As one of the only brewpubs in South Dakota, I've had Firehouse Brewing on my list for a long time. I love the concept of a place built in an old firehouse, but the love affair ended there. BA reviews are lukewarm at best and it seems like beer isn't necessarily the primary focus when looking online. With a fair amount of experience researching breweries, I've started to get a pretty accurate feel for a place ahead of time. Plus, the guys at Monks in Sioux Falls said that I could find better places in Rapid City. While part of the fun is being surprised, my beer-sense was spot on for this trip.
As a walked into Firehouse at 8 pm on a Sunday night, it was full to the brim and had a waiting list. I hawked a seat at the bar after 15 minutes of lurking about and ordered a sampler of all of their beers. Inside is clearly an old firehouse and a great brick building with a stamped tin ceiling in spite of the TGI Friday's decor.
The four ounce samples in low ball glasses were generous, but I didn't finish many of them. Smoke Jumper Stout lead the pack with a drinkable smoked stout, and Smokin' Betty, another smoked beer but an amber this time, was a close second. But the rest dropped off precipitously.
The bartender was friendly and helpful, but the sampler had no order or place mat to keep track of the beer. I wrote down the beer names from the white board on the wall behind me and re-ordered them with the bartender's help to match my notes.
Firehouse is a classic tourist trap brewpub in the vein of others I've been lured into before. In heavy touristy areas, my theory is that the beer suffers because there are no/few locals to serve and the quality falls as a result. Oblivious tourists will eat and drink there no matter what, so no reason to improve--just keep serving it up. We experienced this at Oak Creek Brewing in Sedona, Arizona a few years ago on a trip to see our niece Regan. And, I repeated the optimistic error at Estes Park Brewing outside of Rocky Mountain National Park, another pub where the traffic is to the detriment of the beer, just a few days before my stop at Firehouse.
At Firehouse, the menu boasts the best food and brew in the Black Hills; I don't know about the food, but head to Spearfish and Crow Peak for the best beer in the area.