As the train chugs around the last bend before town, the Missouri River pops into view.
“Next stop, Hermann!” the conductor bellows, with a touch more enthusiasm than he announced Jeff City or Sedalia. From the back of the car, there’s a faint “woo.”
You get the sense that there are often many more “woos” as this Amtrak rolls into Hermann, a charming mid-Missouri village steeped in German heritage and rooted to the wine grapes growing in neat lines along the steep hillsides that overlook the brick facades of the old downtown.
Hermann was founded to be a rustic Teutonic utopia in the heart of the young nation by German immigrants who felt their way of life was disappearing in bustling Philadelphia. That heritage is still thick, though the modern version of the village is probably best known as a weekend getaway.
On a summer Saturday, you can’t walk a block in Hermann without encountering a bachelorette party on their way to one of the dozen winery tasting rooms. But the busy Oktoberfest and Christmas seasons give way to the still of midwinter.
Hermann is sort of a magical place when the streets are quiet, the dueling pianos sit silent and the tourist trolleys are idle in a gravel lot down by the river. The locals, especially, seem to appreciate having some space to stick out their elbows and share their expertise—this is a service industry town, and seemingly everyone you encounter knows something about distilling, brewing or winemaking.
Here’s how to spend a quiet winter weekend in one of Missouri’s most charming towns.
Hermann is three hours from Kansas City by car. Just take I-70 east to the New Florence exit, and then go south for fifteen miles on MO-19. It’s also an easy and popular trip by train—Amtrak travels from Kansas City to Hermann and back every day, with morning departures from KC and early evening returns from Hermann. Seats can be had for $30, and the trip takes about four hours. Leaving from the Lee’s Summit station instead of Union Station will save you parking costs.
If you’ve never been before, you may be somewhat shocked to learn that there are no big chain hotels in Hermann—the Crown Suites is one of the largest hotels, but it’s not affiliated with the Crowne Plaza chain. Instead, there are about a hundred locally owned accommodations, ranging from cottages to inns to rooms above downtown storefronts. We stayed at the cozy Übernachten guest suite.
Everything in Hermann is close enough to walk, but if you’re going to one of the wineries outside the downtown area, be aware the hills are steep and sidewalks can be dicey. A phrase you’ll hear a lot in Hermann is “well you can walk, but…”—getting a ride is recommended.
Just as there are no corporate hotel chains, Uber and Lyft are not the preferred means of transportation around Hermann. Rather, most people end up paying for a local driver that makes the rounds in the city or who will pick you up when you text them—it all depends on who is working, so ask about drivers where you’re staying or at one of the wineries.
Whether you drive or take the train, if you leave KC in the morning you’ll be arriving in Hermann about lunchtime. Start your visit with one of the city’s surprises: really excellent house-brewed beer from the local wing spot. Wings-A-Blazin’ (120 E. Fourth St., Hermann) makes very good wings, which come fried and naked, ready for your application of the house sauces (X-Hot and Jamaican jerk highly recommended).
But the beer, from the nanobrewery that recently opened in the basement, is even better. The excellent hazy IPA would be toward the top of the heap in KC.
Stone Hill is the oldest and largest winery in Missouri and among the nation’s most-awarded when it comes to native American grapes, which tend to be sweeter and foxier than the European varietals found on the West Coast.
It’s not hard to find Stone Hill (1110 Stone Hill Highway, Hermann)—as its name implies, it sits high on a hill south of town with great views of the cupola-dotted valley below. There are tours and tastings, and we’d recommend at least a tasting, but the best experience is grabbing a slice of black forest cake and a glass of the cream sherry in the Vintage 1847 restaurant. That cream sherry, made with a process the tasting steward said is kept completely secret even from staff, is the best Missouri wine I’ve ever had—and it’s the only Missouri wine stocked at UnColor (below).
Smoke (or smell)
There aren’t many places left in Missouri where you can sit inside and smoke a cigar or pipe while sipping a fine liquor. Hogshead Cigar Lounge (301 Schiller St., Hermann) is such a place. You need to be a member to sit in this den of wood and leather, but a purchase satisfies this requirement. The tobacconist will set you up with a cigar (“something mild” is favored by most customers, who chance by while crawling the town) and pour you a drink.
