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Craft Breweries Popping Up Across the Rural Bible Belt

Jennifer Moore


Rural southern Missouri, the heart of the Bible Belt, might not seem like the most popular place to open a taproom. In fact, many counties just south of the Missouri-Arkansas state line are still “dry” counties.

But when Phil Wages, co-owner of Wages Brewing Company, held a grand opening a few weeks ago in West Plains, his brewery was packed.

Wages said the response has been tremendously positive, with a couple of exceptions.

“We had this one moment where somebody posted to our Facebook that we were terrible people for opening up a brewery,” Wages said.

He has to be careful not to offend anyone in naming his beers, he said. He co-owns the brewery with his wife, Amber.

“For the most part, the community’s been really open arms about it,” Wages said.

Five years ago, Wages and his brewer, Amy Fisher, were working from his front porch.

“It was 20 degrees outside, snow six inches deep, and we couldn’t get the water to run because the hoses froze up,” Wages said.

Credit Jennifer Moore / KSMU
Phil Wages co-owns Wages Brewing Company with his wife, Amber.

“But we managed to make beer, even in that. It just showed that we were dedicated to our craft. I was really impressed that she stuck through it with me,” he said.

Credit Jennifer Moore / KSMU
Amy Fisher brews handcrafted beer at the new Wages Brewing Company in West Plains, Missouri.

At the grand opening earlier this year, the clientele was a mixed demographic, with a solid turnout from retirees.

“I expected millennials and 30-somethings to be our number one customer, but that’s really proven to be 15 percent at the most, really,” Wages said. 

That’s also what he’s found in his visits to other rural breweries in the region, including Piney River Brewing Company in Bucyrus, Missouri.

“There’s a lot of retired people with disposable income that are just really enjoying microbrew in the Midwest,” Wages said.

In addition to its seasonal and specialty beers, Wages Brewing Company offers three brews year-round.

Their staple hybrid brew is the Whatknot Ale.

The Landlocked IPA has been their biggest seller, which Wages says he did not expect.

“I think the fact that it’s super fresh—I mean, last week, we kegged beer on Wednesday and we served it on Friday. It doesn’t get any fresher than that,” Wages said.

The third year-round beer is the Good Mornin’ Stout.

“For example, we did a French tarragon beer. We did one with dandelions. We’ve done one with local honey,” Wages said.

The brewery works with local farmers supplying produce like raspberries and blackberries.

Credit Jennifer Moore / KSMU
The taproom's chalkboard menu lists a combination of seasonal and year-round brews; Wages says the Landlocked IPA has been the most popular.

And Wages says there’s potential for local tourism in this industry, despite being in a very rural location.

Already, he’s seen visitors from Massachusetts, Florida, California, and Texas.

Credit Jennifer Moore / KSMU
The taproom is located in the East Towne Village center on Bill Virdon Boulevard in West Plains, Missouri.

“It’s really amazing. If we had a map where people could pinpoint where they’re coming from, we probably would’ve already hit half the states,” he said.

People who are passionate about craft beer, he said, will “seek you out.”

As News Director, Jennifer oversees news gathering and production for KSMU-Ozarks Public Radio; in her role as Content Coordinator, she makes sure all programs on KSMU, including those produced locally, nationally, and internationally, flow seamlessly over the air. She trains the student reporters and announcers and hosts the monthly program Engaging the Community. Follow her on Twitter @jennwritesmoore.