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Cincinnati's Brewing Renaissance

Local craft breweries aim to reclaim the Queen City's title as King of Beers

By Holly Rouse · November 13th, 2013 · Cover Story
cover_insideartArt: Ashley Kroninger
What began with local brewer Davis Embree’s first commercial draft beer in 1812 blazed the trail for beer barons like Christian Moerlein (1853), Hudepohl (1885) and Wiedemann (1870). By 1860, Ohio was the third-largest brewer in the nation. Twelve years later, breweries in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky numbered 38. And by 1890, with a population of around 300,000 — making it the ninth largest urban city in America at the time — the Queen City was the third-largest beer producer per capita in the U.S.

And while the advent of Prohibition may have all but decimated our sudsy, beer-stained crown, the city is still home to an awe-inspiring maze of historic beer cellars and tunnels and an ever-growing population of local brewers (including a brewing plant for Samuel Adams, one of the largest American-owned beermakers). 

New Cincinnati brewers are even revitalizing the brewery buildings of old — e.g. Over-the-Rhine’s Rhinegeist setting up shop in a former Moerlein hub and the soon-to-be Grayscale Cincinnati brewery and entertainment complex repurposing the former Jackson Brewery — blending tradition and technology to quench the present-day thirst for wide access to local, craft beer.

And the selection is growing wider. 

The following are 10 Cincinnati microbrewers (defined as producing less than 15,000 barrels of beer per year) currently producing high-quality products just minutes from the places we pick them up or enjoy them in a pub — and you better believe there are more on the way.

So whether you’re interested in checking out the breweries, sampling their eclectic beers or filling up your growler and heading for home, these local breweries promise to make the future of Cincinnati brewing just as respected as its storied past.

Blank Slate Brewing Company

Blank Slate Brewing Company, which celebrated its first anniversary this summer, produces hand-crafted, small-batch and primarily seasonal ales with unique ingredients out of a former aircraft parts warehouse near the East End’s historic Lunken Airport. In Germany, law regulates beer styles and ingredients, but Blank Slate revels in America’s freedom to create brews with imaginative and sometimes “extreme” ingredients. With a yearly production of around 300 barrels of unique beers — such as their Shroominous brown ale with shiitake mushroom and Ryesing Up Rye Saison with peppercorn — Blank Slate hopes to expand production to create up to 10,000 barrels a year.

“Everyone in town has their own niche,” Blank Slate proprietor and yeast farmer Scott LaFollette says. “Ours is that we don’t brew traditional interpretations of classic styles and we don’t make the same beers year-round. Blank Slate focuses on lesser known styles and hybrids of things with culinary influences. How many imperial brown ales brewed with shiitake mushrooms are out there besides ours?” 

Seasonal Brews

Fork in the Road: The first beer in Blank Slate’s “Traveling IPA” series, which meets at the intersection of dark hops and brighter malts. Munich and CaraRed malts give it an amber color and bigger malt presence than a standard IPA. 6.8 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). 

Fume: A cherrywood smoked porter with a unique flavor profile, considering most smoke beers are smoked with beechwood. 5.4 percent ABV.

Tours: By appointment. Call 513-979-4540 or email scott@blankslatebeer.com. 4233 Airport Road, East End, blankslatebeer.com.

Cellar Dweller Brewery

From the cellars of Valley Vineyards, a family-run winery on the Ohio River Valley Wine Trail, comes another fermented endeavor: Cellar Dweller craft beer. The family decided to embark on brewing after a family dinner, when they realized they could drink their own wine but had to go elsewhere for beer. 

Cellar Dweller’s Hoppy Poppy IPA has a grapefruit aroma and fruity hops and their Dead Dweller English ale is a favorite with flavors of espresso and peanut — both enjoyable at home from a growler you can fill at the cellar.

Seasonal Brews

Jeremiah IPA: A limited-edition IPA named after Jeremiah Morrow, founder of Cellar Dweller’s hometown of Morrow and the ninth governor of Ohio. 7.5 percent ABV.

Pump“Ken” Ale: A spiced pumpkin ale made using fresh, locally grown pumpkin plus cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. 5.4 percent ABV.

