Cincinnati, Ohio is known for a lot of interesting things: Jerry Springer was the city’s mayor twice (a prostitution scandal couldn’t keep him out of office for long), and it’s the hometown of Nick and Drew Lachey, and King Records. Cincy’s also known for its polarizing chili, the Reds and the Bengals, Rainman being filmed here, being the home to this year’s All-Star Game, and of course, beer.
Cincinnati’s nickname is “Porkopolis”, but a massive German migration here in the 1800s transformed Cincy into a mecca for breweries (gotta wash all that pork down with something). Since the first brewery, which opened in 1812, about 250 breweries have come and gone. At one point, the city’s beer industry produced about 1,000,000 barrels of beer per year. Akin to a lot of other U.S. cities, Prohibition practically killed all of Cincy’s breweries. Some survived, but most of the brewery buildings were torn down (remnants of only 47 buildings still exist today).
In 2013, the early 20th century brewery Moerlein was resurrected, and now it operates a brewery and the Moerlein Lager House, situated next to Great American Ball Park. Ohio’s made a big comeback in terms of craft breweries—the state ranks 12th in the country with its number of breweries. If you head up an hour to Dayton, it has the most breweries per capita in the state. The Cincinnati area, which also includes a hop, skip, and jump over the Ohio River to Northern Kentucky, encompasses about 15 breweries, three of which opened in the first quarter of 2015, with more on the way.
A city on the mend, the spectacular revitalization of Over-the-Rhine epitomizes how a neighborhood can rebound given the right resources. OTR, as it’s called, was the epicenter of breweries in the 1800s, and in the 21st century was infamously known for the 2001 police riots until its recent rejuvenation. With the city’s accolade-filled restaurant scene, breweries, and bars, it’s a great time to be a beerophile in The Nati.
Calling out the best breweries in town is a “Sophie’s Choice” moment, but if you only have a couple of days in the city and want to get the most out of your beer, use these breweries as a gateway.
Located inside a church in the Northside neighborhood, they focus on sours such as the puckering Finn Berliner pale ale, and the musty-tasting Clothesline, a wild farmhouse rye. Their Caballito tequila-stave Gose beer is funky yet drinkable, and the sourness in their Coffee Kodiak usurps the coffee flavor, in a good way. They’ve only been open since April, but when hometown boy/hero George Clooney strolled through recently, the local media went crazy for the story. You see, Clooney and his wife were there to see local iconic jazz band Blue Wisp Big Band play, not to drink beer (he had a Makers). Live music, locally made Skinny Piggy kombucha on draft, Hopwater soda for sale, George “F’in” Clooney, and funky beers? This place is legit.
Taft’s Ale House?
Yet another newbie to the beer scene, Taft’s is named after the only U.S. President from Cincinnati, who also happens to be the fattest president ever—William Howard Taft. Apparently breweries in churches are a trend in town, as Taft has beautifully restored an old church. The first floor has a speakeasy and the top floor houses the restaurant, which specializes in tri-tip steak. Brewmaster Kevin Moreland makes some of the best beers in the city because he pinpoints certain flavors. For the Maverick Chocolate Porter, he makes sure the flavor of the chocolate bar (real chocolate from local chocolatier Maverick Chocolate) is first and not secondary. This summer they start canning their most popular beer, Nellie’s Keylime Caribbean Ale, which tastes like you’re sitting on a beach in Key West. Pair it with a binge of that crazy Key West-filmed Netflix show Bloodline, and you’re set.
Rhinegiest manufactures more beer barrels per year than any other craft brewery in town—11,000 barrels sold in 2014 and an estimated 30,000 this year. They opened in June 2013, but their rise has been meteoric. On deck for this year: opening a Columbus location, adding a rooftop deck to their already 25,000 square foot facility, and then expanding their facility and brewhouse. With the expansion, they could potently see 100,000 barrels a year. Last year, they accumulated $782,539 in supermarket sales, making them the top new craft beer vendor in the U.S. They specialize in IPAs and ales, including Stryker, Hustle, T-Rex Black IPA, Truth, and Dunk. Soon, Rhinegeist will dominate all of Ohio…and the world.
?MadTree barely hit the local craft beer scene before Rhinegiest—they opened in January 2013—and they, too, have grown a lot. Of all the breweries in town, their beers have been the most consistent. Their taproom’s always packed with adults and babies, and they added Catch-a-Fire pizza on the premises. One of the great things about them is their transparency—many of their recipes are posted online. They brew a diverse cross-section of beers, including PsycHOPathy IPA, Galaxy High (120 IBUs), Citra High, Lift (a Kölsch ), Axis Mundi (Russian imperial), Thundersnow (a seasonal winter warmer Scotch ale made with ginger, nutmeg, vanilla), and other seasonals such as the excellent titled Boysen the Hood (a Belgian wit made with boysenberries, not bullets), and the Dreamsicle, a Kölsch brewed with orange peel and vanilla, in support of local basketball player Lauren Hill, who died of cancer. Another notable thing about them is they were the first modern craft brewery in Ohio to sell its beer in cans, and soon after everybody else followed suit.
Listermann Brewing Company/Triple Digit ?