Experience the Wurst of Hermann
The Hermann Wurst Haus (234 E. First St., Hermann) is more than seventy years old and best known for its bratwurst. You can grab a sandwich or brat inside—but why not take advantage of the new vending machine outside? It’s stocked with meats and cheeses to pair with the bottle you bought from one of the local wineries or wine shops.
Drink non-Missouri wine at UnColor
In a city where so much is old and German, UnColor Wine Bar & Gallery (114 E. Fourth St., Hermann) stands out for being neither—and for its policy of not stocking any Missouri wine, save the Stone Hill cream sherry. In this pleasant, modernist space, you’ll find hyper-knowledgeable bartenders, a nice selection of European and West Coast wines and, on some weekends, comedy shows in the basement. The owners moved to mid-Missouri by way of Seattle and have a worldly perspective on wine and their adopted city—plus free spiced popcorn.
Loosen Your Caboose
The corner of Fifth and Market streets is home to Hermann’s two beloved local dive bars, which will be going strong even when the rest of the town is quiet. The Sharp Corner (414 Market St., Hermann) is on the sharp corner. Our pick is a few doors down: The Loose Caboose (113 W. Fifth St., Hermann). The motto here is “Make Pour Decisions,” and it’s stamped on the plastic cups in which your domestic beer is served. The crowd is chatty if you want to chat, and there are bar games if you don’t. If you’re hungry, the pizzas are eight inches wide and covered with a full pound of mozzarella cheese. It’s a great place to end your night.
Hermann has two downtown coffee shops, the homey Espresso Laine (100 Schiller St., Hermann) and the hipstery Stomp’n Grounds (214 E. First St., Hermann). Espresso Laine has pecan-flavored beans and a large selection of sweet baked goods, plus a little store area selling children’s toys. Stomp’n Grounds, down the street, is more like a college town coffee shop, specializing in espresso drinks and hot breakfast items—it’s a place to get a tiny traditional macchiato with your biscuits and gravy.
Get a History Lesson
Throughout your time in Hermann, you’ll hear the chiming of a clock tower on the hour. You’ll get the inside story on that at the Historic Hermann Museum (312 Schiller St., Hermann). The building is known locally as “the old German school,” and in fact they taught classes in German here until the first world war, when the kaiser’s misadventures brought that to an abrupt end. You’ll learn all about that and see artifacts from the town’s early days before climbing to the second floor, where you’ll see the clocktower’s gears and the schedule for winding it—townsfolk sign up for shifts, taking a turn winding the clock every third day.
At Stone Hill, you get a glimpse of Missouri’s old age of winemaking. If you want to see ground zero for the current one, go to Hermannhof Winery (330 E. First St., Hermann) on the opposite side of town. The Dierberg family owns a lot of Hermann—Jim Dierberg bought the town’s bank in 1971 and added this historic winery that had been shuttered by Prohibition a few years later. The Dierbergs, who also own wineries in California, have poured millions into the town and are major catalysts for its recent revival. The Hermannhof tasting experience is efficient and low-key.
While wine may be the biggest game in town, spirits are rising fast in Hermann. On the west end of town, you’ll find Fernweh Distilling (4 Schiller St., Hermann), which makes bourbon, rye and a wildflower liquor—you can sample four house spirits at the bar for $10. You’ll find those spirits in the house cocktails, which tilt toward creativity, including a Sazerac made with maple syrup.
Back by the Amtrak station, Black Shire Distilling (111 Gutenberg St., Hermann) is situated next to Frene Creek, which feeds into the Missouri River just past the tracks. The ivy-covered brick walls and spacious patio are a nice place to kill some time before heading down to the platform. Offerings include a young rye, bourbon made with seventy-five percent corn (most are closer to fifty percent) and a rye aged in barrels that had held wine made with native Norton grapes, capturing the Norton character while presenting it in a way well-suited to a chilly winter day.