Tap room hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 1-6 p.m. Sunday. Valley Vineyards, 2276 E. US 22-3, Morrow, valleyvineyards.com/cellardwellerbeers.html.

Christian Moerlein Brewing Company

The Christian Moerlein Brewing Company was the first to pass the strict Reinheitsgebot Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 after reopening its doors in 1981. (America’s Prohibition coupled with Moerlein’s 1897 death had kept them closed for nearly a century.) True to the law, Moerlein beer contains only four ingredients: malted barley, hops, water and yeast. At Christian Moerlein Brewing Company, tradition is everything. 

In 2004, after eight years as CEO at Warsteiner, Gregory Hardman purchased the Moerlein brand, revamping and reestablishing it as a core beer brand in town. Every Friday-Sunday at Moerlein’s new craft brewery taproom and tour center, located at the old Husman’s Potato Chip factory, visitors can take free tours of the production brewery and glimpse the past in the underground malt house from the pre-Prohibition Kauffman Brewery. 

Seasonal Brews

5th and Vine: A deep copper-colored Märzen-style lager with a lightly toasted character and a touch of sweetness. 5.4 percent ABV.

Christkindl: A malt-bodied winter warmer ale with a subtle spice flavor and the essence of chocolate. 6.95 percent ABV.

Tours: 5 and 7 p.m. Friday; 1, 3, 5 and 7 p.m. Saturday; 1, 3 and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tap room hours: 4-9 p.m. Friday; noon-9 p.m. Saturday; noon-6 p.m. Sunday. 1621 Moore St., Over-the-Rhine, christianmoerlein.com.

Double Barrel Brewing Company

Double Barrel seeks to reclaim Cincinnati’s rich brewing heritage one barrel at a time.

The brewery’s goal is to hearken back to the days of yore when brewing was built on originality, taste and, perhaps most of all, quality. The brewers at Double Barrel hope to brew beer that is so rooted in today that people cannot resist it, including their Bad Tom Ale — a brown ale with a murderers’ row of hops. 

Double Barrel is pouring at many local bars and restaurants including Flip Daddy’s Burgers and Beers in Mason and Mariemont, Dutch’s in Hyde Park, Goodfellas Pizzeria in Covington, Bella Luna in the East End, and there’s a growler fill station at Country Fresh Farm Market and Wine Depot in Anderson.

Seasonal Brews

Kloppenburg Helles: A Munich Helles lager for fall with a medium bittersweet flavor. 5.8 percent ABV.

Old Abe Ale: An usually creamy, full-bodied American strong ale with a lactic berry malt aroma and slightly hoppy (but crisp) finish. 10 percent ABV.

Tap room hours: 6-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 1-6 p.m. Sunday. 4720 Eastern Ave., East End, 513-871-4677, thedoublebarrelbrewery.com.

Fifty West Brewing Company 

Friends Whit Hesser, Bobby Slattery and Blake Horsburgh — a seasoned, Siebel Institute-certified brewer — say they have high hopes for the Cincinnati brewery community after finishing their first months of business at Fifty West Brewing Company strong. 

“There is some fantastic beer being made right now in this city, which motivates us every day to make sure we are putting our best foot forward with every beer we draw up to hit the tanks,” Slattery says. 

Instead of focusing on brewing a small variety of beers to distribute to local bars, the trio decided to focus on creating a taproom with tapas-style seasonal food pairings “to garner feedback directly from consumers,” Slattery says. 

Located in the 185-year-old former Heritage Restaurant and Prohibition-era Kelly’s Roadhouse speakeasy in Mariemont, along Route 50 (hence the name Fifty West), the company mascot “Penny Lane,” a bright orange ’79 VW bus, beckons beer-enthusiasts and foodies in for dishes like braised pork belly and Brussels sprouts or duck confit sliders to complement one of their brews. 

At Fifty West, their menu changes almost weekly, and what’s on tap seems to change just as quickly. The brewery features around 10 to 15 different beers at a time, and they’re always a bit seasonal. “[We work with] the absolute freshest hops,” Slattery says. “So a beer only lasts so long — once it’s gone, it’s gone until it’s in season next year.”

