Take a Tasting Tour of the Best Cincinnati Breweries
If you're one of the many who love craft beers, you're in luck! Cincinnati is home to plenty of great local breweries just waiting for you to stop by and make a discovery.
Historically speaking, Cincinnati has not been a big player in the world of brewing for a long time, up until quite recently. The city was hit hard by Prohibition, and although there were dozens of breweries in Cincinnati before that time, it took a long time for any to reopen after this dark spot in America’s past. However, with the increased popularity of craft beers, Cincinnati has quickly made a name for itself in the world of breweries and taprooms, and today, there are several excellent beers of all types, colors, and flavors that call Cincinnati their home. Many of the best local breweries have only been around since around 2012 or so, but don’t skip them just because they’re new! Even some of the fresh faces on the city’s brewing scene are already turning out excellent products that locals and visitors both drink up happily every day. Check out this list of the best breweries in the city, and plan a tasting tour of your own for your next trip to Cincinnati.
Blank Slate Brewing Company
Open since 2011, Blank Slate Brewing Company does things a little differently than most of the other Cincinnati breweries on this list. The goal of Blank Slate Brewing Company is to produce high quality beers that have the hand crafted taste and originality of a craft beer, but that are only available on a seasonal, rotating basis. Since the seasons change so drastically in Cincinnati, this is proving to be an excellent way for Blank Slate to operate. Rather than offering standard brews throughout the year, almost all of this brewery’s drinks have on-seasons and off-seasons, making every visit to Blank Slate something unique. Of course, the wide variety of beer styles present here make it that much more original, as well, and you might find an IPA alongside a porter, for example, depending on when you stop by. Every season, at least one brew is made available at Blank Slate that features what this brewery considers an extreme ingredient, unheard of in other beers, so be sure to check back often to see what’s new.
If you love hops and strong, powerful flavors, be sure to try the Long Way Home, an India black ale brewed with cacao and malted chocolate to create a delectable, drinkable favorite you’re sure to love. Long Way Home has a ton of hops, and along with its chocolate taste, it features a citrusy aroma that will make you feel like you’re biting into a chocolate covered orange. If Belgian brews are more your speed, try the Pitter Patter, a modern take on the traditional drink of choice for monks in Belgium. This brew features a toffee, fruity flavor with a bready feel that can give you a little kick in the pants right when you need it most. Of course, during the fall and winter, the seasonal favorite is the unique and somewhat bizarre Shroominous, a simple brown ale brewed with shiitake mushrooms to create an earthy table beverage that goes great with a hearty dinner.
Blank Slate Brewing Company is located at 4233 Airport Road.
Rhinegeist, or “Ghost of the Rhine” when translated from German, is a much different brewery than Blank Slate, and it is responsible for creating beers for a different drinking crowd. The brewery is located in an old bottling plant that dates back to 1895 in a part of town that was, hundreds of years ago, packed with German residents and tons of local breweries. Surrounded by so much history, it’s no wonder that this craft brewery has become wildly popular among fans of German brews throughout the city and beyond. Rhinegeist brings a passion for delicious flavors to the table, as well as the desire to create something that people can share with one another as part of their daily lives as well as special celebrations. Most of the beers produced by Rhinegeist are full of hops, but very drinkable and accessible even to fans of beers that might not be so hoppy. Most of this brewery’s blends are available year-round, with a few seasonal favorites thrown into the mix.
Try the Truth IPA to sample one of Rhinegeist’s most popular drinks. Grapefruit and mango flavors combine with plenty of hops and a dry body to create this year-round favorite. For something entirely different, try Panther, an American porter with a surprisingly smooth body and a sweet, molasses-filled, chocolate flavor from start to finish. Panther is only available from October through February, so if you’re in town during the winter months, don’t miss it! Another favorite seasonal blend is the Dad red ale, available just during the holiday season. Dad is made with malted caramel as well as spicy, citrusy hops and flavors to create a drink that is truly reminiscent of the holidays. Rhinegeist also brews two types of hard cider for those who prefer their beer a little more apple-flavored, and both of these drinks are available all year long in either a semi-dry or a dry hopped variety.
