Top 10 Craft Brewery Taprooms – North Texas, Great Plains and Central USA Road Trip, March 2019

Top Ten Breweries: Panther Island Brewing Co, Tupps Brewery, Prairie Artisan OKC, Heirloom Rustic Ales, Lawrence Beer Co, Boulevard Brewing, Strange Days Brewing Co, Great River Brewery, Lost Forty Brewing, Peticolas Brewing Co

Honourable mentions: Collective Brewing Project, Elk Valley Brewing, Willow Family Ales, Casual Animal Brewing, Infusion Brewing Company, Confluence Brewing, Big Grove Brewery, White Oak Brewing Co, Water Buffalo and Buffalo Brewing Co, Braindead Brewing Co


So, our epic beer-fuelled Mid-Western odyssey is at an end! After spending a full month on the road, travelling through 8 states, covering over 2,500 miles and visiting an immense 73 brewery taprooms, we’re tired but happy, full of beer (but not too full!) and memories, and while every taproom, like every city (and every record store!) was an adventure, there are a few that stand out unarguably from the rest – the shining stars of the Great Plains and North Texas craft beer scene, sweet as those first sips of a fresh brew when you’re absolutely gasping. Some are famous, well-known names whose Motherships are the stuff that dreams are made of, while some are relatively unexplored nooks and crannies of local brewing in towns you may not find easily on a map where the element of surprise only added to the quality of our experience. We’re getting used to seeing some raised eyebrows when extolling the beery virtues of some of our more random destinations, particularly from fellow Americans, many of whom still see the Mid-West as the ‘flyover zone’! But do not be fooled – these folks know how to brew with the best of ‘em – from large to small, Central USA does indeed have it all!

Here are my top ten breweries from our trip, in the order we visited them, followed by another ten honourable mentions, also in the order we stopped by. Hope y’all enjoy!


Panther Island Brewing Co, Tupps Brewery, Prairie Artisan OKC, Heirloom Rustic Ales, Lawrence Beer Co, Boulevard Brewing, Strange Days Brewing Co, Great River Brewery, Lost Forty Brewing, Peticolas Brewing Co


Panther Island Brewing Co, Fort Worth TX

92cb78f6-825d-4078-aab7-11ffb7382e25Panther Island was a bit of a revelation to us – we’d not come across them on our travels or tried any of their beers prior to our visit, so were somewhat blown away by the high quality across the board. Running the gamut from Pink Guava Gose (There Gose My Hero – what a name!) to Peanut Butter Milk Stout (Sweet Fang) by way of IIPA (Ipf’nA), these beers were absolutely gorgeous. I’m dead fussy about Peanut Butter Stouts, but Panther Island’s was of a standard to rival my absolute favourite, Hammerton Brewery’s Crunch (try it if you ever get the chance!). Getting it so right over such a wide range of styles isn’t easy, but Panther Island made it seem absolutely normal – the NEIPA, Stout and Scotch Ale all more than measured up too.

7338aa94-a56f-4cf6-98e0-e0b48ebb2912Our visit was made even more enjoyable by an excellent chat with our super-knowledgeable and engaged bartender Colt (like the horse and the gun!), a brewer and beer aficionado after my own heart with whom we exchanged beer-travel stories and recommendations. The simple but atmospheric taproom is lit by clusters of fairy lights hanging from the ceiling, backing out into the brewing space. There’s even air hockey, should you feel the need to indulge. With a picturesque spot right on the bend in the West Trinity River, Panther Island has a great location between Downtown and the Stockyards, so there’s really no excuse not to visit. A Fort Worth beer-must.

This content was first posted here, where you can also find more Fort Worth beer recommendations!