Seasonal Brews

Coffee Please Stout: A creamy, American stout made using coffee from Coffee Please in Madeira. 6 percent ABV. 

Home Sweet Home: A field beer made with sweet potatoes, molasses, pecans, cinnamon and sage. 6.5 percent ABV.

Tap room hours: 4 p.m.-midnight Tuesday-Thursday; 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday; noon-midnight Saturday; 11a.m.-midnight Sunday. 7668 Wooster Pike, Mariemont, fiftywestbrew.com.

Listermann Brewing Company/Triple Digit Brewing Company

Established in 1991 by Dan Listermann, Listermann Brewing Company boasts owner-operated, owner-brewed and owner-bottled craft beer with character. 

“What sets our brewery apart from the other great breweries in town is that we push the envelope,’” head brewer Kevin Moreland says. “We take styles you may be familiar with and take it to the next level.” 

The brewery invites Cincinnatians and out-of-towners alike to drink local, fresh beer straight from the tap. And if you stop into the taproom on the right day, the brewery can offer more than 10 beers — including a Nutcase Peanut Butter Porter, Jungle Honey American Pale Ale and 562 Lateral Oatmeal Sweet Stout — for sale as samples, pints and growlers. Listermann also supplies equipment for homebrew enthusiasts out of one of the largest stores in the Midwest as well as personally designed home-brewing kits. 

The brewery is also home to the Triple Digit Brewing Company, which is working hard to put the “craft” in its craft beer. The brewery mission is simple: to create big, bold beers that can be enjoyed any time of the year and won’t get lost in the country’s craft beer explosion in the process. Beers include the Aftermath, a Scottish Wee Heavy; Decimation, a wheat, wine-style ale; Gravitator, a double bock; and Chickow!, a hazelnut double-brown ale. 

Seasonal Brews

Listermann’s Colonel Plug: A collaboration beer with Ray Spangler, American Homebrewers Association Homebrewer of the Year in 1987 and the founder of the Bloatarian Brewing League in Cincinnati. It is a Kentucky Common — a sour mash beer aged in an American oak cask. 6 percent ABV.

Listermann’s White Death: A winter beer brewed with Saigon cinnamon and fermented in Kentucky bourbon barrels. 6.2 percent ABV.

Triple Digit’s Cranium: A limited-release imperial oatmeal stout made with vanilla beans. 11.5 percent ABV.

Tap room hours for Listermann and Triple Digit: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. 1621 Dana Ave., Evanston, tripledigitbrewing.com, listermannbrewing.com.

MadTree Brewing

Opening its doors in January 2011, MadTree Brewing has the distinguished honor of being Ohio’s first craft brewery to can their beers in the modern era. Current beers in their crafty canned lineup include PsycHOPathy — winner of best canned ballpark beer from Outside Magazine — with grassy aromatics over a malt background; Gnarly Brown, with vanilla and brown sugar notes; Happy Amber, with a little caramel and breadiness; and Identity Crisis, which is kind of like a black IPA and a porter. 

Their beer is available at local bars like Neons in Over-the-Rhine, the Incline Public House in Price Hill and The Rookwood in Mount Adams. To taste the canned goodness at its freshest, the public is welcome to visit the MadTree taproom throughout the week.

Seasonal Brews

Dead Flowers: A smooth, dangerously drinkable American strong ale with sweet herbal and floral tones. 9 percent ABV.

Experimental #1: Kolsch: The lightest, easiest drinking beer currently on tap at MadTree with two-row, red wheat, Vienna and flaked barley malts with Pacifica hops. 4.7 percent ABV.

The Great PumpCan: A pumpkin spice ale inspired by pumpkin pie and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. 7.9 percent ABV.

Thundersnow: A winter warmer ale. 7.7 percent ABV.

Tap room hours: 4-10 p.m. Wednesday; 4 p.m.-midnight Thursday; 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday; noon-1 a.m. Saturday; noon-8 p.m. Sunday. 5164 Kennedy Ave., Norwood, madtreebrewing.com.