Rhinegeist is located at 1910 Elm Street.
Although it has only been around since 2013, MadTree Brewing has already churned out a wide variety of flavors and styles of beer that have become instant hits with area locals. Operating on a 15-barrel system in the heart of Cincinnati, MadTree is responsible for distributing the first canned craft beer in the area, as well as continuing its tradition of delicious brews by developing several popular flavors that keep customers coming back again and again. Many of MadTree’s brews have been created alongside area chefs in the search for the perfect beer and food pairing combination, and others are seasonal blends that make a splash at different points throughout the year. For those who concern themselves with charity as well as with delicious beer styles and flavors, never fear, because MadTree selects one charity per month to receive donations based on seasonal can sales as well as sales of their advertising headbands. Grab a can of MadTree’s most recent brew and know that you’re helping the company give back as you enjoy your favorite thirst quencher.
Start your sampling of MadTree’s signature flavors with the keystone beer known as Happy Amber. This ale features light hops and a caramel malt with a toasty finish that creates an overall dry sensation and easy drinkability. For something even more accessible and delicious with a lighter overall flavor, try the Gnarly Brown, malted with vanilla and brown sugar flavors to create a sweet, coffee-like brew that is close to a porter but somewhat less sturdy. One of MadTree’s most popular drinks is the Axis Mundi, a deeply rich Imperial stout with an average level of hops but a whopping amount of malted flavor that gives this brew an earthy, powerful taste. Last but not least, during the holiday season, check out the Black Forest stout, brewed with lactose for a creamy, sweet finish to this light, airy, melted chocolate favorite.
MadTree Brewing is located at 5164 Kennedy Avenue.
Christian Moerlein Brewing Company
Just like Rhinegeist, Christian Moerlein Brewing Company was originally founded in the Over-the-Rhine district of downtown Cincinnati, and in fact, Rhinegeist is located in this company’s old bottling plant. Christian Moerlein Brewing Company itself dates back to 1853, when it first began pumping out hearty beers with thick, full flavor profiles in traditional European styles. The Christian Moerlein that Cincinnati knows today may be a little bit different from its pre-Prohibition counterpart, but it nevertheless continues to create delicious, European style beer with only a few simple ingredients and a desire to remain one of the highest quality breweries in the city. A visit to Christian Moerlein is more than just a chance to take a brewery tour, however, as this company also features a full-service restaurant with a large menu on the same site as the brewery itself. Pair your lunch with one of the popular beers available in the restaurant, or stop by on a Saturday or Sunday at 10am to catch the beer heritage tour of the brewery’s inner workings.
For fans of incredibly hoppy beers, Christian Moerlein offers its Altered Pale Ale, an incredibly hopped American style pale ale malted with wheat and featuring a brilliantly lemon flavor that creates a crisp, dry body from start to finish. Of course, if you prefer darker drinks, you might instead enjoy this brewery’s Barbarossa, a dark lager with a bready, malty aroma and flavor that work together to create a perfect finish to this brown-red delight. If you’re looking for something light and pale to sip along with your dinner or dessert, try the Zeppelin. This brew is an airy combination of simple German hops and intense malty flavors, with a fruity finish and a delicate body throughout. All of the beers available from Christian Moerlein are sold and brewed year-round, so you won’t have to worry about your favorite choice becoming unavailable before you can get to Cincinnati to give it a try.
Christian Moerlein Brewing Company is located at 115 Joe Nuxhall Way.
Fifty West Brewing Company
Step away from the traditions of Christian Morelein to sample a much more modern brewery’s creations at Fifty West Brewing Company. Named for the old US Highway 50 that once ran from one side of the country to the other, Fifty West Brewing Company brings the concept of this old thoroughfare to its business model, in the hopes of creating a drink that can travel the country and stand up to whatever it might encounter along the way. Most of the company’s brews are named for road terms and other travel-related concepts, which ensures that the theme carries over into everything that is produced at this brewery. Although Fifty West has only been in operation since 2012, it is already looking to double its production and add more flavors to its impressive lineup. Best of all, most of the ingredients used at Fifty West have been locally sourced from Ohio, and when this is not possible, rest assured that all of the ingredients come from somewhere within the United States, making these brews into truly American (and completely Cincinnati inspired) beers.
