Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the size of the mugs for $6 of the Hannah brew. They are a half-liter.
The Western Gateway warehouse at 15th and Walnut streets has come a long way since its run as the Fitch Soap Company in the 1920s. Instead of soap, this warehouse is now home to Des Moines’ newest brewery and restaurant.
Exile Brewing Co. was opened by R.J. Tursi, whose parents own classic Italian eatery Tursi’s Latin King on the city’s east side. Like the Latin King, Exile is a testament to the Tursi family’s European roots, but in contrast, Exile is industrial and modern while still maintaining the warehouse’s original structure.
The cavernous warehouse is split in two, with a restaurant and bar on one side, and a bar and beer garden on the other. We took seats in the Beer Hall, an open area sandwiched between the brew house and fermentation room in view of the tanks used to brew the six in-house beers. We purposefully positioned ourselves at a table adjacent an open garage door that leads to the patio with additional seating.
The brew pub’s first offering, Hannah-Weiss, became available on Aug. 21. An unfiltered wheat beer with a clean citrus aftertaste, Hannah is served in hefty half-liter mugs for $6. Hannah will soon be joined by three additional regular beers and two more seasonals, all expected to be named after women. Until those brews are ready for consumption, local and national craft brews are available for purchase, including Peace Tree and Millstream. Head Brewer John Woodford studied chemistry at Iowa State University before heading to the United Kingdom to get his masters degree in brewing and distilling. Exile’s brews are expected to reflect the European-style lagers and ales to which he became accustomed.
The food menu spans Europe as well as America, with options such as burgers, lasagna, shepherd’s pie, a Scotch egg and a dish simply called “German Food.” I opted for the braised pork belly gyro served with capers, watercress, shaved red onion and raita on naan bread and served with herbed frites. The thinly sliced frites were crispy and delicious, and the gyro, while creative, was good but not great. The real winner on the plate was the homemade pickle spear. While that may sound like an insult (it’s not), this heavenly spear has now spoiled my ability to eat regular old pickles.
One dining partner tried the “Plain Jane,” a hand-pattied burger with lettuce, onion, tomato and pickle on a pretzel bun and served with herbed frites. He finished every morsel. The other tried the “Uncle Buck,” a bacon-stuffed burger topped with pepper jack cheese, caramelized onions and red peppers and “more damn bacon” on a pretzel bun. It, too, was served with the frites. Though he was initially a bit perturbed at the waitress’ assertion that it is only served medium well, the dining partner quickly understood after his plate arrived. The bacon sandwiched between the two patties actually cooks inside the burger, which constitutes the longer cooking time. It wasn’t until he’d finished the burger that he realized he hadn’t put any condiments on it; “Uncle Buck” had enough flavor on its own.
Exile Brewing Co. has plenty of potential and is a welcomed cog in the resurgence of the city’s Western Gateway. If Hannah is a symbol of brews yet to come for Exile, the brew pub should have a rich future in Des Moines.
Exile Brewing Co.
Find it: 1514 Walnut St.
Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Info: 883-2337, exilebrewing.com