Whether you’re in Des Moines for the State Fair (like I was), in town on business, or it’s your final destination there is a robust beer scene in the city that has something for every schedule. As always in the Midwest one of the best thing about a visit to Iowa is the kindness of the people and their readiness to offer recommendations, advice, and their favorite dishes. (I must say I heard a lot of reviews on both sides of the spectrum about somewhere called “Spaghetti Works.” For me, the jury is still out.)
I only had time to visit the breweries in Des Moines proper because I was walking pretty much everywhere. Let me know if you visit one!
My Favorite Des Moines Brewery: Exile Brewing Company
I don’t like to play favorites, but there’s no way around it, this one is my favorite! They have a wide-ranging list of beers from traditional lagers to kettles sours that were available at the fair, each one was nailed to perfection with flawless balance and not an off flavor in sight (not many craft lagers can say the same!). I loved their beer and even wrote a story about it for Vice, but their taproom was an added delight.
It’s massive, at least to this New Yorker, with both indoor and outdoor space and the food is extremely good. So good that you could tell me this is a restaurant that serves really great beer instead of a brewery and I would believe you! I got the State Fair special corn dogs because who can resist?
Also, shout out to head brewer R.J. Tursi who is a fellow Advanced Cicerone.
Recommended beers: Ruthie, a golden lager & Zoltan, a session IPA
Founded in Knoxville….Iowa (didn’t know there was more than one Knoxville, did ya?) this brewery has three taprooms around the state. The Des Moines branch acts as an innovation brewery with a smaller set up. Another big bright taproom, Peace Tree has 25 draft lines mostly filled with their own brews but there are a couple lines for cider and kombucha for beer or alcohol adverse visitors.
I sat at that bar to read my book with a flight and was delighted by the friendly staff and truly peaceful environment, I guess there is something to the name!
Recommended beers: Rambler Red Ale (the first time I’ve loved a Red in a while!)
This bar is maybe one of the greatest examples of local beer pride that I have ever seen! It has just over 100 taps of all beer made in Iowa. The menu is divided by style, and of course they do lots of flights so it’s easy to jaunt around to each section of the menu and pick one or two.
One thing I loved most about exploring the Iowa beer scene was the many varieties of lager and traditional styles that local breweries are putting out. Red ales, brown ales, and ambers, oh my! Plus German-style lagers of all varieties. On the coasts I’m used to all things hazy and pastry and these refreshing, tradition-forward beers felt like a revelation.
This would be at the top of my list if you’re on a business trip and can only stop one or two places to get a feel of the local beer scene.
This place is a blast! Over 260 beers to choose from and the bartender seemed to still know every single one on tap. The ambiance is much more boisterous than the other places I visited. There are beers from all over, but the bulk of this taplist hails from the Midwest.
If you’re looking for somewhere to get a little rowdy and unwind this would be a great spot. Plus, there is enough variety to drink all day!
This little brewery with a homey feel is located right between Peace Tree and Iowa Taproom. If you’re doing a citywide beer crawl it is definitely worth stopping in! It’s run by three brothers and has a large variety of styles like a super light cream ale and a black IPA.
Recommended beer: The Roggenbier, a super underappreciated style executed beautifully.
I wasn’t able to make it to Confluence because they open later in the day and their hours didn’t match up with my schedule but when I asked locals about the beer scene almost everyone mentioned Confluence. They’re also known among beer geeks that have never even been to Iowa for their Blue Corn Lager. If I was able to stop by I would have sampled that as well as one of their signatures: “John’s Multigrain.”
On a Weekend in Des Moines
Don’t miss the Downtown Farmers’ Market if you happen to be in town on a Saturday. There’s a bountiful selection of farm-fresh produce to rival the Union Square Greenmarket in my hometown but also local crafts and handmade goods. Even if you’re not shopping it’s a fun place to walk around. Pint’s Bar Rooftop allows outside food (aka a huge stack of farmer’s market breakfast tacos) and has drinks specials and live music while the farmer’s market is open. It’s a great way to start a day especially if the plan is a lot of college football watching. I got a huge Ruthie on tap! Court Avenue Brewing Company is also around the corner with a selection of house-brewed beers (try the wit!) and a full menu if farmer’s market fodder isn’t what you’re craving.
Where to Stay
I can’t recommend the Des Lux enough! It’s downtown and it’s oozing with boutique hotel charm. The bar downstairs is stocked with Toppling Goliath and friendly service. We got home late one night after the kitchen was closed and they allowed us to order to-go food to the bar! It’s also very easy to get to all of the places listed above by walking and it’s on a main road so it’s also easy to call an Uber. If you go, say hi to Sandy behind the front desk for me!
If You’re Up For a Road Trip
It’s on pretty much every “whale watcher”’s brewery list: Toppling Goliath. It’s about a three hour drive out of the city, but when is the next time you’ll be in Iowa?! With a charming taproom and brewery tours the “King Sue” brewer is on the top of many beer geek’s places to visit.