Tupps Brewery, McKinney TX

d2ba4800-b2c1-4d9b-990b-05c2abfa451bLiving in Austin, Tupps has a slightly mythical status. With excellent distribution in our fair city, everyone knows how good the beers are, particularly their outstanding DDH & Full Grown Man series’, but the Mothership is a place of mystery all the way out on the far side of Dallas in McKinney, Texas. My geography not being all it should be, I decided that a visit to said McKinney was an essential component to our journey out of the state, so inadvertently put us on an unnecessarily circuitous route round the melee of traffic-hell that is the DFW metropolitan area, chugging from one super-highway to another, and barely breaking into fresh countryside before we reached the chic, chocolate-boxy version of small-town Texas that is McKinney just as the sun started to set. Fortunately a) I have a very patient husband, and b) we were handsomely rewarded for our efforts by a huge artsy steampunk taproom, so super-hip that it wouldn’t be out of place in Downtown Austin or Central London, with large barrel tables, stylish stools and artwork absolutely everywhere. Not so hip, however, that we didn’t receive a warm Texas welcome of course.

5fcbd44e-ea05-463f-ae36-00bc259c7de7We felt rather smug tucking into new, fresh Tupps brews amidst a lively local crowd who all knew the best place in town to be on a Friday night! In our flight of five, every one was a winner but I particularly enjoyed the superbly zingy DDH Sour Peach IPA, delicious coffee-oatmeal-breakfasty Full Grown Man-Child Stout and t’was very exciting getting hold of the latest in Tupps’ DDH and TDH IPA series’ (v9 and v8 respectively) straight from the source. There was a band setting up on the spacious indoor stage as we were leaving and we were gutted not to be able to stay for the show. Tupps’ taproom, like their beers, is characterful, memorable and full of attention to detail, going beyond fashionable and into unique. I very much hope to make it back sometime.


Prairie Artisan OKC

9359b3d2-f119-4ff0-89d8-ae0faf1eff11Following our brilliant Tupps experience, we hit the road with a not-insubstantial drive to OKC ahead of us. Arriving into town at close to 10pm, the first thing we did (of course) was head straight out to the beer-mecca that is Prairie Artisan. Coming from the UK, Prairie beers have ridiculously high status (and price tags to match) and I was absolutely champing at the bit to get tasting the brews fresh from the source. Although Prairie Artisan originally spring from Tulsa OK, we were more than happy to get stuck in at their OKC satellite site, and, as things later turned out, we much preferred it to the mothership.

6db6bf1e-b1e6-42eb-900a-527b720ef26aLocated in OKC’s trendy midtown with a cool indoor-outdoor redbrick industrial space, OKC’s Prairie was very much how I’d imagined the home of one of the most stylish US brews we get in the UK to be. With their name beaming out in neon pink lights and a chilled crowd of late-night hipsters hanging out, this was exactly the Prairie experience I’d been expecting, and in my excitement I went in full tilt with two flights of four, served in nice fancy goblets, including several taproom specials. And yes, the beers were beautiful! It was great to get to try a decent whack of the Prairie oeuvre that went beyond the Imperial Stouts for which they are best known in the UK, although I won’t deny that the badass Bible Belt and superbly rich and luscious raspberry-peanut-butter Somethin’ Sexy Imperial Stouts were among my favourites! Other special treats included the intensely bretted ‘Merica Farmhouse Saison, hazy and tart Blueberry Boyfriend Sour and fresh, juicy Slush Sour.

While Prairie beers are not cheap, even in their home state, this was a delightfully rewarding experience, and I’d encourage anyone visiting OKC to stop in and indulge their inner hipster, and try some great beers to boot.


Heirloom Rustic Ales, Tulsa OK


While we arrived in Tulsa OK, a beer city with highly exacting standards and price tags to match, expecting the Prairie Artisan mothership to be our most memorable highlight, we came away completely besotted with the rather exceptional Heirloom Rustic Ales. First impressions count, and arriving at their neatly painted crisp-white taproom with its fab stylised buffalo mural and its chic, sophisticated interior, all white and chrome (even the bathroom is insta-worthy!) I felt like I was in a top-end London cocktail bar. Of course, not everyone wants their brewery taproom to resemble a top-end London cocktail bar (or at least, not all the time), but the elegance of the space is hard to dispute. And then there’s the menu. Heirloom have gone beyond tasting notes with their exquisitely detailed descriptions of each beer, detailing both the brewing process and expected flavours and aromas in language that wouldn’t be out of place in a romantic novel. And I mean that in a good way – they clearly love their beers.

