Four St. Louis microbreweries that are growing up and building out
We usually think about breweries and brewpubs in terms of our experiences as customers, from the food and beer we’re served to the aesthetic and vibe of the building. Playlists, fire pits and bathrooms are important to us. But for brewers, there are many more considerations when it comes to building out the perfect space. Whether they’re for a larger brewing area, a nicer taproom or a more robust storefront, expansions are often an indication that a brewery has become more successful. That’s certainly something to celebrate, but it also creates a lot more work for the people behind the beer.
For Jeff Hardesty and Narrow Gauge Brewing Co., an upcoming expansion is simply the product of needing more brewing space. “Essentially, our reasoning for relocation is more for us to get our operations out of a basement,” Hardesty explained. “Given our current space, there’s quite a bit of limitation that we have, and the work that comes along with it is quite a bit more difficult than being above ground.” For years, the brewery’s been operating out of 1595 N. Highway 67, a small storefront in a strip mall in Florissant, but later this year, they’ll add space a few doors down at 1545 N. Highway 67. “[Being in a basement] adds a lot of physical labor and isn’t necessarily sustainable,” Hardesty said, laughing. “We’re excited to get out of the basement.”
By increasing their tank space, the new location will only expand the brewers’ capacity to experiment and develop their own, unique takes on Old World beer styles. Known primarily for their excellent IPAs, Narrow Gauge will have more latitude to look beyond the ale family. “This will give us the luxury to brew the styles we don’t get to brew as often,” Hardesty said. “Stouts, barrel-aged beers. We’ll have more regular releases in regards to barrel-aged stouts, and we’re going to add some horizontal fermentation vessels, so we’ll have dedicated tanks for lagers.”
In the new space, to-go sales will look a bit different – they’ll have an actual storefront, but no tasting room yet. (Hardesty said the new tasting room is a future endeavor.) “We’re kind of in the beginning stages, about to start construction,” Hardesty said. According to him, it should take around six months to prepare the space, which they purchased in early 2020.
In a very similar move, Main & Mill Brewing Co. bought a building two blocks down from their original space at 240 E. Main St. in Festus three years ago. The new location is allowing them to comfortably continue doing things their way. “A lot of our barrel-aged products were really well received when we started, but we had extremely limited room to do those things,” said co-owner Denny Foster. “This really fell in our lap, to be honest. Now we’re canning and distributing with Craft Republic in St. Louis. Just kind of doing slow growth, trying to get our stuff out there and have fun.”
Foster sees the two buildings as separate concepts: one as a brewpub, the other, newer space as more of a taproom and, eventually, an event space. “The taproom there isn’t open at the moment … but our brewpub is still as everybody’s seen it before: a full service, full-on brewpub. This is an entirely different ambiance. There’s a lot of obstacles, but we’re hoping to open by the end of the year.” As far as brewing goes, the new space is letting them focus more on barrel-aged options.
Later this year, 4 Hands Brewing Co. will open its long-awaited second location at 150 W. Argonne Drive in Kirkwood. The main attraction there will be a “huge, expansive outdoor space,” according to owner Kevin Lemp, who recently talked to Sauce for an online story. “We’re going to use that outdoor space to create a couple different environments. An outdoor bar area, a beer garden area, fire pits and Adirondack chairs.” Like the 4 Hands space downtown, the food program will be run by Kevin Nashan in the form of another Peacemaker Lobster & Crab outpost; unlike the smaller station at the flagship 4 Hands however, the new Peacemaker will feature a full menu similar to that of the restaurant’s beloved solo location in Benton Park.
At Civil Life Brewing Co., the decision to expand their original space at 3714 Holt Ave. comes from a more general philosophy of improvement. “What we’ve done is basically looked at every component of the business and tried to make it better,” said owner Jake Hafner. According to him, the brewery attempted a renovation several years ago, but the project fell through. The pandemic gave them the time they needed to start working. “With the shutdown of the pub on March 16, 2020, the project actually worked out well, in this odd way. I think this would have been really hard to accomplish without the pandemic and remain open during it,” Hafner said.
With this expansion, Civil Life has doubled the size of its patio and added additional restrooms outdoors. They added another parking lot, a patio service bar, a new storefront entrance and a new music system. They redid the floors and repainted the bar. “Every section of the property’s been touched in some way – sidewalks, streetlights, even a loading dock with storage,” Hafner said.
They’ve also added an 850-square-foot commercial kitchen, which will enable the brewery to “do food in a much more dynamic way,” Hafner explained. “To be able to serve people more efficiently, we needed a bigger kitchen. We added a grill, we’ve got a flattop, a broiler, a convection oven and eight burners now.” Civil Life’s beer game will also change up a bit. They’ve added a nitrogenating mechanism to their taps, a device that lends beer a creamy mouthfeel by pumping it full of nitrogen as it’s poured. They’ll use with some current styles as well as a new brew they’re working on, which Hafner described as a medium-bodied English ale. He said that drinkers can look for that release in May.
Like most brewers and owners, Hafner is hesitant to commit to an opening date for his new space – licensing issues and supply chain problems (in some form or another) have plagued most openings for the past year, and being specific with opening dates can be tricky. “You could say, ‘After years of delay, late spring,’” Hafner said, with a small laugh. “That would be fine.”