Back in 2014, I decided to try to hit as many breweries on my bike in the downtown Des Moines area as possible. This was just after Madhouse Brewing had opened on Scott Avenue, just south of the East Village. The Madhouse opening meant that there were five breweries within a little more than a square mile. The travel time necessary to ride by all five would take about forty minutes at most over a 5 mile course. While Raccoon River Brewing Company has since closed, Peacetree Brewing has opened up a tap room in the East Village in Des Moines at 317 E. Court Avenue, so we are still at five breweries (or local brewery taprooms) within minutes of each other.
Madhouse Brewing Company’s new building was designed to be a brewery with a tasting room. I’m guessing that no more than 40 can fit comfortably in the tasting room. The finish and look is modern industrial with a clean architectural look. I always enjoy Madhouse beer and one of my favorites is the oak-aged Imperial Red Ale. In keeping with the Imperial Red tradition, the beer is heavy on the malt, with a good blend of hops that do not overpower the malt, with a hint of oak and chocolate. There was nothing off-putting or out of balance with the beer. If you like dark beers, then try this one.
I should add that the brewing room is quite impressive. There is a lineup of different fermenters but the mash and lauter tuns steal the show, with their beautiful copper bottoms. I didn’t see much in the way of chilling equipment, so I don’t imagine that Lagers will be on tap for awhile. Maybe that equipment is tucked away. Several dozen whiskey barrels were in evidence, most from Cedar Ridge Distillery and some from Jack Daniels.
Confluence Brewing. A very short ride west across the Des Moines River and along the Raccoon brings you to Confluence Brewing. Confluence is the local reigning champ among those who go to breweries to drink beer and recently won a Des Moines Register readers’ survey with its Capital Gold Lager. Long hours, a spacious tasting room, food available from a food truck, occasional bands, and a huge brewing area behind glass make for an immersive experience. The bartenders are always busy and there are frequently special brews and guest beers. I’ve tried most of the beers during many trips and they are all accurate representations of each type of beer.
Exile Brewing Company. With the sun dropping to the horizon, it was time to hit the third brewery on the trail. Another ten minute ride along the west side of Gray’s Lake Trial (or you could go around the east side) brought us into the west end of the Western Gateway where we were greeted by Miss Liberty’s crown. Exile Brewing Company is a favorite destination and with its emphasis on great food it was an easy decision to get dinner here. It is not uncommon to find parties, receptions, and other groups, in the patio and this trip was no exception. There was a fairly deep waiting line of patrons seeking a table but we were able to find a spot at the bar with no problem. At least we didn’t have to wait for our beer. Sticking with the dark beer program I started with, I ordered a Gigi (all of Exiles brews are named after women). This was the most malty dark beer of the bunch. Exile also makes the very popular Ruthie and an excellent Bavarian Wheat beer, their “Hannah.” That is my usual pick when I visit Exile. I really like the wide flavor profile and the bitter hops bite.
It was a great ride and the weather was fabulous. With only five miles of trail, it is hard to even break out a sweat between stops. Next time I’d like to start right off at Peacetree and do the whole route. Of course, five high-alcohol beers in 3.5 hours would actually impair a skinny female, so be careful. Perhaps someone ought to organize a regular Bike & Brewery ride. I’m sure that the Ankeny breweries (Firetrucker) and some of the western suburb breweries (Granite City, 515, Rock Bottom) could also be worked into a more athletic schedule.