(Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

summary

Springfield has built a strong craft beer scene in the shadow of macrobrewer AB InBev, brewer of beers like Budweiser and Busch. Springfield’s beer drinkers are developing their own palates and leaning toward other styles of beer.

Springfield is lager-locked. What else would you expect from a city floating in Budweiser’s backyard?

Studies and surveys show that Budweiser is the most popular beer in Missouri, but the Queen City has a strong craft beer community bubbling up. There are 10 craft and micro-operations in the city, brewing something for everyone.

But what does everyone want? Does Springfield have a craft beer style it loves more than anything else? Does it have a type? According to the city’s brewers, it does. Kind of.

Folks enjoying a good laugh and a good brew at Tie and Timber. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

“Our main thing was people want easy-drinking, patio beers,”  said Carol McLeod, co-owner and manager of Hold Fast Brewing (235 North Kimbrough Ave.). “You always are going to have your people that want super high (International Bitterness Units), high-alcohol bombs, but I would say the majority of people want to sit there, have a couple (beers) and talk with friends and family. … That’s what we see in our numbers. We’ve really tried to keep it lower ABV (alcohol by volume).”

Cody Sloup, working remotely from Hold Fast’s patio, appreciates the approach. He’s just recently gotten into the craft beer scene and was enjoying a Power Play Pilsner.

“Typically on a nice day like this, I just like something that goes down pretty good and that I know is going to be solid,” Sloup said. “There are a lot of options (in Springfield). I try to hit somewhere new each Thursday and try something different. Every place seems to have something I like.”

They’re not alone. Conversations with several brewers revealed Springfield loves something approachable, easy drinking and, just maybe, fruity.

Is Springfield’s palate really that different?

In general, Springfield does seem to follow craft beer trends. Brut IPAs made their way through several years ago, right on schedule, and even the push for fruity, sour or easy-drinking beers seems to match national trends.

“We are also seeing a large push for sours as of late, and they always move quickly when they come out as well,” said Derek Shimeall, co-owner and head of operations at 4 by 4 Brewing (2811 East Galloway St.). “That said, we are seeing a shift back to clean easy-drinking beers such as lagers and pilsners in the craft market nationwide and that is no different here.”

McLeod sees the same thing, though there is one classic style all breweries seem to have on tap.

“I think we try to keep up with the trends,” she said. “IPAs are still the way to go. A few of the breweries did seltzers when that was huge during COVID.”

At Hold Fast Brewing in Downtown Springfield, visitors can get a flight of beers ranging from fruity to those with higher alcohol content. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

David Soper, production manager at Mother’s Brewing Company (215 South Grant Ave.) agrees with McLeod about IPAs.

“Our No. 1 driver, day-in and day-out, is 7 percent IPA,” he said on a sunny afternoon in Mother’s Backyard. “It’s Lil’ Helper. That’s our bread and butter. If you’re looking for a Springfield trend it’s not that different than national trends. There’s not a brewery in town that doesn’t have a 6-8 percent IPA in some form or another, be it more of a New England style or American or West Coast. IPA still defines what craft beer is in a lot of ways — to the point where now it’s such a strong marketing term that we’re calling things that are arguably not IPAs IPA just because putting the name IPA on things sells.”

Jen Leonard, co-owner and executive brewer at Tie & Timber Beer Co. (1451 East Cherry St.), has a different perspective. While her Rountree neighborhood brewery has been in business for four years, she’s a transplant. Leonard came from Colorado to open Tie & Timber and had to learn some lessons quickly.

“All of my beers came out of the gate kind of dry and less sweet,” she said. “And I realized that there are different palates regionally. So when I go back to Colorado I get these similar beers that are a little on that drier, less sweet side. What I have learned about the Springfield palate is that I think there is a little more sweetness here. Just based on going to different restaurants and things like that I’ve noticed things are just a little sweeter in the Midwest than they are in Colorado. I thought that was very interesting.”

So Leonard and her partner, Curtis Marshall, adapted. And it’s paid off.

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Getting fruity and sour

Juicy Brewski is always a top seller at Tie & Timber. It’s a New England IPA with tropical and citrus flavors and aromas. Leonard said sour beers also do very well on the establishment’s 20 taps.

“When we first opened, sour beers weren’t as popular,” she said. “People would come in and be like ‘Ugh, that’s too sour.’ Now I hear kind of the opposite. I can’t make them sour enough. I think that the craft beer palate has evolved, especially with all the different breweries and all the different exposure that our customers are getting to different styles of beer.”

Check menus across the city and you’ll see lots of sours. From the Citrus Zinger and rotating kettle sour series at Springfield Brewing Company (305 South Market Ave.) to the Topaz Mill at White River Brewing Company (505 West Commercial St.), and from the Limestone Cowboy at Wire Road Brewing (4453 South Timbercreek Ave.) to Cobra Scare at Mother’s. That beer was introduced in 2017.

Mother’s Growler during an evening in June 2013 (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

“On the front of kettle souring and making deliberately sour beer, I believe we were the first one in town to dip our toes into that,” Soper said. “And that ultimately turned into Cobra Scare, which we market as an Ozarks-style wheat. That was at a point in our marketing where we were like ‘I don’t think words mean anything and I think we’re just allowed to say whatever the hell we want, so let’s just do that.’ That beer has done well for us.”

There’s another style of beer that is doing well for Mother’s: fruited.

