OMG, OHIO! An East Coaster’s Guide to Great Ohio Beer
Steve Fogleman, Baltimore Beer Baron
No matter where I go or what I’m doing, I like to check out the local craft beer scene. A few years ago, that would mean visiting the one well-known beer bar of a town. These days, it means block out your nights and prepare for full immersion in the expansive brew culture that’s blossoming all across the U.S.
And don’t forget to pack your liver, because you’ll hit a wall of craft beer in Ohio. And don’t be mad at me for the title, because Cleveland and Dayton also have some great suds, I am told, but Columbus and Cincinnati were all I could handle this time in the Buckeye State.
I took a long drive to the Western & Southern Open to watch some tennis in Cincinnati, Ohio two weeks ago. On the way there, I stopped for a night in Columbus. It turned out to be a stroke of good luck.
Seventh Son Brewing
First things first. Columbus is a very walkable beer town, but Cincinnati, not so much. So I ditched the car and began with Seventh Son Brewing. The whole property is in flux right now as they upgrade to a 30 barrel system and add a canning line. The bartenders were knowledgeable and immediately directed me to a 10 oz pour of “The Gleen”, a 7.9% ABV, 55 IBU “No Coast IPA”, which is really a dry-hopped Northeastern that immediately impressed with its tangy hops grown on the banks of the Olentangy River nearby. After that, I only had time for one more, because this was going to be a serious tasting night. I picked the Humulus Nimbus Super Pale Ale. At 6.0% ABV and 53 IBUs, it lives up to the description of walking a dangerously fine line between an Ale and IPA. Nice.
Hoof Hearted Brewing
Then it was on to Hoof Hearted Brewing, which sounded like a country-fried place to me with that silly name that sounds like you’re questioning the source of flatulence when you say it fast. Never judge a book by its cover, because this was a fancy-schmancy Ikea-minimalist brewery with a gorgeous pool view in the back. Aye Columbus! Even the tap handles were exotic. I started with a Slo Turbo DIPA with whole cone Southern Hemisphere Hops, since I’ve been drinking DIPAs all summer. It was as smooth as any 8.5%er as I’ve had all year. The nightcap (for this place) was the delicious Do you Think They Have a Merch Table? IPA made exclusively with Simcoe hops. Perhaps all the good beer names are taken. The beer itself was a delicate one for 7.5% ABV, and the hops were perfect on the tongue to the finish. I always give mad props to joints that offer half-pints. It’s the only way to maximize your beer tourism.
Wolf’s Ridge Brewing
It was getting late so there was only time for one more. One more brewery, that is! Time to head to Wolf’s Ridge, where the food is also celebrated almost as much as the beer. I had a wonderful burger, but I remember the beer better. I’m not a foodie, OK? I’m a hophead. The wet-hopped Heretical Belgian IPA with local Ohio Cascades did the trick just fine at 7.0% ABV, especially since I could still taste the full flavor of the wet hops. They’re churning out about 3,000 barrels a year here, but I’d reached my capacity at that point. I had to remind myself that Columbus was not my final destination.
Onward to the Queen City, the ‘Nati. When I got to the tennis stadium in Mason, Ohio on Friday, I saw a new improvement to the tournament this year: a huge beer balcony operated by Rhinegeist Brewing. I spoke with Marissa Beck, Director of Rhinegeist’s Strategic Operations. That means she puts craft beers in the hands of concert-goers and event attendees. “It’s one of those things,” she said. “We really wanted to give tennis fans a place where they can go and try a lot of our really good local beers.” Major League Baseball has slowly embraced craft beer but pro tennis is a beer wasteland, generally speaking. Think the Michelob Ultra crowd. So it was stunning to me as a tennis fan, that the folks who were going to watch Rafael Nadal and the other greats of the tennis world could do it with a Gose in their hand. Imagine drinking a Gose at Oriole Park or a Baltimore Ravens game that you didn’t have to sneak in. Lucky tennis fans. “We’re from Cincinnati,” Beck said. “This is where our brewery is. And there are so many people who come from out of town, so let’s give them a taste of real Cincy beer.”
She piqued my interest in visiting the mother ship brewery downtown in the Over-The-Rhine neighborhood. That evening, I checked it out. The building dates to 1895, where it served the Moerlein Brewery for bottling.
Today, it’s cranking out a great selection of crafts. The Truth IPA is their flagship brand, and the Juicy Truth DIPA was exceptional. You have to walk up a couple of floors to reach the taproom and a couple more floors to reach the roof top deck. It’s a massive facility. The sweet smell of malt hung in the air while customers played corn hole downstairs. Upstairs was a highbrow affair of socialites taking in the sunset on the deck with a nice view of downtown. Truth be told, the taproom and deck were a little too big for me, but the beer was divine. I preferred the downstairs with its familiar malty must. This is a big outfit and in pumping out 31,000 barrels a year, it is easily Cincinnati’s biggest craft brewer.
