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.
Photo via Cincy Brew Bus/Facebook
Cincinnati Brewery Tours?
Fans of old breweries can take a walking tour of underground brewery tunnels and check out brewhouses, malthouses, and stockhouses from the 1800s and early 1900s. The tour stops at the vestiges of Sohn/Clyffside Brewery and Schmidt Brothers/Crown Brewery. With the tour, you get a complimentary beer served in Findlay Market’s Biergarten, and a headful of facts about the Brewery District, which was formed in 2003 as a means to keep the city’s brew history alive. Tours cost $15-$20. ?
Cincy Brew Bus ?
If walking isn’t your thing, but traveling to breweries in a bus is, then hop on the Cincy Brew Bus. The bus holds up to 35 drunks, and everybody get a soft pretzel, water, 16-20 beer samples, and a history lesson. Groups hang out at each brewery for 45 minutes, with the tour lasting over five hours. Since pickup is around noon, you’ll be ready for bed around suppertime. The Cincy Brew Bus folks also operate the Cincy Wine Wagon, which is just a bus full of winos visiting local wineries. Tours cost about $50-$65/person.
There’s nothing quite like the sound of clanking bottles.
Liberty’s Bar and Bottle?
Liberty’s only been open for a short while, but it’s already made a dent on OTR’s scene. They have about 15 glass pours of wine and 20 rotating beer drafts for a combination of local and global beers. They offer five-ounce pours in cute snifers, so you can sample more beers. They sell bottled beers and wines that are consumable on premises and are available for carry out. If you decide to stay and imbibe, they usually have a good Netflix film on the TV (Cable Guy, Big Lebowski), and then there’s the vivid bacchanal mural painted on the bar’s back wall. Yeah, this isn’t your typical fancy bar.
HalfCut’s located across the street from Nick Lachey’s sports bar, (we’re just mentioning Lachey’s here, not necessarily recommending it). A small beerporium, HalfCut proffers a weekly rotating menu of beers on draft sold by the pint and growler—and a list of canned and bottled beers for purchase. Best of all, the to-go beers and growlers can be ordered through a convenient walk-up window (go next door and order from Gomez Salsa’s taco window). Their focus is on local and national beers, from West Sixth in Lexington to Ballast Point in California, and occasionally they do tap takeovers. On Tuesdays, aka Taco Tuesdays, you can get two Gomez Salsa tacos and a pint of beer for a sawbuck.
Party Town and Party Source
Calling these places a “bottle shop” would be like calling Budweiser a microbrewery. Both NKY stores (not affiliated with each other) sell thousands of liquors. Like, everything imaginable, plus party napkins. They are so big that both house their own breweries: Ei8ht Ball Brewing Company in Party Source, Mash Cult in Party Town. Here’s where you go if you wanna stock up on a lot of shit (and cigs) for reasonable prices.
?You visit one of the two locations of Jungle for more than the beer. They’re 300,000 square feet international markets selling everything from kangaroo meat to Downton Abbey tea. They also have a great beer department, where you can purchase single bottles of beer from local and global brewers. Come for the beer and wine, stay for the insect candy.
Three Standout Beers You Have to Try
?These beers aren’t gonna drink themselves.
Rhinegeist Truth IPA?
A staple of Rhinegeist, if you like IPAs (75 IBUs) and you want to taste what Rhinegeist’s all about, get this on draft or in a can. Some reviews say it has notes of “biscuit,” it’s “smooth” with a “clear amber” and “decent lacing on the glass.”
Blank Slate Opera Cream Stout
?Basically dessert in a glass, coffee stouts aren’t supposed to be sessionable, but this one is (5.5% ABV). It was done in collaboration with local bakery The BonBonerie, and surprisingly it’s not overtly sweet—just sweet enough.
Fifty West Brewing Company Coffee Please?
Another coffee-infused beer (did we mention Cincy has good coffee, too?), Fifty West uses local roaster Coffee Please (hence the name) beans. It’s malty and tastes even better drenched in ice cream.
Big Beer Gatherings
?Dipsomaniacs, rejoice! There’s a beer fest for every season of the year.
Instead of just having a weekend-long event, Cincinnati throws what’s called “Beer Week”, where various bars and stores sell special kinds of collaboration beers brewed for the “holiday.” Usually the actual beer weekend takes place in February, but because harsh winters result in the cancellation of events, next year it’ll start taking place in June. At the fest, which is held at Duke Energy Convention Center, over 200 craft beers are represented from all over the place. This is where thousands of drunk people get more drunk and stumble around for a few hours. It’s overwhelming.
During the interim between what was previously known as Winter Beer Fest, there’s the September mini beer fest, and in March, the same organizers put on a Stout Fest. In June, they’re hosting the first annual OTR Beerfest: CANival!, featuring nothing but canned beers (they better have recycling). These events are why Cincinnatians are always blotto.
The Hard Stuff?
Photo via New Riff/Facebook
Northern Kentucky’s got a couple of distilleries, but Cincy’s only got one. The city needs to step up its distillery game, but you’re here for the beer, anyway.
New Riff Distilling
A new arm of Party Source, they’re making their own bourbon. It’ll take years for that whiskey to age, but in the meantime, take a free tour of the distillery and try their gin and OKI (Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, aka the Tri-State) Straight Bourbon Whiskey distilled in Indiana and bottled in Ky.
Second Sight Spirits?
A few miles from Covington in Ludlow, Ky., Second Sight specializes in rum. They opened earlier this year and distill unbarreled rum. Using their rum, make one of their cocktail recipes: Pomegranate Premonition, and Second Sight’s Clairvoyant Daiquiri.
Woodstone Creek Winery and Distillery?
This Cincinnati microdistillery released its first bourbon in 2008 and now produces dry gin and 100-proof vodka. Micro is an understatement: they bottle 2-5 barrels a year. Besides the liquor, they also make wines and meads.
Fill Your Belly
Because you’ll already be in OTR for Rhinegeist and other beer-related activities, you won’t go wrong in picking any of the dining options on Vine, Main, Republic, and all streets in between. Senate makes great celebrity-named hotdogs and has a lot of local beers on draft. Salazar for chef-focused and innovative casual dining, A Tavola for pizza, Anchor for seafood, The Eagle for Southern fried everything, Quan Hapa for weird Asian food, Holtman’s Donuts for dessert, Sundry and Vice for weekend brunch and house-made Bloodys, and Abigail Street for Mediterranean.