Michigan, the current king of Midwest craft brew, may soon be ceding the throne to its southern rival, Ohio. Since 2011, the number of Ohio breweries has more than doubled to 103. Current projections have the state topping out at about 120 in the next 12-18 months.
The three C’s, Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, lead Ohio’s brewing scene, but craft beer knows no loyalty to municipal boundaries. Breweries are resurrecting mid-sized manufacturing towns like Akron and Dayton and are evangelizing for craft in tiny hamlets like Wooster, Lancaster, and Athens.
Ohio is becoming the Heart of it Ale (okay, we know—terrible pun). With more than 100 breweries, the choices are overwhelming. Luckily, we’ve done your homework for you. Below are the top eight can’t miss Buckeye-state breweries.
Great Lakes Brewing Company
Photo via Great Lakes Brewing
Why you should go: The anchor to the entire Ohio brewing community, Great Lakes Brewing Company shares Class of ’88 status with giants like Deschutes, Rogue, and Brooklyn Brewery, all early entries into U.S. craft market. The largest of Ohio’s craft breweries, Great Lakes prides itself on being economically, environmentally and social conscious. The brewery helps lead Cleveland’s rejuvenation efforts, drawing customers into the taproom and paving the way for other businesses in the West Side Market area.
What to try: Come fall, out-of-state relatives start calling their Buckeye kin to grab cases of Great Lakes’ Christmas ale. But it’s not just the spiced seasonal that makes Great Lakes a must-try brewery. Their Edmund Fitzgerald Porter is an exemplar for roasty, American porters, while their Burning River Pale Ale pays hoppy homage to Cleveland’s less-then-stellar environmental legacy. Looking for something smoother? Dortmunder Gold is a crisp, drinkable example of a nearly extinct lager style that will please even the most ardent ale fans.
The Brew Kettle Taproom, Smokehouse, and Brewery
Photo via The Brew Kettle/Facebook
Why you should go: Want to try the best American IPA, as declared by Paste’s staff in a 116-beer showdown? Seek out The Brew Kettle’s White Rajah. Like Great Lakes, The Brew Kettle is an elder statesman of Ohio’s beer scene, but one with much humbler beginnings. Founded in 1995, The Brew Kettle subsisted as a taproom and one of Ohio’s only brew-on-premises pubs until relatively recently. Guests can still make their own sudsy creations on-site, but now The Brew Kettle’s own beers are available throughout the state.
What to try: White Rajah is a no-brainer. As our own Jim Vorel exclaims, “The aromatics on this beer are otherworldly—it is extremely hop-forward, with an intensely resinous, “green” blast of fresh, sticky pine needles, followed up by huge citrus.” Want a ying/yang set? Look for Black Rajah, a black IPA version of the vaulted label, with sharp roasted notes that contrast the hops. Or, venture into non-hophead territory with their MOD Quad, a high-octane take on a Belgian quad.
Fat Head’s Brewery
Middleburg Heights, Ohio
Photo via Fat Head’s/Facebook
Why you should go: Fat Head’s origin story is as unusual as the bold, primary colors that brighten its taproom. Fat Head’s started as a saloon in Pittsburgh before bar owner Glenn Benigni teamed up with brewmaster Matt Cole to start a full-scale production brewery near Cleveland. A year later, their flagship Head Hunter IPA knocked Ohio drinkers off their barstools. Today, there are four Fat Head’s locations, including the original namesake saloon in Pittsburgh, the production brewery and a second brewpub just outside of Cleveland, and a newly minted Left Coast brewpub in Portland, Oregon.
What to try: The Head Hunter IPA is solid example of a Midwest IPA, blending Columbus, Centennial, and Simcoe hops. Rarer but worth the hunt is the Hop Juju Imperial IPA, a recent Great American Beer Fest gold medal winner and a beer that is regularly pitted against Bell’s Hopslam as the best DIPA in the heartland. Hops not your bag? The Bumble Berry Honey Blueberry Ale blends fresh fruit with delicate honey to create a flavorful beer that is accessible without being cloying.
Hoppin’ Frog Brewery
Photo via Hoppin’ Frog/Facebook
Why you should go: When founder Fred Karm found himself jobless after the brewpub he worked for shut down, he bought their equipment and started his own brewery. Karm meticulously brews high quality beers, never sacrificing taste for cost cutting. As a result, Karm’s beers are big, boozy and spare no expense. They aren’t cheap, but they are highly decorated, regularly earning Hoppin’ Frog awards for the best beer in Ohio, medals at the Great American Beer Festival, and a spot on RateBeer.com’s 100 best brewers list.