“Generally speaking, we find that fruit beers do really well,” Soper said. “I would say that’s true for most on-site businesses, though. I think almost any taproom you go to is going to have some sort of fruited beer and it’s a good mover for them. … And not just lightly fruited beer, like what we think of in the sense of 10 or 15 years ago, but heavily fruited beer.”

At Mother’s, that means things like the Chug Brunch and Pucker Punch series, a New England IPA and sour fruited beer respectively. It’s very similar down in the Galloway neighborhood, Jake Duensing co-owner and brewer for Great Escape Beer Works (4022 South Lone Pine Ave.) said.

“We have several beers that incorporate fruit into them and they have been selling very well,” Duensing said. “For Springfield overall, I see the city as having two broad categories of favorites in the craft beer segment of the market. IPAs, whether East or West coast would be one, and fruited beers would be the other.”

Transitioning to the craft beer world

But not every drinker is ready to jump from macros — like Budweiser, Coors and Miller Lite — into the world of kettle sours. The solution? Most breweries offer an approachable, transition beer. It might be a lager or a pilsner, but it feels familiar.

“Our transition beer is our Brewery Dream Cream,” McLeod said. “It’s a cream ale that we brewed literally for all our friends who drink Michelob Ultra. Susan (McLeod, Carol’s sister and co-owner) came up with it. It’s what we give to people who say they don’t like craft beer. Our other one is our Lazy Day Lager, a good old-fashioned American lager. One of those two usually piques their interest.”

Leonard tries to steer newbies to a beer that just debuted, The Garcia, a Mexican-style lager with a family connection.

“I named it after my grandfather, who introduced me to beer at a very, very young age,” Leonard said with a laugh. “And it broke the record as our fast-selling beer.”

Banter Brewing Co. (330 West Farm Road 182) sees great success with HoneyB315, a wheat beer, and Plainview Pils, a German-style pilsner, according to social media manager Whitney Weddle. 4 by 4 Brewing, also in the Galloway neighborhood, also features approachable beers.

“Our OG Hefeweizen is a light approachable beer and it is our number one seller in the taproom and number two in distribution to bars and retail stores,” said Shimeall. “Our largest SKU for distribution is our Parkside Pineapple IPA and it’s very strong in the taproom as well. So overall the light OG Hefeweizen and our fruit-forward Parkside Pineapple IPA are the best sellers for us.”

“It’s an orange-pineapple IPA,” Soper. “And the (fruit) flavors are there, but they’re very much in balance and melded nicely with the hoppiness and malty sweetness of the beer itself.”

Mother’s features Step Dude, an American lager, and Lake Break, an easy-drinking ale, on its year-round menu, while the summer seasonal, Super Solid, is a little on the fruity side and is just 4.2 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).

Find your favorite

By this point, you’re either thirsty or have decided the Springfield craft beer scene has nothing for you. Don’t give up just yet. The city’s brewers are making an effort to have something for everyone.

“We carry five different styles of NA beers, five different styles of gluten-free beer, ciders, canned cocktails, our adult slushy machine,” said McLeod. “Not everybody likes beer, and we understand that. We also know who makes the decisions in adult relationships, it’s wives and girlfriends. So if they don’t like beer, the guys can’t come out. Having an offering for everybody, especially the NA and gluten-free, we’re proud we offer those selections.”

Hold Fast isn’t alone. Nearly all of Springfield’s craft breweries offer some alternative, whether it’s seltzer, wine, kombucha or something else.

If you’re thirsty, then get to work exploring. With 10 options, you’re sure to find a brewery that makes something that suits your palate.

“I think Springfield is ready to have a wide variety of beer and, with all the different craft breweries we have, they’re getting that now,” said Leonard. “It’s fun playing with flavors and with different ingredients and keeping craft beer exciting. … I do try to make sure there is a nice balance of easy-drinking beers and the more extreme or different style beers.”

Back on the patio at Hold Fast, Sloup was praising the quality and variety in Springfield’s craft beer scene as he polished off his pilsner.

“The beers are good and the environments are great,” he said. “My thing is it’s a good beer and it’s nice to be outside hanging out.”


SGF 12-Pack

Want to sample some of the finest beers Springfield has to offer? Check out our SGF 12-pack, compiled with input from the Queen City’s craft brewers.

  1. Brewery Dream Cream (Cream Ale) — Hold Fast Brewing
  2. Citrus Zinger (Sour) — Springfield Brewing Company
  3. Cobra Scare (Kettle-Soured Wheat Ale) — Mother’s Brewing Company
  4. Gravel Bar (American IPA) — White River Brewing Company
  5. Greene Ghost (American IPA) — Springfield Brewing Company
  6. Juicy Brewski (New England Hazy IPA) — Tie & Timber Beer Company
  7. Lil’ Helper (American IPA) — Mother’s Brewing Company
  8. Moon Clouds (New England Hazy IPA) — Show-Me Brewing
  9. Parkside Pineapple (New England Hazy IPA) — 4 by 4 Brewing Company
  10. Plainview Pils (German-style Pilsner) — Banter Brewing Company
  11. Queen City Lager (American Lager) — Great Escape Beer Works
  12. Spirit Horse (New England Hazy IPA) — Wire Road Brewing Company

Jeff Kessinger

Jeff Kessinger covered sports in southwest Missouri for the better part of 20 years, from young athletes to the pros. The Springfield native and Missouri State University alumnus is thrilled to be doing journalism in the Queen City, helping connect the community with important information. He and wife Jamie daily try to keep a tent on the circus that is a blended family of five kids and three cats. More by Jeff Kessinger