Today the city's four remaining major brands -- Burger, Christian Moerlein, Hudepohl and Little Kings -- are actually made in Maryland. The only locally owned and produced beers are microbrews.
But there might be an opportunity in the near future to bring new life to some of that brewing history and save some of the city's historic architecture in the process.
These suds are no duds
For more than a year, financial difficulties have kept Cleveland-based Snyder International Brewing Group -- owners of the four remaining "local" brands -- from consistently supplying enough to meet the Tristate's demand, let alone expanding their market share.
Some local retailers and bars have had difficulty keeping the brands in stock. Despite a steady demand, one of the area's largest liquor stores has been unable to offer Hudepohl, better known as "Hudy," for months.
"Oh yeah, (Hudy) still sells," says Tim Williams, the beer buyer and floor manager for Party Source in Bellevue.
Two weekends ago the Southgate House ran out of Christian Moerlein, which it sells steadily. Other bars in Hamilton County report inconsistent stocks of the former Hudepohl-Schoenling brands.
Serving neighborhoods on the West Side, Pessler Distributing hasn't had as much of the city's old brands as it needs.
But the shortfalls haven't been dramatic, according to Michael Pessler.
"You're able to make do with what you've got," he says.
Beer House Distributors, serving Northern and Central Kentucky, says it has a hard time explaining to retailers why it can't deliver a sufficient stock of beers that are supposedly local brands. Many retailers still believe the beers are brewed at the old Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewery at Central Parkway and Liberty Street.
In reality, Snyder International makes all four Cincinnati beers at the Frederick Brewing Co. in Frederick, Md.
"So it really has caused a tremendous discord with our retailers," says Mary Kemmey, the owner of Beer House.
Kemmey has been working with Snyder and sharing supplies with other local distributors, including Pessler Distributing, to keep as many brands in as many venues as possible.
C. David Snyder, president of Snyder International, acknowledges the company has sputtered in recent years.
"Honestly, we have not done as good of a job as we'd like (with supplies)," he says.
But he believes he's cut costs enough to begin a long streak of profitability. Ten of the past 14 months were profitable, Snyder says.
In 1996, Hudepohl-Schoenling, the city's last major beer maker, sold its only brewery to the Boston Beer Co., maker of Sam Adams beer. But Boston Beer wasn't interested in brewing the local brands anymore, especially the canned Hudy Delight and Burger, so Snyder bought them in 1999.
Snyder International also owns the Crooked River beers of Cleveland and Wild Goose brand.
"I would have loved to have kept producing beer in Cincinnati," Snyder says. "It just didn't make sense from a cost perspective."
In the past year several suppliers have sued Snyder in Cuyahoga Court of Common Pleas to collect more than $214,000 in debts, according to court records, draining cash and attention from brewing operations. Some debts have been paid and some are still in court or in collections.
Good for what ales us
A company made an offer to buy one of the former Hudepohl-Schoenling brands, but Snyder didn't accept it, according to John Niziolek, vice president of operations for the Frederick Brewing Co.
Snyder says he'll always listen to offers but the four Cincinnati brands are important to him.
"I'm pretty committed to (them)," he says.
The brands remain popular in their home market. Christian Moerlein does well in Central Kentucky, Kemmey says. Little Kings does well beyond the Tristate, according to Snyder.
"Our demand for Little Kings is extraordinary," he says.
Niziolek says Snyder just signed a deal for bottles and is in the process of smoothing out relationships with other suppliers.
In its first month of operation, the first North American location of the Hofbrauhaus has had its hands full keeping its own beer in stock. Some of the beer at the Newport location is imported from Munich.
"It's been absolutely crazy," says Laura Krauser, Hofbrauhaus' marketing director. "The demand has been a serious challenge for us."
The internationally famous Munich beer garden has plans to open similar locations in San Diego, Chicago and Kansas City.
Krauser says she doesn't believe the Hofbrauhaus crowds are an opening-month fad.
"We knew we were going to be busy," she says.
Hofbrauhaus renovated a former beer distribution warehouse for its Newport location. Would it consider doing something similar to make Cincinnati its North American brewing headquarters?
"That's definitely something we're examining," Krauser says.
Many of the city's remaining brewery buildings, some of which date to the 1840s, are in need of help, according to Bob Wimberg, author of Cincinnati Breweries.
The city's greatest concentration of old brewery buildings is along McMicken Avenue in northern Over-the-Rhine, where they moved for underground cool storage and access to natural springs, Wimberg says.
The lost beers' names sound like old Cincinnati: Hudepohl, Crown, Lafayette, Mohawk, Jackson, Klotter, Bellevue. Some lasted for decades, others for less than a year. Many breweries in the city have been razed, and many of the old recipes died with them.
"Those recipes were strictly guarded by the brew masters," Wimberg says.
After a century-long decline in brewing, could this be the moment Cincinnati reclaims some of its sudsy heritage? If people are looking for cities that offer authentic urban experiences, nothing could be more historically authentic in Cincinnati than brewing beer. ©