Review: Brick River Cider in downtown St. Louis
The first cidery in a craft beer town, Brick River Cider is attempting to educate St. Louisans on this very American beverage. We’re in good hands with founder Russ John – apples are in his blood. In the 1860s, his family settled in Nebraska, where they’ve been growing apples ever since.
Brick River Cider is located in a large, renovated 1890s fire station that feels historic, but bright and not a bit stuffy. It’s a balancing act, and one the cidery does well: Large black-and-white historical photos of St. Louis pop against vintage cream-colored tiles, while the high, dark wood ceilings and refurbished garage doors breathe plenty of air into the space.
Additional seating can be found on the second floor, where the old firemen’s dormitory is now an attractive gathering space with large windows overlooking a quaint row of Tudor-style buildings downtown.
A wall of windows behind the bar provides a peek into the ciderworks. Anyone who appreciates the atmosphere at St. Louis’ many craft breweries will likely feel at home here too. It’s a laid-back scene ideal for hanging with friends. Live music plays Fridays starting at 8:30 p.m. One of the nights I visited, the musician played a mellow mix (think Neil Young) that provided a nice, unobtrusive background to conversations.
Five ciders are currently on tap, all fresh-pressed from Midwestern fruit. The Homestead, one of two flagship brews, is an unfiltered, semisweet farmhouse-style cider that packs a ton of tart and clean apple flavor. The second flagship, Cornerstone, is semi-dry with subtle earthy notes.
The Brewer’s Choice is the driest cider available, with a hoppy bitterness that offsets the fruit’s sweetness, while the Firehouse Rosé offers a unique twist on rosé wine, with sour cherries and hibiscus tea balancing out the apple.
I don’t enjoy sweet drinks, so the Sweet Lou, with blueberry and lavender, was the only cider I didn’t care for. The rest were on the sweet side, but still enjoyable.
In the spring, Brick River plans to debut a rhubarb cider with additional seasonal releases to follow. Hopefully there will be a few drier options added to the mix. For those not so keen on cider, Brick River also offers a handful of local beers.
The kitchen at Brick River isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it produces solid pub standbys that pair nicely with the ciders. The list of shareables includes a variety of flatbreads, including the Ozark Forest Flatbread, which was savory, woodsy and sweet with mushroom, sage and red onion. Another winner was the cider-brined wings. Tossed in Red Hot Riplets seasoning, they were succulent with just enough salty heat to make things interesting.
Among the bigger plates, the mac and cheese may be some of the best I’ve had in St. Louis, thanks to a creamy blend of three cheeses coating a generous mound of cavatappi noodles. There’s an option to add pulled pork and barbecue sauce. Do it – it adds a delightful sweetness and sharpness.
The fish and chips were another standout, the fish crispy but not overpowered by batter, and the fries crisp and blanketed with a dusting of salty Parmesan, garlic and parsley. Service was on the slow side, which wasn’t a problem while planning to hang out a bit, but is something to keep in mind if you’re hoping for a quick dinner.
Craft cider has been gaining in popularity, and with Brick River, St. Louisans can explore the world of apples while supporting a local business and Midwestern farms. With its solid (and growing) list of ciders and delicious pub fare, Brick River feels like a natural addition to this city of craft beverage lovers.
Stephanie Zeilenga is a longtime critic and contributor to Sauce Magazine.
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