8ef88b10-33df-4512-9d85-0fe8c3142672And to the beers! As well as the farmhouse-style beers their name suggests, Heirloom have a strong range of beer styles from Kolsch to Imperial Stout, all of an extremely high quality. Our flight of five included such delights as the super-smoky Rite Time Rauchbier, moreish-praline Sleep Dealer Imperial Stout, superb corn-rice-banana Florida Stories Mexican Lager and sweet, complex Relict Batch 2 Biere de Garde. We also tasted an absolutely delicious Chapel Visitor – a Biere de Coupage blended from a 15 month barrel-fermented wild ale, a 3 month barrel fermented wild ale and a young saison. If that sounds amazing it’s because it was! Brewing only in small batches, Heirloom are able to keep standards phenomenally high, and I would have been very happy to pick this entire place up and drop it in Austin around the corner from my house. We also had a lovely chat with our extremely friendly, helpful and knowledgeable bartender who made our experience even more enjoyable, talking us through the beers and the brewing scene in Tulsa. An essential stop on any Tulsa OK visit.


Lawrence Beer Co, Lawrence KS

img_2205We stopped in Lawrence KS on our journey between Tulsa and Kansas City, and were so taken with the pretty, historic college town that we’ll hopefully make it back at some point. Lawrence Beer Co was the undisputed highlight of our trip, a rightfully popular local brewpub located in the Lawrence’s smart, trendy Warehouse Arts District. Bustling to burst on a Wednesday evening, Lawrence Beer Co serves up both food and beer of an impressively high standard. Make no mistake though, thinking local doesn’t mean being unambitious, as a swift glance at the Lawrence beer menu will tell you. Lawerence’s exciting, experimental beer list does not disappoint on delivery – I rated every one of the eight beers I tried at 4 or above on Untappd. Our hugely helpful server offered us plenty of tasters, although there ended up being little we didn’t want! At the top of the very competitive pile came the heavenly tropical-milkshake-lactose Momentum IPA, gorgeously bright and tart Big Peach Farmhouse Saison and the King Hippo IIPA, a juicebomb with a lovely delicate touch.

img_2200If you are hungry, or even if you’re not, don’t miss the food at Lawrence. Their incredible Beer Belly Burger (yes, that’s a beef burger with pork belly on top) was one of the culinary highlights of our whole trip, and just thinking about it now is making me hungry. Lawrence is everything a successful brewpub should be and more – the perfect fusion of quality beer and food in a space that works well for both eating and drinking. You can even stay overnight if you don’t want to leave! At just 30 minutes away from Kansas City, this is a stop you won’t regret making.


Boulevard Brewing, Kansas City MO

00889e9e-62f9-4146-81d1-6499da5d0c26It’s hard to overstate how much we loved visiting the Boulevard taproom (and indeed the whole facility). Let’s start with the fact that we went back twice, and that both times we were (embarrassingly literally) jumping up and down squealing that we were in the best place in the world (I should emphasise the use of the Royal We here, although JB was grinning from ear to ear too!).


