Best Of 2021

Over-the-Rhine’s Wodka Bar was the only one of the two dozenish bars across the country praised by Esquire in their most recent “Best Bars in America” list to be located in Cincinnati. Food & Drinks editor Jeff Gordinier wrote of the cocktail lounge, “The very existence of a bar devoted to vodka feels like a rebuke to all the bartenders who’ve scoffed at the spirit. But this spot takes the defiance a step further, offering shots of vodka infused with (among other things) mangoes and peanut brittle.” And, of course, plenty of pierogi and other Eastern European eats. wodkabarotr.com.

This winter, Longfellow crafted and bottled their own amaro, a popular herbal digestif, for purchase and in special themed snack packs. They also began making their own line of cocktail bitters, infused with chamomile and coriander, which fans can get to-go. longfellowbar.com.

Braxton Brewing Co. took the PSL trend a step further this fall by introducing VIVE Pumpkin Spice Hard Seltzer. The bubbly beverage contains only 100 calories and 2 grams of carbs, but packs plenty of cinnamon and spice into its slim-can design. viveseltzer.com.

This summer, Weathered Souls Brewing Co., a Black-owned brewery based out of San Antonio, Texas, invited brewers nationwide to participate in its Black is Beautiful campaign to foster inclusion and raise awareness of social and racial injustice. They shared their base imperial stout recipe with craft brewers across the country and encouraged them to give it their own unique spin. (They also provided free Black is Beautiful label artwork.) Weathered Souls got a response from more than 900 breweries across the country, including Rhinegeist Brewery, Listermann Brewing Company, Samuel Adams Cincinnati, Northern Row Brewery & Distillery and Streetside Brewery. But the campaign was more than just a way to sell beer. Weathered Souls asked participating breweries to donate 100% of the beer’s proceeds to local foundations that support police reform and legal defense for victims of police brutality or organizations that support equality and inclusion. blackisbeautiful.beer.

Cincinnati’s beloved Turkish coffee pop-up Rüya teamed up with Over-the-Rhine brewery Rhinegeist on a limited-edition brew, just in time for Halloween. Ghost Dreams, a stout made with Rüya coffee and cardamom, brought together the two cultures — “geist” means “ghost” in German and “ruya” means “dreams” in Turkish. Described as “Dark as Hell, Strong as Death, Sweet as Love,” the beer was available on tap. rhinegeist.com; ruyacoffee.com.

University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music alumna, Classical pianist and music professor Brianna Matzke created The Response Project in order to commission artists and composers to “respond” to existing artworks or ideas. Since its inception in 2014, the project has produced concerts, short films, art shows and interpretive dances, to name a few. These installments introduced artistic interpretations of themes such as “Something is Happening Here,” a look at Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited; the phrase “On Behalf,” inspired by Killer Mike and Stephen Colbert asking composers to write on behalf of a person, thing or idea; and the controversial composer Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Mikrophonie 1. Debuting throughout January, the fourth iteration of The Response Project challenged five composers (Evan Williams, Tina Tallon, Nate May, Charles Peck, Jason Charney) and five visual artists (Joomi Chung, Samantha Parker Salazar, Christian Schmit, Samantha Haring, Ryan Strochinsky) to respond to late American composer Pauline Oliveros’ Sonic Meditations. The Oliveros Response Project premiered four short films and an art show that not only enacted deep listening through brand new compositions but also explored the way history and place relate to the experience. Produced by local filmmakers Biz Young, Jason Nix and Andy Gasper, the films debuted the musical responses as performed by Matzke, percussionist Chris Graham and a Classical ensemble concert:nova. But it wasn’t just a concert series. Four beloved and historical Cincinnati buildings were chosen to house the performances featured in the films. Acoustics and historical significance were among factors considered in the selection process, which boiled down to performances taking place in The Imperial Theatre Mohawk, the Kauffman Brewery tunnels, the King Records building and the Emery Theatre. theresponseproject.org.

David Bottoms’ long-in-the-works 550-page Stacks of Wax: The Complete Story of the Record Labels of Cincinnati, Ohio.

When the general public heard the word “pandemic,” they started hoarding toilet paper, guns and hand sanitizer, prompting a nationwide shortage of at least two out of those three. So people got creative. And when the Centers for Disease Control said, “If you’re going to make your own sanitizer, you need to make sure it uses at least 60% alcohol spirits,” distilleries thought: “We can do that.” So thanks New Riff, Brain Brew, Northside Distilling, Karrikin and Northern Row for making hand sanitizer for first responders, health care workers and general humans.

Findlay Kitchen start-up Mixicles offers small-batch frozen mixers in ice-cube form. They are non-alcoholic, preservative-free fruit and herb concoctions that cool your cocktail (or mocktail) and flavor it as it melts. Infusions include jalapeno citrus, cucumber lime sage and lavender peach, among others. Find them online or at Spirits of Madeira, Crafts & Vines and ETC Produce & Provisions. mixicles.com.

New Riff Distilling released almost 900 bottles of a 15-year-old straight bourbon whiskey in order to raise funds for the Ohio Restaurant Employee Relief Fund and The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. They sold out in minutes. “We sprung this extremely limited bottling from our warehouse to support the bar and restaurant community that has supported us from the start,” said Hannah Lowen, New Riff VP of operations/GM. “This is how we can raise a glass — and funds — for our embattled friends.” newriffdistilling.com.