Vine was the departure point for a city-spanning bicycle quest to six local breweries my roommate John and I undertook on a recent Saturday. Our route took us through a wide array of neighborhoods, let us sample the diversity of craft brewers here and pushed Cincinnati’s sometimes-fraught bikeability to its limits.
En route to our first stop, John and I hummed along Vine through Saint Bernard and Elmwood Place — both cities in their own right surrounded by Cincinnati — toward Carthage’s and Hartwell’s lines of hundred-year-old apartments and storefronts.
To get to Rivertown Brewery, we split from Vine just after Hartwell’s iconic — and offensive — 42-foot-tall Native American sign, which has spent decades advertising used cars. From there, Anthony Wayne Road led us out of the city to the borders of Lockland and Lincoln Heights.
Rivertown (607 Shepherd Drive, Lockland, rivertownbrewery.com), founded in 2009, sits in an unassuming industrial park. But don’t be fooled. Its taproom is inviting and the beer is great. We sprung for a flight including the Roebling vanilla espresso nitro porter and Soulless, a refreshing red ale. The standout, however, at least for two thirsty cyclists, is the Tequilana cider, sweetened with agave.
Getting to our next stop meant taking an overgrown pedestrian walkway across I-75 and finding ourselves in the quiet, tree-lined subdivision of Edgemont, population 400 or so.
Edgemont’s another spot bounded in by, but not included in, Cincinnati’s corporation line. Once much larger but diminished by annexations, Edgemont today is just a few blocks between Section Road and Summit Road, though the community did run Hamilton County’s smallest fire department until the late 1970s.
We took Section through Cincinnati’s Roselawn neighborhood, where a road biker dressed head to toe in neon green joined us in the street. This man, we thought, knew about safety and would guide us through our passage. Or not. Our safety mentor soon pedaled hard ahead of us into the opposing lane of traffic, forcing cars to switch lanes.
Our next turn at Ridge Road provided some of the best riding of the trip — long, graceful hills on stretches of shady tree-lined road. Things get a lot more hectic once you follow Ridge beyond Pleasant Ridge’s business district, however, and we were soon tied up in a knot of big-box stores and highway on and off ramps that would make even the most grizzled roadbike warrior’s knees wobble. John and I got off our bikes and walked along the median toward our next destination.
MadTree started in 2013, but we headed to its new 50,000-square-foot facility in Oakley (3301 Madison Road, Oakley, madtreebrewing.com), which opened in February. Once inside the hangar-like building, we grabbed an artichoke pizza from in-house Catch-a-Fire Café and scouted out MadTree’s 64 taps for beer. We passed up the easy-to-find favorites like Lift and PSA for a vibrant apricot peach kölsch. MadTree’s taproom and outdoor beer garden were awash with pre-Easter pastel-clad partiers, so we proceeded down side streets to our next stop.
A mile or so later, we were in Norwood, yet another separate city bounded in by Cincinnati’s corporation lines. Some of the roads are rough here, a function of the city’s recent budget woes, but the houses and lawns are nice and neat. A few turns and a quick jaunt down a path through Xavier University’s campus and we made it to Listermann Brewing Company’s Dana Avenue doorstep.
Listermann (1621 Dana Ave., Evanston, listermannbrewing.com) opened in 1991 to sell home-brewing equipment and has been at it ever since, offering its own brews to the public since 2008. Their Evanston taproom feels like a neighborhood bar with few frills but a rotating selection of great beers like the Don’t Talk Shit About Norwood IPA and Chickow!, a hazelnut brown ale. We passed on the latter only because it’s 10 percent ABV and we wanted to try to avoid getting bicycle OVIs — a real thing, according to Ohio Revised Code. We ended up splitting (again, the OVI thing) a Nutcase Peanut Butter Porter, which tasted like a liquid Reese’s cup.
As we got further into the city, the breweries got closer together. It was an easy shot down Woodburn Avenue through Evanston to our next stop in East Walnut Hills.
Woodburn Brewery (2800 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills, woodburnbrewery.com) opened last August. They may be fresh-faced, but they’re also fancy — think exposed brick, pressed-tin ceilings and a slick glass wall behind the tiled bar showing off oak barrels and brewing equipment. Their Han Solo, a coffee-flavored blonde ale, was my favorite of the trip, but I got the feeling the Berliner Weisse or Cedar IPA would have been good choices as well.
John had to leave the bikes and brews cruise early, so I flew solo to my next destination, which was a quick ride through the hills and narrow side streets of Walnut Hills, Mount Auburn and down McMicken Avenue in Over-the-Rhine.
My “bike to six breweries” mission would have been a lot easier in 1895, when Christian Moerlein constructed the building Rhinegeist Brewery now occupies. There were dozens of breweries in OTR in those days. All that bustle was long gone by the time Rhinegeist (1910 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, rhinegeist.com) started in 2013, but the crowd in their cavernous, 25,000-square-foot taproom shows the spirit is still alive and well.
Rhinegeist’s taps offer everything from mainstays like Truth IPA and Cougar blonde ale to less-common brews like Bloom, a spring saison. They’re also currently pouring their rosé cider, Bubbles, one of my all-time favorites.
After a bit, I was ready for the final leg of my quest. To come full circle, I jumped back on Vine Street downtown, which was packed on a Saturday night, and took it until it goes one way the wrong way. I was not ready for any neon safety biker heroics so I switched over to Walnut Street and rode to the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridg, which I took into Northern Kentucky.
After seven hours, 30 miles, four highway crossings and one river crossing, I was at my final destination. Braxton Brewing Company (27 W. Seventh St., Covington, braxtonbrewing.com), launched in 2015, is part of a big burst of development in Covington’s dense, historic downtown. Like the blur of neighborhoods we buzzed through, the area’s breweries come in all sizes and vibes. Braxton’s mid-sized taproom has the feeling of a low-key, open garage with some polish — a perfect middle ground for finishing off the long ride. I mulled Braxton’s bourbon barrel-aged, mint julep-themed Kentucky Home ale, a limited release, but grabbed their less-alcoholic Storm cream ale instead. After all, I still had to ride home. ©