Anchoring the end of Walnut, where it meets 16th Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, sits the Fitch soap company building. Like many structures around the western gateway, this building dates to the roaring twenties when industrial Des Moines was booming, but has sat empty for many decades. That is, until R.J. Tursi decided it was the perfect location to open his Exile Brewing Company.
Exile is cut from a slightly different cloth than Court Avenue or Raccoon River, Exile’s older siblings. While those well-established eateries have more of the traditional brewpub look, Exile meshes in modern design elements, though all three occupy rehabbed space. For more details as well as pictures of the dining areas, check out the coverage in the Reggie.
On the brewery side everything seems scaled to grow. A new four vessel 30 barrel Specific Mechanical brewhouse gives Exile the ability to brew multiple batches. Assuming they can get the staff and make the sales, they will be able to produce beer essentially continuously. One bottleneck will be the cellar, as Exile currently has only three fermentation tanks, though at a 60 barrel capacity each they’re certainly nothing to sneeze at.
They also have six lager tanks in the massive cooler, as well as a brite tank. Another bottleneck will be serving. Since Exile has no dedicated serving tanks, every drop will be kegged. Much of it will be sold off-premise at bars and restaurants around town, in a similar strategy as CABCo has been adopting recently. However Exile has a much larger capacity, and plenty of room to grow.
At the time of my visit they did not yet have their own beer available, with one exception: they had a Maibock which was contract brewed at the Gordon Biersch facility in Kansas City. However, they have been madly brewing the past week and a half, and they should have a few locally-produced beers available soon. Among those will be a Munich gold lager, a honey lager and a hefeweissen.
The head brewer is John Woodford, a recent Iowa State grad. Though he has a degree from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, he has no professional brewing experience, so he seems like a strange choice for head of a new brewery. But the proof is in the pudding, so I’ll have to wait to judge until they have beer on offer that was brewed under his supervision.
The Maibock is a pale coppery amber with an opalescent haze. There is a bit of off-white head, but not much. The nose is malty and sweet, with notes of biscuits, toast and nuts. I’d like there to be more pronounced hop character, as that is one of the defining characteristics of a maibock.
The flavor is likewise sweet and bready. A bit of noble hops come out early but quickly fade. The sweetness is cloying, lingering far too long. If the hops were more assertive, that might not be as much of an issue. As it stands it’s tasty, but it’s hard to drink more than one.