Nestled in the heart of the American Midwest, Des Moines, Iowa, is a city full of pleasant surprises for curious travelers. At times overlooked in the atlas of Midwestern cities, Des Moines boasts plentiful contemporary restaurants, civic centers and entertainment attractions. And not to be overlooked, breweries in Des Moines—and, indeed, Iowa at large—have long played underappreciated roles in the development of America’s craft beer culture.
Brewing has been a part of Iowa’s culture almost as long as it has been a state. The first brewery in Iowa opened in 1850, just four years after Iowa had been officially ratified as a U.S. state. Like other cities across the country, Des Moines’ brewers dwindled and closed after Prohibition and macrobrewery consolidations.
But in 1985, Millstream Brewing Co. opened its doors—the first microbrewery to start operations in the state of Iowa. Millstream Brewing Co. was one of the earliest entrants to America’s emerging craft beer scene and helped settle the roots of the American craft beer revolution in the Midwest. In the years that followed Millstream Brewing Co.’s debut, dozens of new breweries popped up in Iowa and Des Moines, specifically. Court Avenue Restaurant & Brewing Co., found in downtown Des Moines, began operations in 1996. At that time, it was the first brewery to operate in Des Moines since the beginning of Prohibition.
Fast forward to today and Des Moines has an emerging craft beer scene. Breweries in Des Moines and its surrounding areas have plenty to offer visiting beer tourists. We’ve made a list of a few must-stop breweries and landmarks in Des Moines as a helpful guide for visitors. Here is a breakdown of the best breweries, bites and sights in Des Moines.
BEST BREWERIES IN DES MOINES
Des Moines has more than a dozen breweries in and around the city to check out.
Where to Grab an IPA
Found approximately 30 minutes directly north of Des Moines, Firetrucker Brewery in Ankeny is a brewery that isn’t afraid to try out new things. Throughout the year, visitors can find the brewery pouring some truly unique beers, such as its Acova Black Walnut Brown Ale.
Firetrucker also keeps a few IPAs on tap throughout the year for hop heads to get their fill. Try out the brewery’s Iowa IPA, designed to be a celebration of everything that makes Iowa great.
Where to Find Barrel-Aged beer
Des Moines’ Confluence Brewing Company specializes in small batch beers that offer one-of-a-kind flavors. Through its Cooperage program, the brewery produces barrel-aged beers designed to expand the conventional expectations of what a barrel-aged beer should taste like.
Sure, Confluence has barrel-aged stouts to offer. But the brewery has made tequila barrel-aged pilsners, rye barrel-aged double IPAs and even a mezcal barrel-aged lager. There may not be a better brewery to visit in Des Moines than Confluence if you want to see how barrel aging can transform the character of a beer.
Where to Snag a Sour
Located near downtown Des Moines, Lua Brewing offers incredibly refined beers from across the spectrum. Lua Brewing keeps a rotating list of hazy and flavorful IPAs on its tap wall, but the brewery’s sour beers are the real stars of Lua Brewing’s show.
Always available throughout the year, Lua Brewing has fruited sours perfect for any adventurous beer tourist. For an example of just how much flavor Lua Brewing is packing into these sour beers, try “Wordless Chorus”, which is made with prickly pear, passionfruit, guava, pineapple and mango.
AN AFTERNOON IN DES MOINES
Check out this collection of local hot spots in close proximity so you can eat, drink and see Des Moines in one afternoon.
Home to the Iowa State Capitol building and its famous golden dome, Des Moines’ East Village is a walkable neighborhood teeming with great breweries, nice restaurants and fun shopping options.
After starting off your journeys with a quick sip, head over to RAYGUN for some shopping. RAYGUN, which bills itself as “The Greatest Store in the Universe,” is a massive apparel retailer with threads designed by locals and big-name collaborators.
If you’ve managed to work up an appetite, take a quick walk over to Zombie Burger + Drink Lab for a truly unique lunch experience. The post-apocalyptic eatery offers up “gore-met” burgers in a wildly decorated location.
After checking out the East Village, close out your day by heading into downtown Des Moines by crossing one of several scenic pedestrian bridges over the Des Moines River. There are multiple great drinking destinations in downtown Des Moines, including Exile Brewing Co. and Court Avenue Restaurant & Brewing Company.
Exile Brewing Co.—a 10 minutes walk from the aforementioned Lua Brewing—is a must-stop for visiting beer tourists. The brewery makes premium ales and doesn’t shy away from any style, having released notable pilsners, tropical wheat ales and barrel-aged sour beers.
Court Avenue Restaurant & Brewing Company is found right in the heart of downtown Des Moines and is actually the city’s oldest still-operating brewery. The brewpub keeps a handful of faithful beers on its tap, but adds other rotating seasonal batches to its tap wall. In all, the brewpub typically has more than a dozen house-made beers to try at any time, and that’s not to mention its full menu of elevated pub fare.
There are plenty of attractions in downtown Des Moines, as well. Head over to the Science Center of Iowa to get hands on with interactive exhibits or journey through space at its planetarium. Downtown Des Moines is further home to the West End Architectural Salvage, a 4-story showroom with vintage goods and antiques for sale, many of which are internationally sourced.
Swing by these sites to document your trip to Des Moines.
Pappajohn Sculpture Park
Found in downtown Des Moines, this 4-acre public sculpture garden contains more than 20 works of art from internationally renowned artists such as Ai Weiwei and Barry Flanagan.
Iowa State Capitol
The Iowa State Capitol, built in the late 19th Century, is perhaps Des Moines’ most iconic site. The Capitol’s central dome is covered in a sheet of 23-carat gold.
Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
Des Moines’ botanical garden features more than 1,200 species of plants and 7 acres of outdoor gardens, including the Lauridsen Savanna, which is designed to emulate Iowa’s natural landscapes.
WORTH THE TRIP
Looking to get out of the city center? These nearby attractions are Worth the Drive.
A collection of interesting towns dot the western borders of Des Moines, including townships like Waukee, Clive and Urbandale. Just because you’re outside of the city limits doesn’t mean there is a lack of interesting sites to check out.
Located in Waukee, Kinship Brewing Company is a brewery worth the trip for any adventurous beer tourist. The brewery, which comes fully equipped with a dog park for your furry friends, serves more than a dozen beers at any time, with styles ranging from hazy IPAs to English mild ales. Kinship Brewing Company even leans on local heritage for some of its beers, such as its low-ABV corn pilsner.
While driving out to Kinship Brewing Company, take a quick detour south to West Des Moines to drive past one of the more interesting cemeteries—yes, cemetery—in America. The first grave in Huston Cemetery was built in 1847, and the graveyard markers from the small cemetery still stand to this day despite the cemetery’s location in the middle of a roundabout.
There are many good restaurants to check out in the area, but LT Organic Farm Restaurant stands out from the crowd. The restaurant is the dining-forward feature of LT Organic Farm in Waukee and uses the farm’s fresh, organic produce. LT Organic Farm Restaurant serves Indian and Mediterranean dishes and offers vegan and gluten-free options for diners. The organic restaurant is only open from the spring through the fall, so catch it while you can!
After a long day of driving around, stay the night out in central Iowa at the Wildwood Lodge in Clive. This one-of-a-kind hotel is decorated as a boutique lodge, with outdoor fire pits and a distinct indoor pool.
Interact with the map below to navigate to every stop mentioned in this article, and have fun exploring Des Moines!