Boulevard is huge. Really really huge. We didn’t count the exact number of buildings, but it takes up a couple of blocks, and the site includes their current production plant as well as their original and second brewing facilities (which you visit as part of the tour) and their huge two-story beer hall. Boulevard might be big (big enough that we get their beers in the UK) but every single part of your experience is personal. Every staff member we spoke to (and there were a lot) went out of their way to be friendly and helpful, welcoming us into the building, offering us advice and samples at the bars, taking questions on the tour and even, despite the huge volume of folks visiting, remembering us from one day to the next! It’s no wonder we wanted to move in permanently. And the beers! I’ve been a fan of Boulevard’s funky, bottle-conditioned oeuvre for a long time and always try to get hold of their big boozy seasonals, but the selection they had in the beer hall was just dreamy! With several taproom-only specials, including an entire bar dedicated to experimental beers, core, seasonals and of course the newest releases, I just wanted to stay all day and drink everything (and managed a decent stab at this despite our limited timing!). I can’t recommend the Rye on Rye 6 enough, if you’re lucky enough to grab some of the limited release, and the TerraVox Norton Collaboration Ale is a little slice of beer-wine heaven (although I preferred it from the bottle than on draft). Other favourites included the super-effervescent zingy Love Child No 9 Sour, sweet and complex Good L’Oven Imperial Stout, juice-haze 692 Mosaic IPA and big boozy Whiskey Barrel Stout, but this, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg!

fcda6eb9-6908-40f0-8c0d-d27f1224747fA tour of the Boulevard facility sets you back an incy wincy $5, which includes three beer samples – very nice indeed. Get there early or book in advance at the weekends cos it get busy! Flights samples are priced individually (although during busy periods only the set flights are available) and there are plenty of food options (although we didn’t eat there). Just in case you’re not already in love by proxy, this is a zero-carbon facility with a huge anti-discrimination sign at the entrance. Be still my heart! Oh, and don’t miss the photo booth!


Strange Days Brewing Co, Kansas City MO

img_2289There are a lot of breweries in Kansas City (no, I don’t know exactly how many, but my liver will testify it was a lot!), and standing out from the crowd isn’t easy, especially in a city where Boulevard in all its brilliance glows omniscient. Situated in KC’s River Market district in a historic building that previously housed Muehlebach Brewery & Schlitz, Strange Days have pulled off a nice little coup, going small and quirky in the face of so much largesse, and doing it with an indisputable panache.

25f9430d-cf89-4671-8559-3368f1f01cd2Our visit coincided with their popular trivia night, and the simple, modern taproom was busy with heads down and pencils scribbling. Flights come in fives so we were able to sample an ample segment of the 12 beers available which ran an impressive style gamut. We were both extremely taken with the 4 Miles ESB which more than satisfied our need for a taste of home, the 4 miles referring to the distance between the Arsenal and Tottenham grounds – fortunately JB only discovered this after tasting it! The ambitious Imperial Belgian Brown was also a winner, capturing the best of its component parts, and the Black Dragon Ale brewed with ginger was a delicious Asian-fusion brew of the kind we really need more of. Breakfast at Grandma’s could have gone very wrong but Strange Days pulled off this complex, spiced IPA with cinnamon, vanilla, almond and orange to create a happily decadent but not cloyingly sweet creation that was surprisingly moreish (this from someone who loathed The Bruery’s Or Xata). If you’re struggling to shortlist all those KC taprooms be sure to include Strange Days.


Great River Brewery, Davenport IO

4b50548c-b71e-4a80-b8a2-f627e9bebe89We were tipped off about the delights of Davenport IA earlier on our travels as we passed through Saint Joseph, NE, and we did indeed regret not making our visit an overnight one. This was in large part due to our rather fab visit to Great River Brewing, a taproom where time just flies through your fingers cos between the beers and the company you’re just having so much fun. Situated right on the banks of the Mississippi, we visited Davenport in the immediate aftermath of extensive flooding across the MidWest, and many roads were still closed with the water reaching up to street level. Nonetheless, it was certainly business-as-usual in the bustling downtown full of old redbrick warehouses, close to where Great River is situated. Arriving on a Friday afternoon, the taproom and beer garden were both lively with locals getting their weekend started and we pulled up stools at the nicely pub-like bar to order our impressive 6-beer flight which had the added bonus of being on happy hour pricing! With a solid 18 beers on tap, all their own, narrowing that down to 6 was still hard work, but I clearly made a decent job of it as I scored every one of them at 4.25 or higher on Untappd – very high praise indeed. The undisputed highlight (for me at least!) was the Poltergeist IPA, brewed with ghost peppers that was blow-your-darn-head-off spicy but with a full, hoppy flavour, and to top off the excitement was a cask beer! I was gutted I’d forgotten my growler – so much so that I may have had to sneak in an extra half-pint of this before we left. Other favourites included the Hopapotamus Rye IPA – a super-boozy-hoppy treat that came out deliciously on nitro, the nuttily moreish Farmer Brown Ale and fragrant sweet-savoury Candied Orange IPA.