Mount Carmel Brewing Company

The well-established Mount Carmel Brewing Company offers a down-home feel to the Queen City’s craft beer scene. Owners Kathleen and Mike Dewey operate their brewery and public house taproom out of their 1924 farmhouse in Mount Carmel, originally starting production in the home’s storm cellar with repurposed stainless kettles and recycled copper piping.

For the Deweys, beer is about making memories and fostering relationships. Their home/farm/brewery is open for beer lovers to make their own memories through tours and in-house growler fills. “When we first opened (in 2005), our home and brewery held a family of four,” Kathleen says. “It now is home to a community of neighbors we’ve met from across the country.” 

Year-round beer offerings include a Blonde Ale; Amber Ale; Nut Brown Ale, rated a top 20 beer by BeerAdvocate; and seasonal offerings like a citrusy Summer Wheat Ale and full-bodied Harvest Ale. Mount Carmel is available throughout Cincinnati, Dayton, Cleveland, Northern Kentucky and soon to be available in Toledo and Columbus. 

Seasonal Brews

Harvest Ale: This beer pays homage to the harvest as a full-bodied and well-balanced extra special bitter that delivers a distinct dry hop finish. 8 percent ABV.

Winter Ale: A festive beer with scents of spruce and ginger mingling with flavors of orange spice. 8 percent ABV.

Tours: 1 and 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Tap room hours: noon-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday; noon-9 p.m. Friday (with happy hour 3-7 p.m.); noon-5 p.m. Saturday. 4362 Mt. Carmel-Tobasco Road, Mount Carmel, 513-240-BREW, mtcarmelbrewingcompany.com.

Rhinegeist Brewing 

Rhinegeist — which is German for “Ghost of the Rhine” — is the new kid on the block when it comes to beer in Porkopolis. The recently opened brewery is located in Over-the-Rhine’s historic brewery district in a renovated building that was once part of the original Christian Moerlein brewery. The taproom, adjacent to brewery operation, boasts tall windows and huge skylights in the new metal roof. 

“This was a destination the second we opened,” co-founder Bob Bonder says. “I was not anticipating that. We had a line all day, and our first week (was) cloud nine, with everyone excited and talking about it.”

Rhinegeist’s core portfolio includes four beers: Spikelet, a hoppy wheat; Uncle, a light session English mild; Cougar, a golden ale; and Truth, a high octane IPA with 7.2 percent ABV.

Seasonal Brews

Panther Porter: Brewed with Maris Otter barley and black, crystal and chocolate malts to provide a robust yet supple milk chocolate darkness. 6 percent ABV. 

Snaggle Tooth Tiger: An British Imperial IPA that is malt-forward yet dry, with intense black currant, berry and spice tones. 8.5 percent ABV.

Tap room hours: 4-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 4 p.m.-midnight Friday; noon-midnight Saturday; noon-7 p.m. Sunday. 1910 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, rhinegeist.com.

Rivertown Brewing Company 

After being avid homebrewers for years, the Rivertown Brewing Company’s Jason Roeper and Randy Schlitz brewed their first batch of craft beer at their brewery’s Lockland location Jan. 10, 2010.

The slew of new Cincinnati breweries and an increased local demand for craft beer motivates Rivertown to continue their mission to brew traditional, handcrafted lagers and ales from the freshest ingredients available. Their flagship ales and lagers, such as the Bavarian-style Helles and Hop Bomber pale ale, are available year-round.

“Rivertown focuses on making a more flavorful beer,” Roeper says. “What sets us apart are our limitless boundaries: We dabble with all types of specialty ingredients and rare beers from lambics and geuze — which take us years to make — to subtle light lagers fused with fruit.” 

Seasonal Brews

Oktoberfest: A rich, ruby colored Märzen lager fest beer that is extremely smooth and mellow.  6.7 percent ABV.

Pumpkin Ale: A spice-infused ale, using dark sugars, molasses, real pumpkin and fresh-ground spices. 5 percent ABV.

Tours: 6 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday. For $5, the tour includes a Rivertown glass and a pint of beer. Tap room hours: 5-8 p.m. Wednesday; 5-10 p.m. Thursday-Friday; noon-10 p.m. Saturday. 607 Shepherd Drive, Unit 6, Lockland, rivertownbrewery.com.

 
 
 
 

 

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