Try something completely unique when you sample Fifty West’s 50 Dalmatians pale ale. This brew features a traditional pale ale color with an entirely original fluffy sensation and banana cream flavor created through the use of paw paw fruit after fermentation. This sweet treat is great for pairing with dessert, or just for sitting and sipping on a warm summer’s night. If your tastes run more toward the spicy side of beer, try the Jalopy Nose stout, with a dark chocolate flavor, a smooth malted body, and jalapeno pepper inclusions that give you a little kick right at the beginning of every sip. Of course, if you can’t choose between the two, go for the Doom Pedal, a white ale brewed in the Belgian style that features a zippy, sharp citrus flavor matched with the spicy taste of black pepper and a little bit of coriander to round it all out. Last but not least, fans of traditional barley wines will enjoy the 10 & 2, an American twist on this European classic, dry-hopped with plenty of malted goodness. No matter which brews you choose at Fifty West, you’re sure to feel refreshed and invigorated after the fact!
Fifty West Brewing Company is located at 7668 Wooster Pike.
Rivertown Brewery & Barrel House
Rivertown Brewery & Barrel House is part restaurant, part brewery, and all incredibly delicious. This brewery insists upon creating consistently high quality alcoholic beverages with flavors that will always please the crowd. Of course, although many of Rivertown’s classic brews are very popular with locals, the brewery continues to try new and exciting things almost every season, so be sure to stop by again and again to see what’s on tap. You never know when you might help the good people at Rivertown discover the next flavor sensation! Visit the Rivertown Barrel House, located right alongside the brewery, to try some excellent barbecue smoked on-site Wednesdays through Saturdays from 4pm to 8pm. If you can’t make it for dinner, at least give yourself enough time before or after your brewery tour to play some of the two hundred plus arcade games also located inside the Barrel House! Take note that tours of Rivertown Brewery are not free, but for a $6 admission fee, every guest receives a signature pint glass full of beer to enjoy (and to take home after the fact).
A handful of Rivertown’s brews are available on a year-round basis, with many more cropping up throughout the seasons, so be sure to check back often to try something different on each visit. As far as the year-round offerings are concerned, one of the most popular is the Divergent, a unique brew with a sour flavor, low amount of hops, and sharp citrusy tartness all inspired by the desire to break out from the crowd and become something a little different. If you’d rather try something more traditional, however, the Roebling Porter is a great place to start. This coffee-packed drink is as sturdy as it is delicious, made with local coffee as well as raw sugar and vanilla beans to create a taste that is somewhere between mocha and tiramisu, and a smooth malty body that goes down easy. For a seasonal favorite you’re sure to love, try the Blueberry Lager, brewed in the style of American lagers and created with summertime in mind. This drink has a sweet taste and a crisp finish, with blueberry flavor throughout, and it goes great with just about any summery treat. Finally, if you’re feeling really bold, try the Death Imperial stout. Don’t be put off by its name! This blend is intensely spicy, with a chocolaty, smooth start and a powerful, sharp finish created by brewing this beer with the infamous ghost pepper. Find it around Halloween through the end of winter.
Rivertown Brewery & Barrel House is located at 607 Shepherd Drive.
Listermann Brewing Company
Operating since 2008, the Listermann Brewing Company offers one year-round flavor and several seasonal brews that keep Cincinnati residents satisfied no matter what the weather might be doing. Unlike any of the other breweries on this list, Listermann began as a home brew store, selling supplies to home brewers in the area, and only recently branched out into creating its own unique blends. Today, Listermann still focuses mostly on the sales of brewing supplies and kits, but devotes a chunk of its time to testing out some of those supplies in the creation and distribution of some of the best local beer in the city. Stop by and sample some of the drinks available on tap or for sale by the bottle, and then pick up some of the supplies for sale in the store and try to recreate your favorites once you get back home!
