By ALYSE THOMPSON
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
HANNIBAL, Mo. -- The journey to open Mark Twain Brewing Co. has been a community-based one, but that wasn't a surprise to owner Bill Martin.
"Microbreweries by and large are very neighborhood and community-oriented, so it's not unusual to have a pretty high density of microbreweries in an area," Martin said while sitting at the brewery's blond-wood bar earlier this month. "It looked like there was plenty of room for us to do that (in Hannibal)."
About a year ago, Martin, his son, Wes, and his nephew, Lance Smith, had approached St. Louis-area breweries to see whether they were interested in expanding into Hannibal. When none were, the trio took on the job of developing, renovating and constructing one themselves at 422 N. Main, the former home of the Murphy Motors dealership.
The brewing company, bar and restaurant began serving craft beer and food to residents and tourists alike about six weeks ago -- all, Martin said, while naturally filling a long-standing vacancy in Hannibal's downtown. With support from the city, community and a brigade of contractors, the at-least 100-year-old building was transformed from an abandoned dealership into an entertainment space.
"It's got a pretty large footprint, and it's right at the end of the historic district," Martin said of the 14,000-square-foot building. "For it to be vacant, it was an eyesore and sort of a wasted space. It could've easily been torn down and replaced with another patch of parking lot, and people really didn't want to see that."
From 1916 to 2005, the site at North and Main Streets had been home to a Ford truck cab-and-bed manufacturing operation, a machine shop, a John Deere dealership and Murphy Motors. Martin said they've installed bare beams and metalwork, repurposed wood furnishings, and welded metal depictions of their namesake to keep that tradition alive.
"It's always been a manufacturing facility, and so we tried to keep that theme going inside," he said.
After about 15 months of construction, the brewery crew gave their decor, beer and food a trial run with a soft opening over the Fourth of July weekend.
"We had a limited menu -- we didn't try to do a lot," Martin said. "We had all of our beer ready to go. I think it went really well. It was really busy, and people worked hard."
The full menu offers smoked meats, burgers and barbecued chicken, among other selections. The beers, fermented in three 10-barrel tanks and one 20-barrel tank, are diverse to appeal to experienced beer drinkers and those dabbling in craft beer.
Martin said varieties on tap include a red ale, a blonde, an India pale ale, a Koelsch and an apricot-habanero wheat beer. He added that the goal is to have 11 or 12 house-brewed beers on tap, and he called exploring distribution options in September "pretty realistic."
"We want to help introduce craft beer to the area," Martin said. "There are a lot of sophisticated beer drinkers in the area, but there are a lot of people who haven't ventured very far into craft beers."
In terms of the building, Martin said renovations are about 90 percent complete. Crews are expected to finish an upper-level banquet space, as well as an outdoor "hurricane deck," this month. More work is needed in the front portion of the building, which is used as storage and workspace for contractors.
Martin said the brewery's central location -- and view of the Mississippi, riverboats and other Hannibal attractions -- make it ideal for events or "just to hang out." He said he hopes to bring in local and regional bands for live performances. The brewing company shows sports games on the televisions and works to keep its specials fresh to attract locals and visitors from St. Louis, Columbia and beyond.
"When we make great beer, when we have great food, keep it interesting, and have events taking place here, it becomes a destination location," Marin said.
He noted that the business wouldn't have reached this point without help from his family and others.
"You can't do this by yourself," he said. "You have to do it with support of every kind."
Mark Twain Brewing Co.
Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-1:15 a.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
For more on Mark Twain Brewing Co., go to marktwainbrewery.com or visit its Facebook page, "Mark Twain Brewing Co. at Moses Bates Public House." Contact the brewery at 573-406-1300.