Establishment: Exile Brewing Company
Location: Des Moines, IA
Background: If you read the “About” section of the Exile website, it seems to suggest the brewery founder’s grandfather came to America as a child from Naples. Naming his brewery “Exile” as a “tribute to immigrants embracing the American dream,” the founder probably should have named the brewery “immigrant” or “refugee” instead. But I guess Exile sounds cooler.
Décor: Nestled a few blocks north of the Raccoon River near West Des Moines, Exile was pretty conspicuous, sporting a large Statue of Liberty crown atop the multi-floored brick building. The lot was packed to the brim (not bad for 4:50pm on a Saturday), but there was ample on street parking. The size of the brewery immediately reminded me of Surly’s new facility in Prospect Park. I say “facility” facetiously; that thing is an oversized cash cow, not a brewery. Exile, for its part, was much subtler.
Upon entering, I was greeted by a flight of stairs going up, a flight of stairs going down, and a glass door into the restaurant portion of the building. I could see the taproom from the monstrous windows behind the stairway, but couldn’t figure out how to get there.
I tried going up the stairs. Wrong. I was greeted by a private room, with servers giving me a “you-took-a-wrong-turn-but-I’m-too-busy-to-tell-you-where-to-go” look. To which I replied with my “I’m-embarassed-and-don’t-know-where-I’m-going-you-could-help-but-didn’t-so-fuck-off” look.
Back down the stairs. I entered the restaurant, heading towards the hostess to ask where the bar was. About 5 steps in, I noticed there was a hallway leading left towards the taproom I saw through the windows. Why the hell wasn’t there a sign, or better yet, a set of windows looking into the hallway so you could actually see where the fuck to go? Were the other 18 giant windows around the entry way too much? Oh well, by now I was annoyed but glad to have beer within sight. Too bad there were no tables open, and the patio was closed for a private event. Fuck.
Staff: I didn’t catch my waitress’ name, but we’ll call her “Flustered.” After taking my order (but before filling it), she twice left the bar to get glasses or change for the register. Which is fine, but honestly seemed like yet another unnecessary roadblock to my apparently complex quest for beer.
This would be a great place to open a fucking brewery.
Patrons: Going back to the parking lot, there wasn’t a clunker in the house. Shiny, new-model SUVs and minivans set the curve.
And that showed in the clientele: the average age seemed to be between mid-30s and 50 somethings, with no one around my age. A few years might not seem a big deal, but it makes all the difference in conversation potential. For example, the guy next to me was probably wondering if he pays enough into his 401k. I was wondering if I should add canned tuna to my beer and bean soup at home to stretch it out. Similar dilemma, but on very unrelateable scales. One is prudent and boring, the other interesting and questionable. I like to talk to the latter.
To answer your question, I did add tuna. Great move.
Food: Exile has a full menu. Since most breweries are small operations that focus on making beer, serving any food, let alone a full menu of expensive entrees, is usually a red flag for me. Appetizers, lunch and dinner were all listed. I snapped a photo of the menu if you’re curious. I didn’t order anything. It all seemed overpriced.
Beer: Per usual, I order a flight so I could try multiple beers. I tasted 4 of the “flagship beers,” minus the flagship IPA I knew would just piss me off.
#1- Beatnik Sour: Berliner-style Weisse
5.6% ABV: I chose the sour over the IPA for my 1st flight. Which I do not regret. However, this beer took “sour” to a disturbingly familiar level.
A few years back, I attempted to make a sugar-based liqueur. This cannot be done using normal homebrew methods, as an alcohol content exceeding 15% ABV tends to kill yeast and halt fermentation. This is when distillation usually comes in. However, since I am a law-abiding citizen, I do not distill. To get around this, I tried “Turbo Yeast,” a hearty variety of yeast that allegedly could survive higher levels of alcohol. I could have a 20% ABV liqueur after all!
Or not. The stuff barely reached 12% ABV before fizzling. And the smell… God, the smell. It was like microwaving vinegar and sugar together with sourdough bread. And that is what the Beatnik smelled like.
What’s more disturbing: that I made a sin against nature that smelled of sweet vinegar bread, or that a major brewing company managed to replicate it?
I’ll leave that up to you.
#2- Ruthie: Gold Lager
5.2% ABV: Nothing special here. Which isn’t to say there is nothing good. The Ruthie was a solid, tasty beer true to its name. Would I order another? Probably not. Would I recommend it? Sure; if you like basic lagers, you can’t go wrong.
#3- Gigi: Dark Lager
5.0% ABV: Okay, this was much better than the Ruthie in my opinion. While the two are very similar in style and alcohol content, the Gigi essentially tasted like a more robust, flavorful beer. The taste reminded me a bit of Samuel Adams Boston Lager. The Gigi was probably my second favorite of the flight, and I would recommend trying it (if you can find it).
#4- Hannah: Hefeweizen
5.3% ABV: Five percent again? Did that guy thinking about his 401k contribution make these? Maximize the employer match and drink your beer, prick.
I’m a big fan of Hefeweizens, and the Hannah did not disappoint. Tropical fruit notes shined through in this beer, without being overly sweet. Easily the best of the four beers.
Bill: I only ordered the flight, as Exile left me somewhat jaded. $8 for 24 oz of beer isn’t horrible, though, especially for a flight.
Although named to honor the struggles of immigrants entering America, Exile seems to channel more of a “preoccupied upper-middle class” vibe, what with the unrelateable clientele and excessive private parties. Maybe I caught Exile on a bad day. Maybe Exile caught me on a bad day (I did wake up at 5:30 am this morning). Regardless, it rubbed me the wrong way. Exile seemed far too interested in being a restaurant and private event venue, to the point the taproom experience suffered. The beer was decent, but in my opinion, it should be the focal point. Honestly, I’d take a pass on Exile, in favor of the more back-to-basics Madhouse or Confluence.