Craft beer continues to flow out of Cincinnati by the barrel, there’s something new brewing just across the river. Ei8ht Ball Brewing, located at the rear of The Party Source (which already houses what is arguably the best beer selection in the area), is the self-proclaimed black sheep of the local brewing scene, on a mission to serve up a fresh education on beer of all kinds, whether local, foreign, domestic or the brewery’s own.
Ei8ht Ball practically screams “anything goes” as soon as you walk up to the bar, with tap handles topped with random toys and light fixtures made from recycled growlers. But despite any preconceived notions about its seemingly irreverent, punkish attitude — their labels feature street-art style censored bars across celebrity faces and certain bits of Michelangelo’s “David” — the Ei8ht Ball team values innovation and collaboration above all else.
After years of garnering a reputation for an artfully curated beer department, The Party Source beer department manager Danny Gold partnered with former storeowner Ken Lewis to turn their ambitious brewery brainchild into a reality. After Lewis sold The Party Source to his employees as an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan), he enlisted Gold as his right-hand man as he set his sights on opening a brewery and a distillery built from scratch — a 32,000-square-foot expansion making The Party Source the only beverage store in America with its own microbrewery. After figuring out the logistics and drafting the blueprints, they assembled an all-star team that is equal parts veteran and rookie to bring the vision to life.
At its helm is Mitchell Dougherty, World Beer Cup gold-medal winner and a seasoned local brewer of Rock Bottom Brewery origins who says landing the new gig was a “brewer’s golden ticket.” The rest of the self-described “oddball” dream team followed suit: J. “Peanut” Kahles, bar manager, who spent nearly 20 years as beer buyer and bar manager at the Dilly Café in Mariemont; assistant brewer Andrew Ritterbeck, who became the Party Source’s home brewing expert after brewing at Rivertown and Great Lakes; and General Manager Hannah Lowen.
Eventually, the only thing left to cross off the checklist was the beer.
While most taprooms almost exclusively carry their own product, with a few guest taps from other breweries here and there, Ei8ht Ball offers 42 taps, less than half of which are its own.
Dougherty, who seems comfortable coloring outside the lines, says beer buffs should expect the unexpected when it comes to ingredients and style.
“We’re not an assembly line or production facility, and we don’t have a quota to meet,” he says. “We wanted to do something more than constantly push out the same three beers.”
Ei8ht Ball’s lineup of brews thus far includes (among others) “Tiny Pig,” a saison brewed with lime leaves; “Red Drink,” an American red ale; and “K-Hole,” their first brew ever — an imperial mocha stout.
“We’ve certainly already drummed up some fan favorites,” Dougherty says. “But folks shouldn’t expect them to be available every time they stop in. We’ll always have our two house beers, but one thing people can count on is that we’re going to change, and even if we brew in small batches, they’re going to make a statement.”
His team will continue to seek out a mix of foreign and familiar brands to fill the rest of their taps with a collection of beers that break new ground, honor tradition and please even the pickiest palates — including a weekly Monday rare keg tapping. And even though the idea of having more beers of the brewery’s own on tap excites him, Dougherty says educating customers about all kinds of craft beer and providing tools to recognize good beer — whether it’s made in-house or elsewhere — is of equal importance at Ei8ht Ball.
“Just a few years ago, people would walk into Rock Bottom and think the equipment was all fake,” he says of his previous brew master gig. “Now people get it. But we’re still such a young beer community. The more breweries there are, and the more of a community there is, the higher our standards for our craft can be.”
While some might raise eyebrows at Ei8ht Ball for raising a glass with the competition, their ultimate endgame is upping the ante in appreciation for the craft through celebrating the entire local beer community.
“It’s really about beer and good conversation here,” Doughtery says. “There’s no TV above the bar, there aren’t football games to watch — you can go watch the game somewhere else. We want to be a place that teaches you about beer. But we also don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
Ei8ht Ball Brewing will be hosting a series of tastings and events during Cincinnati Beer Week (Feb. 6-13). For more details, head to cincinnatibeerweek.com.
Ei8ht Ball Brewing
Go: 18 Distillery Way, Newport, Ky.
Hours: Open 7 days; hours vary