Historians say Cincinnati has been home to at least 250 breweries since Englishman Davis Embree opened the first commercial brewery in the Queen City in 1812. Today there are more than a dozen local breweries, with a handful of new ones set to open in 2015 (see page 35 for more on those).
The rapid expansion of craft breweries is great for local economies and beer connoisseurs alike, but for the novice beer enthusiast, the mounting options at the tap can make choosing a brew difficult. Sure, you might know which type of beer you like — light versus dark, hoppy versus malty — but in today’s craft brew competitiveness, styles intertwine, flavors layer.
Instead of dropping $6 at the bar for each flavor-of-the-week, take some advice from the experts. CityBeat spoke with brewers, owners and reps from eight different Cincinnati breweries to find out which beer in their portfolio is their “favorite.” Perhaps one was more difficult to rear; perhaps one matured to be more unique. While local brewers are famously civil about each other’s creations, they are equally honest about their own.
Blank Slate Brewing Company
Fume smoked porter; 5.4 percent alcohol by volume (ABV)
Before the industrial era, malt was dried over an open flame, imparting a natural smoky flavor to dark beers. Blank Slate’s Fume retains this legacy, using cherry wood instead of typical beech wood for a mild smoldering to the dark porter. “It has just enough subtle smoke character to make you think about sitting by a warm fire,” says Blank Slate owner Scott LaFollette. 4233 Airport Road, Unit C, East End, blankslatebeer.com.
Christian Moerlein Brewing Co.
Red Hop Mess red IPA; 7.2 percent ABV
India Pale Ales may be a hoppier version of the broader category of pale ales, but red IPAs are one of the newest subcategories of that. Typically they’re brewed at higher strengths than the average IPA but are just as well hopped. Moerlein’s Red Hop Mess uses Amarillo hops to cut its sweet, red malt backbone. “It’s the brainchild of our entire brewing team, who came together to create this unique recipe,” says Steve McGlone, Moerlein’s vice president of sales and marketing. 1621 Moore St., Over-the-Rhine, christianmoerlein.com.
Ei8ht Ball Brewing
Prodigal American pale ale; 6.5 percent ABV
Unlike the original prodigal son, this clean, hoppy brew isn’t overly extravagant or wasteful. “It pushes into the realm of an IPA without being over the top,” says head brewer Mitchell Dougherty. Prodigal’s malty sweetness and hint of citrus balances the amber’s aggressive hops. There’s no need for redemption from this son — it’s always been good. Located inside Party Source, 18 Distillery Way, Newport, Ky., ei8htballbrewing.com.
Fifty West Brewing Company
Home Sweet Home American brown ale; 7.1 percent ABV
American brown ales typically offer caramel or chocolate flavors. Instead, this 2014 winner of Incline Public House’s best local beer competition uses molasses, pecans, cinnamon, brown sugar and sweet potatoes to create a fall beer based on the classic fall dish, sweet potato pie. “It’s truly a collaborative effort between our brewers and cooks,” says Fifty West founding partner Bobby Slattery. It includes 10 pounds of sweet potatoes roasted per each keg of beer. Add it to your list of things to be thankful for on Turkey Day — it’s only available in the fall. 7668 Wooster Pike, Mariemont, fiftywestbrew.com.
Listermann/Triple Digit Brewing Company
Nutcase Peanut Butter Porter; 6.7 percent ABV
Don’t let the name or the label’s straitjacketed banana fool you. “Everyone calls us crazy for making a beer with peanut butter in it,” says Jason Brewer, head of sales and distribution at Listermann. “Once they try it, though, they are in love with it as much as we are.” This black porter has a tinge of salty, roasted peanuts with smooth, chocolate malts. Nutcase Peanut Butter Porter even won bronze for specialty beers at 2014’s Great American Beer Festival last October in Colorado. 1621 Dana Ave., Evanston, listermannbrewing.com.
Gnarly Brown brown ale; 7 percent ABV
Brown ales often have a bad rap for being boring. It’s mainly their color that defines them, but this one isn’t as simple as it may appear. MadTree’s Gnarly Brown exudes brown sugar and vanilla flavors with roasted coffee malts. “As the beer warms, the complexity starts to shine through,” says MadTree co-owner Brady Duncan. That’s why Duncan suggests a full pint, not a taster, to sample the beer’s definitive flavor. It walks that fine, gnarly line between brown and porter. 5164 Kennedy Ave., Oakley, madtreebrewing.com.
Fiction Belgian extra pale ale; 6 percent ABV
Between the clean hopped pale ales and the aggressively hopped IPAs lies the badlands of extra pale ales, or XPAs. Don’t get its X label wrong — it’s more superhero than adult fun. “Fiction is definitely the most different beer we make and unlike anything else on the market,” says Rhinegeist’s head brewer Jim Matt. It’s a dry-hopped Belgian XPA, with lychee and kiwi undertones. Fiction exudes the brightness of a pale ale and the hops of an IPA but isn’t overly high in alcohol content. 1910 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, rhinegeist.com.
Rivertown Brewing Company
Lambic sparkling/malt wine; 6.3 percent ABV
Owner Jason Roeper doesn’t play favorites when it comes to his creations. Instead, he focuses on those of which he’s most proud. That would be Rivertown’s Lambic, a malt aged in oak wine barrels for more than a year. It can be consumed as is or used as a base of Rivertown’s other vinous beers, like Ojos Negros (lambic with blackberries), Triumvirate (lambic with juniper, lime and tonic in gin barrels) and Ville De Rivere Geuze (a combo of the eight-month-old and three-year-old lambics). Depending on the beer, it takes one to three years to ferment, creating a dry, earthy, tart finish. “It is truly the art of taming something that is out of control with time, patience, care and extreme attention to detail,” Roeper says. 607 Shepherd Drive, Unit 6, Lockland, rivertownbrewery.com. ©