f716a9d6-0218-4a4e-953f-4b8114a611eaWe were greeted warmly by staff and fellow customers alike (you’d be surprised how interested Iowans are about Brexit), and drank away happily chewing the fat until it was time to leave (and even somewhat after that – oops!). As well as drinking some fantastic beers, we got the lowdown on the best local spots and will certainly be venturing up to Davenport for a return visit. I will add a small caveat that while writing this I spotted some disappointing branding on Great River’s website (which I didn’t notice during my taproom visit). I sincerely hope they switch this out asap, as they’re a first-rate brewery and really should be above using images of half-dressed women on their beers.


Lost Forty Brewing, Little Rock AR

61ef3787-1583-49eb-9f1f-ff0766b495e6After a slightly inauspicious start to our Little Rock sojourn, when we discovered that pretty much all the taprooms in town close at 9pm (really), we paid a lunchtime visit to the Lost Forty taproom, poised and ready to eat, drink and be merry. Happily, all these needs were met inside their super-cute cosy rustic wood-panelled taproom, where our fantastically enthusiastic server talked through our many beer options with us (14 beers on tap, 5 of them IPAs or DIPAs!), offered us samples and gave us the local lowdown on where exactly in town was open late at night! We got stuck into a delicious slab of super-juicy brisket (oh we had been missing Southern cooking!) and zoned in on a four-pour flight that included the outstanding big-hopped, boozy and resinous Snake Party DIPA and delightfully clean and piney-hopped Crystal State Rockhound IPA.

c0947399-4bbd-4387-96ec-9bb4fc4e4238While there’s no denying Lost Forty are all over their IPAs, there was plenty of diversity in the menu including a light, tart, pastry-sour Brunch Muffin Blueberry Lemon Gose and a super-boozy BBA Rock Candy Belgian Dubbel, as well as their top-selling Love Honey Bock, made with fresh local honey. Lost Forty’s reputation precedes it, and rightly so – if you’re heading out of state be sure to pack up some cans for your journey too. Lost Forty might close at 9pm, but they will certainly show you a good time while they’re open!


Peticolas Brewing, Dallas TX


I’d been dying to visit the Peticolas taproom since we arrived in Texas, and it’s been a bit of a wait, only 18 months! Despite their huge renown, Peticolas only distribute in the DFW area, so aside from the odd brew that’s made it further west, I’ve been poised in anticipation to check out their very exciting brews. We arrived at their taproom after a very unsuccessful afternoon of traipsing around Dallas getting lost and stuck in traffic, and were absolutely gasping by the time we got there. Fortunately, the brilliant bar staff had us covered. Our beer needs were swiftly and accurately assessed and we were presented with a flight of everything we wanted (which set us back a substantial $17 but hell, we had 6 rather boozy beers and it was our first visit). My top picks were the sweet, dark, boozy Black Curtains American Imperial Stout and the huge 13% Don’t Be Scared American Barleywine – when Peticolas go big, they go big! The Doctor’s Orders IIPA was also a serious offering with strong, smooth resinous hops, while the Sit Down Or I’ll Sit You Down IIPA went full and juicy.

fceeb949-4609-43e8-83f2-66ddf4bf871bPeticolas have an impressive three-story taproom with a games area at the top and their tank room at the back, and it was absolutely heaving on the Sunday afternoon that we visited. Despite this, staff took time to chat with me, answer my questions and talk about the beers, which is exactly what you want from any taproom visit, especially one that’s been so highly anticipated. Dallas has a lot of great breweries these days, and so much amazing beer to choose from and it’s great that standards are so high. This (plus the city’s high beer pricing) also means that expectations are at a concomitant level, and of all our Dallas taproom experiences, Peticolas was the one to meet them.