The only brew available all year long from Listermann is the Nutcase porter, so it’s a great place to start sampling. This deep chocolate colored drink features a peanut butter on toast aroma and a solidly medium body that both work together to heavily influence the chocolate and peanut butter flavors throughout each sip. Move on to the seasonally-produced Jungle Honey for a much lighter alternative with a honey-gold color and a light hoppy aroma. This drink begins with a powerful jolt of sweetness at the start that dissolves into crispy citrus by the finish, and it’s a perennial favorite with fans of American pale ales throughout the city. Finally, stop by in the wintertime and sample the White Death seasonal blend available at the holidays. This brew has a wooden, apple aroma and a caramel color that hints at its bourbon barrel taste. White Death has a medium body and a little bit of cinnamon heat that gives it an excellent holiday flavor that is sure to keep you coming back for more.
Listermann Brewing Company is located at 1621 Dana Avenue.
Step back into the world of historical Cincinnati brewing once again to discover Urban Artifact, a very new face in the craft brewing crowd, which opened in the early part of 2015. Located in what was once St. Patrick’s Church in the heart of the city, the brewery itself is located in one of the adjacent church buildings which was once a gym, while the taproom takes up the basement of the church itself. As much of the interior has been kept in its original state as possible, giving Urban Artifact the kind of hip and trendy rustic feel that its name so heavily implies. All of the beers produced at this brewery focus on tart flavors and ales, with a few year-round choices and several seasonal recipes, as well as some up-and-coming beer cocktails that should be pretty interesting. Stop by to enjoy some live music in the taproom, or grab a bottle of your favorite brew and relax in the courtyard between the church and gym.
Although it hasn’t been around for too long, Urban Artifact already brews four year-round flavors and five seasonal ones, with a few more in the works. All of the beers available from this brewery are intended to be a little “wild,” as the brewery’s philosophy states, and most include local wild bacteria and yeast that give them a crisp, sharp tartness. Begin with Finn, a German style pale ale with a lemony aroma and a grapefruit flavor that pairs nicely with a hint of bready taste and tons of hops from start to finish. Move on from there to Maize, a simple copper ale with tons of local flavor inspired by the corn fields of Ohio’s neighbor, Kentucky. This ale has a woody, slightly fruity aroma with a taste that is full of earthy hops and sweet corn along with the tartness that makes Urban Artifact so unique. In the realm of darker brews, sample Cauldron, a dry Irish stout with a solid black color and the smell of chocolate right up front. This thick, heady brew tastes like nuts and chocolate, and has a smooth, full body that is incredibly pleasing to the palate.
Urban Artifact is located at 1660 Blue Rock Street.
Taft's Ale House
Yet another brewery located in downtown Cincinnati’s historic Over-the-Rhine district, Taft’s Ale House serves up food and beverages every day in the middle of the hustle and bustle of this popular part of town. Located in what was once the turn of the century St. Paul’s Evangelical Church, Taft’s Ale House strives to create an environment where locals and visitors alike can gather together and partake of everything that is good and delicious in the world. Named for the 27th President of the United States (who called Cincinnati his home), this brewery and restaurant has quickly become a popular part of the city’s local scene. Make time to enjoy a meal at the restaurant before or after checking out the beer available at the brewery itself, or order one of your favorite blends to go along with your massive cut of steak, bacon cheddar burger, or traditional tri-tip steak salad.
Order a bottle of one of Taft’s flagship brews and try Nellie’s Key Lime Caribbean Ale, a refreshing, light American pale ale with coriander notes and a bold key lime flavor from start to finish. This excellent light beer is perfect for drinking along with a meal, or for pairing with a tasty dessert. For something with a little more hops, try the Gavel Banger IPA, an American twist on the traditional IPA that is dry hopped and features a fruity, refreshing flavor and a little bit of tartness to give your mouth a kick. The Louisa Kriek, another excellent refreshing medium-bodied brew, is a very sour alternative with a tart cherry infusion that gives it a unique bright red color and a sweet-and-sour aroma that leaves a lasting impression. Pair it with your steak in the Ale House for a surprisingly delicious combination you’ll want to come back and enjoy time and time again!
