Like the city of Cape Girardeau itself, Buckner Brewing Company pays homage to both tradition and innovation at its historic downtown venue. The brewery is named after C.M. Buckner, a local retailer credited with initiating the revitalization of the downtown district after a fire decimated several riverfront businesses in 1916. What was once a popular department store called Buckner-Ragsdale is once again a thriving business — this time as southeast Missouri’s only brewpub.
Back in 1999, business partners Phil Brinson and Mark Sprigg opened Ragsdale’s Pub in the building’s lower level facing Cape’s river wall. In 2002, the street-level floor was renovated and converted into what is now Buckner Brewing Company, a spacious and architecturally inspiring brewpub complete with a 14-barrel brew house, extensive food menu and list of five year-round beers — Amber Ale, Honey Wheat, Pale Ale, Porter and Raspberry Wheat — in addition to a constantly rotating lineup of seasonal and specialty ales and lagers brewed on location by brewmaster Mike Mills.
“It’s been a fun and unique experience,” Mills said. “I’ve been here 11 years. I was originally hired to work the door downstairs (Ragsdale’s Pub), and I was also beginning to homebrew at the time.”
Little did Mills know then, but this burgeoning hobby would soon become a career. Mills’ work ethic and brewing skills would lead him to the opportunity most homebrewers only dream about.
“I kept sharing my beer with the owners, and when it came time to renovate the building for the brewery, they put me in charge of installing the brewhouse,” Mills said. “And, once the installation was complete, Mark (Sprigg) said, ‘Well, see you at eight in the morning.’”
The rest is history. Mills has been brewing at Buckner ever since and is clearly passionate about his craft and its place in the success of a small brewpub. While paying tribute to classic beer styles, Mills likes to add his own creative flair to Buckner’s beer.
“I try to take a classic style and put a modern twist on it. It’s important to keep the idea fresh, as well as the beer. Fresh beer is the big hook, and the atmosphere here is unique to the area,” Mills said. “We try to do everything with character, keep it local and seasonal as much as we can and even incorporate the beer into the menu items, as well.”
Another ingredient in the business’s mix is a full-service banquet facility on the third floor, capable of seating 200 for any kind of large event or gathering. Buckner also offers a full catering menu and beers on draught on the banquet floor. The ability to offer a pub, brewery and event facility in one location is all part of what makes Buckner Brewing Company unique and worth seeking out, whether you’re coming from across town or across state lines.
“As a small, locally owned business, it’s a little tough to get the word out in a market saturated with big chain businesses,” Mills said. “But, we’ve been open a long time, so we’re doing something right.”
Buckner Brewing Company offers tours upon request, and craft beer fans can also take home a growler (half-gallon jug used to transport draught beer) of Buckner’s beer. Whether you’re in Southern Illinois or southeast Missouri, one thing is certain: Buckner Brewing Company is a place where history and progress meet in tangible, and tasty, form. Who will you meet at Buckner?
SHAWN CONNELLY is best known for authoring ‘Style Studies’ – a regular feature on world beer styles in the nationally-distributed Beer Connoisseur Magazine. Shawn is also a craft and specialty beer retail consultant and event host, who has introduced countless Southern Illinoisans to better beer over the last several years. Shawn is also an award-winning home brewer. You can follow Shawn on his blog at www.beerphilosopher.com.