brews its beer only half a mile from Busch Stadium. You could call them the brash American yang to Urban Chestnut’s contemplative yin, although they also brew several unique fruit-flavored saisons with ingredients that include prunes and pears. Stop by the tasting room before or after a Cardinals game and enjoy their flagship Divided Sky Rye IPA with a bit of rarebit, chicken wings and some smoked duck. It’s a well-balanced brewery and a typical poster child of the current St. Louis beer renaissance.
5. Perennial Artisan Ales
Perennial is perhaps the most “modern” of the breweries in town, with its prevailing focus on barrel aging and experimental beer collaborations. Their flagships are all Belgians, with a chamomile saison, dry-hopped Belgian pale ale and a lightly tart farmhouse ale brewed with brettanomyces bacteria. They simply don’t make anything you’d likely run into at your neighborhood brewpub—other releases include a black walnut dunkelweisse, an “imperial Mexican chocolate stout” and a brown ale made with maple-roasted squash. Their facility is even home to a second brewery within it, as head brewer Cory King operates the aptly named Side Project Brewing as a nano-beer project using the same equipment. How geeky is that?
6. Square One Brewery & Distillery
Founded in 2006 and predating the current St. Louis brewery boom, Square One helped pave the way, but they never fell by the wayside. All too easy to underrate for their consistently solid product, they produce solid versions of most major beer styles, along with an in-house range of micro-distilled spirits. But perhaps even more than the beer, this is a place one should visit for the complete meal experience. Although places like 4-Hands or Urban Chestnut have small menus, they mostly focus on their brewing duties. Square One, on the other hand, combines bonafide fine dining with a neighborhood brewpub atmosphere. Their menu is lengthy and impressive, with everything from Moroccan lamb shank to “coffee-cured house duck bacon.” And every entree on the menu comes with a printed beer suggestion—that’s synergy.
The Beer Bars
Picking only a few bars for great craft beer in St. Louis is tough, particularly because there’s quite the array of different aesthetics where one could choose to enjoy great beer. Here are a few.
7. Bridge Tap House & Wine Bar
This is the choice for a more upscale night on the town, a dark and romantic temple to craft beer with one of the city’s biggest and best overall draft selections—more than 50 in total. Only a few blocks from the center of downtown St. Louis, it’s a trendy place and popular date location where you can impress your date with your wonderful taste in beer, wine and charcuterie. The beer list is well-balanced: Plenty of St. Louis locals, joined by regional American craft brewers and a handful of classic Belgians. All in all, though, it’s a classy place to enjoy American craft beer in particular.
8. International Tap House
There are two ITAP locations in St. Louis, but they both offer a fairly similar experience: No-frills access to craft beer with a knowledgeable staff and a casual atmosphere focused on beer and sociability. They’re certainly less fancy feeling than Bridge, and still boast 40 taps and a huge array of bottles, which mostly run toward American craft beer styles. St. Louis-area selections are again prevalent, which is a theme in the city’s beer bars. Even more so than in Chicago, the beer bar culture of St. Louis seems to really celebrate and promote the local scene.
9. Bailey’s Range
What a unique location Bailey’s Range truly is. From the outside, it looks like a nostalgic “burger and shake” bar, and it certainly evokes that diner aesthetic with its Technicolor decorations. But it’s also a restaurant/bar absolutely dedicated to local St. Louis craft beer, which is to say that’s the only beer they stock. That’s right, Bailey’s Range has dedicated a full 30 taps to the latest and greatest in St. Louis-area craft brewing, with beer from 2nd Shift, 4-Hands, Civil Life, Perennial, Schlafly, Urban Chestnut and others, available in “lunch” and “dinner” portions. They even make alcoholic floats and shakes. What more could you possibly need?
There are other places in town that are newer and fancier—like say, Flying Saucer—but Cicero’s is steeped in beer history. Since 1977, this restaurant and bar has been on the forefront of promoting beer in St. Louis, and they’ve long been recognized as having the best tap list in the popular Delmar Loop. This is a place for the classics—not quite so adventurous as some of the other bars in town, but still a huge selection of great brews. They’re also home to the city’s most popular ongoing (and free!) “beer school” program, where large groups of nascent craft beer fans learn about beer styles over the course of 15 weeks. There are plenty of amateur and professional brewers in St. Louis today whose education began at Cicero’s.
Honorable mentions: Flying Saucer, 33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar, Heavy Anchor, Handlebar, 21st Amendment: The Brewer’s Bar