Taft's Ale House is located at 1429 Race Street.
Mt. Carmel Brewing Company
Stop by Mt. Carmel Brewing Company to enjoy some delicious craft beers without feeling pressured or confused by complicated ingredients or bizarre flavors. Everything at Mt. Carmel Brewing Company is very accessible, even to the casual craft beer drinker, but tasty enough to appeal to the most diehard of aficionados as well. Operating since 2005, Mt. Carmel has been around longer than any other microbrewery in the city, and its name has a staying power that has made it well-known throughout Cincinnati. The brewery continues to produce high quality local beers every season, including a few year-round recipes, and although it has expanded greatly since its initial creation, it is content to progress slowly and surely rather than try to race ahead of the pack. Stop by and grab a bottle or two, and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of Mt. Carmel.
Try the Blonde Ale from Mt. Carmel Brewing Company with light hops and a crisp finish, if you’re looking for something refreshing and classic to sip on a hot afternoon. Move into the realm of slightly darker beers with the Nut Brown Ale, a red-brown blend with a toasty malted aftertaste and a sweet, nutty flavor throughout. Seasonally, try the Harvest Ale, available during the fall, and enjoy the full-bodied flavor of a dry-hopped classic brew with a color that matches the brown leaves outside. Mt. Carmel’s Winter Ale is also an excellent choice if you’re in town at the right time. The Winter Ale tastes like spicy orange with a bready, warm malt and a ginger aroma with just a touch of Christmas tree smell to round it all out.
Mt. Carmel Brewing Company is located at 4362 Mt. Carmel-Tobasco Road.
Triple Digit Brewing Company
The final installment on our list of the best breweries in Cincinnati is something a little bit different from the other breweries listed here, but it still merits a mention simply because of its excellent flavors and high quality blends. Technically, Triple Digit Brewing Company is a subsidiary brewery of Listermann Brewing Company, and it is owned and operated by the same people. However, where the Listermann name includes a handful of local brews with a few unique flavors in mostly traditional styles, Triple Digit Brewing Company instead focuses on lagers and ales with full bodies and a lot of gravity. With only a few brews available at present, Triple Digit has already made itself known, and its hearty beers have become quite popular with Cincinnati residents and visitors both in a relatively short amount of time. These beers are made with the intention of creating something delicious that can stand up on its own, without having to piggyback on the popularity of the craft beer craze. So far, they’re doing a good job of that.
The most popular beer brewed by Triple Digit is the Chickow! double brown ale, which is an American twist on German ales and features a light hoppy sensation malted with chocolate and honey to create a sweet, powerful drink that warms you up from the inside out and gives you energy to get through whatever might come. For something that might be a bit more accessible to fans of lighter beers, try the Reanimator, which is an Imperial ale with a deep red color that is brewed with pumpkin for a delicious fall flavor. Reanimator has a medium to full body, as opposed to many of the other, heavier brews available at Triple Digit, so give it a try if you’re unsure about some of the heartier drinks at this brewery. However, if dark beers are right up your alley, give the Cranium a try. This black ale has a bourbon barrel flavor with a hint of vanilla coffee and a strong, full body that is sure to please fans of heavier brews.
Triple Digit Brewing is located at 1623 Dana Avenue.
Whether you prefer unique local concoctions made in small batches or popular brews served around the city (or even around the country), look no further than Cincinnati’s breweries to quench your thirst and satisfy your craft beer craving all at once. Explore the fine breweries that this city has to offer, and you will be treated to some excellent local flavors created with the spirit of the city itself in mind. Discover something new or visit the home of an old favorite, but whatever you do, try to visit as many of these excellent breweries as possible the next time you’re in town!
flickr photo by Dextera Photography http://flickr.com/photos/jstealth03/539873513 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license
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