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.