Honourable mentions: Collective Brewing Project, Elk Valley Brewing, Willow Family Ales, Casual Animal Brewing, Infusion Brewing Company, Confluence Brewing, Big Grove Brewery, White Oak Brewing Co, Water Buffalo and Buffalo Brewing Co, Braindead Brewing Co


img_1598Collective Brewing Project, Fort Worth TX – Fort Worth’s top stop to get your sour ‘n’ funky on! Loved the sweet-smoky-sour Bug Rye’d and sour-pumpkin Classipied!


62008c07-a0c5-4587-96d0-1885dbc18cc4Elk Valley Brewing, Oklahoma City OK – A stylish, modern taproom whose roof terrace is the perfect spot to watch the OKC sunset from. Can’t get enough of that Magic Juice IPA, and the sweet-roasty Coffee Nemesis is also delicious.


07c112e7-37ba-4209-8d49-bdf3bf56fda3Willow Family Ales, Tulsa OK – Another top Tulsa spot for Sours and Saisons. Don’t miss  the mouthwatering crushed passionfruit seeds on brett taste of I’m Sour Ms Jackson or the When Doves Rye Saison which beautifully blends sour cherry into the rye.


img_2374Casual Animal Brewing, Kansas City MO – Hip local spot with great branding (I’m a sucker for a buffalo!). Their Local Motive Imperial ESB is like Old Speckled Hen turned up to 11 – brilliant stuff. I’d also recommend the super-quaffable Luminary Canary Kolsch.


e8fec826-5691-481a-b904-c9fdbd45cb74Infusion Brewing Company, Benson NE – We had such a great chat with our fab bartender at Infusion. He was so passionate about their beers, and rightly so – all six beers we tried knocked it out the park. Don’t miss the rich, firm Citra and Simcoe IPA and the fresh super-moreish Pistachio Porter.


img_2839Confluence Brewing Co, Des Moines IO – Nice chatty folks on both sides of the bar. Do not miss the Campfire Black Lager – it’s aged in Scotch barrels and is heavenly badass peaty! Batch 1041 Hazy DIPA is a smashing juice-bomb too.


efd5c235-10fb-4ef0-8df1-bd6e8d0e29dcBig Grove Brewery, Iowa City IO – Outstanding hospitality in a glossy modern taproom, Iowa City’s top place to hang out. The bright, sherberty Passion Project Sour Berliner Weisse was an absolute winner, also really enjoyed the punchy Big Ed IIPA.


img_3090White Oak Brewing, Normal IL – While this wasn’t my favourite taproom (let’s just say I’m not surprised they have a beer called Bro, Do You Even IPA?), there’s no denying the White Oak beers were really very good. The Baileys-coffee Kelley Black Imperial Stout and gorgeously bright and juicy Purple Hills Glory DDH Fruit IPA and full, rich Rye’d Up Hopped Out Rye IPA just edged above the rest.


img_3373The Water Buffalo and Buffalo Brewing Company, Little Rock AR – Home of both Water Buffalo and Sidetracked Research Brewing, this is a taproom in the back of a homebrew store which is super-cool in itself, plus both sets of beers are great. We tried the Fortress IPA and Luau Pineapple Wheat from Water Buffalo and Sherman Brown and Domestic Oil Change Stout from Sidetracked – all are highly recommended.


9f54ad13-fd3d-4f6d-8f04-b8d96072b5f0Braindead Brewing Co, Dallas TX – A bit of a craft beer Holy Grail, Braindead’s reputation precedes it and rightly so. With achingly high standards across the board, great service and superb food, the only downside to Braindead is the big ol’ Dallas price tag. Top beer picks include the gorgeous choc-raspberry Something Sexy Imperial Stout and super-zingy Plummy Business Sour.