In 1995, Listermann was just a homebrewing supply store run by Dan Listermann, but in 2008, he opened up Listermann Brewing, and then created the brewery’s high-gravity boutique beers under the Triple Digit umbrella. Digit’s line of CHICKOW! beers are big beers, as is their Cranium Ale (fermented in bourbon barrels), and the Gravitator Double Bock, clocking in at 10.5% ABV. Listermann’s signature Nutcase Peanut Butter Porter, White Death winter warmer, 562 Lateral Oatmeal stout, and Friar Bacon Smoked Bock are all mighty tasty. Their latest beer wins for best name: an American Pale Ale called Don’t Talk Sh*t About Norwood, a reference to a sketchy suburb of Cincy. Don’t talk sh—t about Cincy, either.
A quick drive or walk from Downtown and you’ll head into Covington, Ky., a lovely city that Nick Offerman once referred to as “the Brooklyn of Cincinnati.” So, there’s that.
Covington had been bereft of a brewery for almost 20 years until the Rouses came along and opened up Braxton in March. The family-owned brewery calls itself “the taproom of the future,” because they’re the first taproom in the country to have gigabit internet and double as a business center. They also have a morning coffee service (you can get coffee at 8 a.m. but probably not beer), and nitro cold brew coffee made with local roaster Carabello Coffee beans, on draft. Along with the coffee, they have a handful of beers: Dead Blow (tropical stout made with macerated dates), Storm Golden Cream Ale, Crank Shaft IPA, and Kentucky Home, a Mint Julep beer they made special for the Kentucky Derby.
It’s unclear why these dudes get left off every Cincinnati area beer list—they’re obscure even for the area—but homebrewers Jon Wells and Tony Harrell decided to give it a go this year and started brewing their self-professed “weird beers” in the back room of Party Town, a liquor emporium in Florence, Ky. (more on that place later). As Mash Cult, they’re not afraid to experiment and create the most unusual beers in town. So far they’ve brewed a Gose called I’ve Got Gose in Different Area Codes; a maple coffee imperial stout named Ramathorn, after a character from Super Troopers; and a My Milk Stout Brings All the Boys to the Bar, an Irish stout. Their batches are limited and are only sold as growlers and pints in the store, so if they run out you’re screwed. They plan on expanding their barrel system, but in the meantime, don’t forget about these guys.
The Beer Bars
Sure, you could just drink beer at all the breweries in town, or you could continue your buzz at one of these great locally-focused beer bars.
Arnold’s is not only the oldest bar in town (established in 1861), but it’s also the best beer bar in Cincinnati. Every March, as part of Bockfest, they pour about 16 different kinds of German suds from local and international breweries, many of which are brewed specifically for the annual event, which involves a goat. Don’t worry, no goats are sacrificed or anything like that. Besides beer, if you’re looking for whiskey flights, barrel-aged cocktails, a bathtub on-site, live music, special tappings, a Shepard Fairey mural outside, a visit from actor Christopher McDonald, and good food, then you’ve come to the right place. The short-lived Kathy Bates show Harry’s Law took place at a fictional version of the bar, but the real version lives on. It’s easy to see why The Daily Meal named Arnold’s one of the 150 best bars in the country.
Located in the heart of OTR, The Lackman’s a cozy tavern with a great rotating list of 15 drafts. During the week they have happy hour, where the draft beers are a couple of bucks cheaper. Beer is their focus, but so are their barrel-aged Negronis, wine, bubbles, bourbon, and a cocktail called Whiskers on Kittens (Buffalo Trace, tequila, heering, lemon, and flamed orange).
?It’s one of the many bars in town owned by bar empress/mogul Molly Wellmann (check out her neighboring cocktail bar Japp’s), and Josh Hutcherson recently stopped by (in Cincy, we really get off on celeb sightings). Celebs aside, they make a lot of really good, experimental cocktails with infusions such as kiwi syrup and dragon fruit, and they have Mazunte tacos on the weekends. Make sure to take advantage of their large patio and play some Jenga, like Peeta did.
The Brass Tap
?For some brews outside of Downtown, head near the University of Cincinnati. Even though they’re a Fla.-based chain, The Brass Tap’s focus on local beers is incredible (about 30 local beers on tap). Not only do they have the usual local suspects on draft, but they also pour regional beers such as Warped Wing (Dayton), Jackie O’s (Athens), and Crafted Artisan Meadery from Mogadore, Ohio. With over 300 craft beers in cans, bottles, and draft (around 80 taps total), from Coronado Brewing to Brooklyn Brewery to gypsy brewery Nowhere in Particular, it’ll take you a while just to read the menu. Luckily, they have $3 local drafts during happy hour to help you decide.
The Growler House
East Walnut Hills is another neighborhood that’s making a comeback. Located next to a great Cajun place, Mardi Gras on Madison, the dog-friendly Growler House concentrates on 32-ounce and 64-ounce growler fills, pints, and selling a small selection of bombers and canned beer. They have everything from Brothers Drake (Columbus) to Flying Dog, and they even offer five-ounce pours so you can try more. They’re the only place in town that makes a Pig Handler: Moerlein’s Strawberry Pig Cream Ale mixed with Moerlein’s Handlebar Double Stout, so it’s like an odd yet delicious beer milkshake.