As I’ve mentioned before, you don’t have to look far to find the “started from the bottom, now we’re here” success story of low-budget home brewers turning their fledgling passion into a full-time career.
Nano-breweries that began in cramped basements and dusty garages that now have thriving taprooms and barrel aging programs are the kind of success stories communities can rally behind. The kind of success stories that have made the craft beer movement so endearing.
With a pedigree of over 60 years in the restaurant business, Exile Brewing Co. is not that kind of brewery.
1514 Walnut Street
Des Moines, IA
30 BBL System
Exile forces you to make a choice immediately after you enter: reserve a table in the modern decor-forward formal dining room, or grab an open seat in the industrial-chic beer hall. I usually make straight for the latter; if you visit on a nice day they’ll likely have the massive overhead door wide open to the patio transforming the entire space into an open-aired beer garden.
The Once and Future King
Long before Des Moines’ East Side, with its hipster restaurants and posh boutiques, was the place to see and be seen, the King was there. Ask any long-time resident to name the standard bearer for fine dining in town and without a doubt you’ll hear the same response: Tursi’s Latin King.
The Tursi family has been doing it right since 1947. The Latin King has been the destination for generations of deal-making business lunches, impressing prom dates, and fancy anniversary dinners for good reason. Just whisper the words Chicken Spiedini in mixed company and just watch as eyes begin to glaze over and mouths start to salivate.
So as the craft beer scene began to take flight in Des Moines, the First Family of restaurant entrepreneurs saw an opportunity and turned to the heir-apparent to lead the charge in a new venture: not a new Latin King location or similarly-styled Italian restaurant, but a craft brewery. With decades of experience in his back pocket and a new vision in place for the future, Exile Brewing Company was born.
Putting the Brew back in Brewpub
The term Brewpub usually implies a restaurant that makes its own beer. Admittedly, that sub-headline would make a lot more sense if it was Brewdiner or Brewbistro, but I digress…
As with most Brewpubs that attempt to excel at making both good food and good beer, quality usually tilts one way or the other.
The “Jack of all trades, master of none” scenario.
With such a strong heritage in fine dining, we knew from the get-go that the menu would be top-notch, so the biggest question remaining was the quality of beer they would produce.
Snag a formally trained ISU grad with a Masters in Brewing and Distilling and put him at the helm of the beership Exile. Under his guidance, EBC has managed to avoid this pitfall exceedingly well. Not only have the meals been as good as expected, but the beers have rarely disappointed.
Their regular lineup includes The Exile Girls: Hannah, a Bavarian Wheat; Gigi, a dunkel (and my wife’s fave); and Ruthie Munich Gold Lager. They’ve recently added Beatnik Sour, a tart Berliner-Weisse to their year-round selection that has already garnered a cult-following (not my favorite, but it’s growing on me).
Since opening with a single-beer offering, the brewing team has dialed in their recipes and started cranking out some delicious brews at an astronomical rate. Hannah, Gigi, and Ruthie are best sellers, their IPA’s really seem to be hitting on all the right notes, and a new tasty creation shows up on tap seemingly every six weeks.
Exile is a brewing force to be reckoned with.
The Bottom Line
In just a few short years, Exile Brewing has become synonymous with the burgeoning craft brewery scene in Des Moines.
The food speaks for itself.
The beers have found a stronghold on grocery shelves across the state. Even the copper crown with it’s weathered green patina perched precariously on the building’s edge has become a citywide icon.
Full disclosure: I’ve been a big fan of Exile ever since it opened in 2012. But I’m not just drinking the (local beer-flavored) Kool-Aid when I tell you that Exile is just as good…if not better…than the family forerunner.
So guys grab your gals, and gals grab your guys, and head downtown with some friends this weekend.
Grab a seat in the beer hall or on the patio, choose one of the many house-brewed beverages and Uncle Buck burger or a plate of house-made fries with aioli and truffle oil, sit back, and enjoy your Exile.