As regulars of many, many watering holes around town, we've found a funny trend: Bars without their own breweries offering their own brands of beer. It's not a bad gimmick for tavern owners, who buy some not-so-great beer from breweries, slap the establishments' names on the kegs and hang up signs in restrooms touting the impostor suds.
In anticipation of a summer spent regulating our body temperature with cold drinks in dark bars, we sampled five bar-branded brews.
Duke's On Grand | 1501 Grand, 816-527-0122
Source: Cathedral Square Brewery (St. Louis)
"Enjoy our locally brewed house beer," a sign in the men's room at Duke's nudges pee-ers. Except the house beer isn't locally brewed. On a recent visit, a waitress at the bar formerly known as Willie's told us that the rich red IPA with minimal head comes from Cathedral Square Brewery in St. Louis, where one of the bar's owners lives. Duke's IPA is intensely hoppy and bitter, with a slight metallic aftertaste. IPA fans should be pleased, but if you're unsure, try it on a Thursday when all drafts are $2 all day. Otherwise, it's $5 a glass.
Mike's Tavern | 5424 Troost, 816-437-9400
Source: Flying Monkey Brewery
Mike's experiment in self-labeling is a cheap light ale called Troost Light. The reformed dive bar keeps it on tap and under the gaze of Roscoe, the bar's mounted-moose-head mascot. "People come in all the time and say, 'No, it's a pilsner,' " says Val, a Monday-night waitress and bartender. "But it's a light ale." Call it whatever you want. (The erstwhile News Room bar named it News Room Ale.) Just don't call it refreshing. It's a little bitter and sweet, with a thin consistency. A musty aftertaste hangs in your nose after sipping the brassy gold beer. Pitchers cost $4 on Mondays.
Blue Line Beer
The Blue Line | 529 Walnut, 816-472-7825
Source: Flying Monkey Brewery
A pilsner brewed for this River Market establishment by Flying Monkey, Blue Line Beer pairs well with the solid tavern fare served here. (The menu is full of hockey-themed jokes: Burgers are pucks; chicken strips are "goal tenders.") It's a good fit for anybody fond of yard beer but looking for a new flavor. It won't replace lowbrow beer drinkers' Miller Lites or PBR tallboys. But at $3.50, it's a nice diversion.
Volleyball Beach | 13105 Holmes, 816-942-2820
The bartender at this faux beach getaway in Martin City won't reveal the origins of its so - called Beach Beer. "I can't tell you," she says on jam-packed Tuesday night. "It's a mystery beer. It's a good light beer." It's certainly light on color and your wallet - a 22-ounce, straw-yellow draw goes for $3.50. It's easy to see, even with an unknown source, why this is the Gatorade of the Volleyball Beach's bump-set-spike crew. It goes down smooth, but the taste is bland and almost nonexistent. We'd bet it's Natty Light or Milwaukee's Best.
Fitz's Blarney Stone | 3801 Broadway,
Source: Flying Monkey Beer
Even dive-bar lovers get worried looks on their faces when you mention Fitz's. When we were there, an electric wheelchair sat inexplicably unattended in the middle of the bar. Blarney Brew goes for $1.75 a pint. The pilsner by Flying Monkey is fairly smooth and a bit sweet and fruity. After one pint, we wondered if a few Starbursts were dissolved in each keg. It's drinkable and cheap, fitting for a hard-drinking place like Fitz's. Barkeep, another round.