What to try: B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher Oatmeal Imperial Stout is a mouthful to pronounce, but it’s well worth the effort. Roasty and full-bodied, with hints of hops and dark, rich pit fruits on the finish, B.O.R.I.S is a sipping beer, one worth ruminating over. Want something at the other end of the spectrum? Try Mean Manalishi Double India Pale Ale, Hoppin’ Frog’s tongue-thrashing 168 IBU imperial IPA. Assertive hops layer over a toasty, caramel malt backbone, making the beer better balanced than expected.
Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery
Photo via Jackie O’s/Facebook
Why you should go: Jackie O’s epitomizes the quirky, liberal college town at the foot of the Appalachians in which it resides. Named after the owner’s mother, Jackie O’s has become a parental figure in its own right. When a fire destroyed a portion of the town (including Jackie O’s kitchen), owner Art Oestrike became a lead voice in the efforts to rebuild, speaking for those displaced by the fire. Luckily, the damaged kitchen hasn’t stemmed the tide of visitors to any of the three Jackie O’s locations: the original microbrewery, an adjacent wood-clad public house with a fantastic patio, and a large-scale production brewery that was fashioned from a converted cheese-making facility.
What to try: Try anything from a barrel, especially barrel-aged versions of the seductive Oil of Aphrodite or rich, inky Dark Apparition. The brewery prides itself on single release beers and devotes a large portion of its production facility to experimental barrel aging. With such an emphasis on limited releases, one might be surprised at how solid Jackie O’s core offerings are. Order Mystic Mama, their citrusy flagship IPA that many southern Ohioans have started using as a base for a Mama-rita—a margarita made with the IPA.
Photo via Rhinegeist
Why you should go: The brewery’s name means “River Ghost,” and true to its moniker, Rhinegeist has been resurrecting craft beer along the Ohio. Over-The-Rhine was home to scores of German breweries in the 1800s but became a blighted ghetto during the 1970s and ‘80s. Rhinegeist, along with the nearby Findley Market, has helped revitalize the area, making it a popular destination for beer geeks, hipsters, and local families. A massive expansion currently in the works will triple production and will add a rooftop bar and an event center to the current location, the former Christian Moerlein bottling facility.
What to try: Truth tops Rhinegeist’s must-try list. A solid American IPA with citrus and tropical fruit notes and a dry finish, Truth epitomizes Rhinegeist’s hop-forward line-up and is more readily accessible than their very popular DIPA, Saber Tooth Tiger. In cooler months, opt for the silky, slinky Panther Porter or Mastodon, their behemoth take on a Belgian-style dark ale.
Warped Wing Brewing
Photo via Warped Wing/Facebook
Why you should go: Warped Wing is at the forefront of a craft revival in the Miami Valley. Situated in a former foundry, Warped Wing has forged a steady following through collaborations with local non-brewing entities, including Esther Price, a candy maker, and Mike Sells, a local potato chip company. The name “Warped Wing” is a nod to Dayton’s most famous inventors, the Wright Brothers, and in their tradition, brewmaster John Haggerty crafts beers that offer inventive tweaks on traditional styles. Warped Wing is within walking distance of three other breweries, Toxic, Dayton Beer, and Fifth Street Brewpub, who are all breathing new life into the former manufacturing town.
What to try: Warped Wing’s most accessible creation is Ermals’ Belgian Style Cream Ale, a recipe that combines elements of cream ales and Belgian wits. But it’s in their limited releases that the brewery truly shines. Try their Whiskey Rebellion barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout, a collaboration with The Century Bar (a top 50 bourbon bar) or Pirogue, a black Belgian tripel brewed with coffee from Press, a local coffee shop and Wood Burl, a local roaster.
Seventh Son Brewing Company
Photo via Seventh Son/Facebook
Why you should go: With a long-standing Brewery District and a proud German heritage, Columbus is awash with breweries. Seventh Son offers the best of the city’s most recent craft beer wave. Fashioned from a former mechanics’ garage, the building’s left side houses the stainless brewing operation. The right flank features an open patio with fire pits and one of several recurring food trucks. Inside, a sweeping bar dominates the room, but it’s the waft of campfire that invites guests in. The décor is just shy of hipster, with a couple of comfy couches, a 1970s-era fireplace, and a large backroom for private functions.
What to try: Seventh Son makes big beers really well. Start with the namesake Seventh Son Strong Ale (in an odd take, the brewery was actually named after the beer, not the other way around). Next, try the Firecat, a double red ale that clocks in at 9.5% ABV, and features toffee and caramel notes balanced with a healthy dose of earthy hops. For something a tad smaller, try the Lost Sparrow—a black IPA with hints of citrus rind.