And it wasn’t until I returned to Maryland that I tried Astro Dwarf, a hazy IPA collab with Pipeworks Brewing in Chicago. I bought it on a lark because they were down to the last few cases of it in Cincinnati. With flaked oats and Bravo, Galaxy, Mosaic and Hallertau Blanc hops, Astro Dwarf (6.0% ABV, 60 IBUs) was a wonderful reminder of the great Midwestern beer scene and the Summer of 2017, because hazy is the official color of this summer.
Mad Tree Brewing
I found another mammoth tap room at Mad Tree Brewing. Founded in 2013, they’ve ramped up to a 100 barrel capacity and have a taproom with a human capacity of 468, which has only been open since February. The spacious yard allowed imbibers to engage in their favorite games, but I was just there to drink. They were close to capacity on a Saturday when I tried their flagship, Psychopathy IPA. It’s a nicely-balanced beer, with just enough C hops (Centennial, Chinook and Cascade) that didn’t drown out the malt backbone. I was satisfied but I’ve been on a chewy DIPA kick all summer, so I followed that up with a Galaxy High, a 10.2% ABV monster with 120 IBUs. It was big and bold and loaded with Topaz and naturally, Galaxy hops. Probably the biggest beer of the trip.
Though I didn’t have the time or the palate for a full pint, I got a taste of Shade, a tart fruit ale with Blackberry Puree, Sea Salt, and a Six-Acid Blend. It is also a very big seller according to the staff.
As a middle-aged quaffer on a solo voyage, it was getting a little too crowded for me, but it is a perfect space for groups and families. On the way out, I saw the coolest thing ever: crayons and kid’s coloring pages of their beers. What a great idea to help our little ones fight the boredom while we drink what we love. Other taprooms would be wise to copy that idea. Someone suggested Woodburn Brewing to me as a quieter place to finish a Saturday night, so off I went.
Unlike most breweries which are located in industrial areas or downtown, Woodburn Brewing is located in a quiet tree-lined street in East Walnut Hills. It looked more like a small Columbus outfit. The beers there don’t run to the bold ABVs I’ve been drinking lately, but instead concentrate on a varietyof styles. I got a taste of the Argo Brown Ale with peanut butter, chocolate and graham cracker notes before the keg kicked.
On a second visit, I tried their Cedar IPA, with just a hint of the wood, and the surprisingly juicy Hammer Session IPA. I say surprisingly because there were a lot of hops packed into the 5.3% ABV ale. I’m not even sure if 5.3% qualifies as a session, but it was a damn good easy drinker. Woodburn celebrated their one-year anniversary on August 19, so they’re somewhat new to the game. This place is very much a neighborhood taproom and most of the customers were regulars.
While at Woodburn, someone asked me if I’d crossed over the Rhine River into Kentucky to sample the beer and the booze, and I said, “What? You mean there’s craft beer there, too?” It occurred to me that I couldn’t drink all of the region’s beer without a second trip, so I did my research and picked one Northern Kentucky Craft Brewery. And I picked right.
Braxton Brewing was a pleasure to visit. It was a Sunday and they close at 8, so when I got there at 7:30, I thought I had to go double-time. They assured me that they weren’t kicking me out at 8 as long as I didn’t mind drinking out of plastic cups. What followed was a two-hour private tasting, and the kind folks there even bought me a couple of rounds. Their top seller is the Revamp IPA, and I made sure to bring some of that fruit-forward American IPA home with me (6.5% ABV). The 20 barrel brewery recently opened a 10 barrel pilot outfit even closer to the Ohio border in Newport, KY. They call their pilot system’s location “Braxton Labs”, and that was the birthplace of their New England Pale Ale, a 4.8% 40 IBU beer that was quintessentially representative of the style and just what I needed to finish off the night and head back.
On a recommendation, I grabbed a 6 pack of their 1957 All Star Ale, an English Mild. I was told that the pile on the floor before me was the last pallet of 1957 in existence as summer was winding down. 1957 is named for the Cincinnati Reds (then Redlegs) season which produced the most all-stars in the team’s history. I didn’t crack one until I returned to Maryland. It’s a cracker jack, with sweet nuttiness. Though it wouldn’t be my personal mainstay, it was a fun summer beer and is emblematic of the hoppenings they’re working on in the lab. Added bonuses: the view of Cincinnati on the ride back from Kentucky is the city’s finest, the folks at Braxton were some of the nicest people I met on my trip and I didn’t expect these great suds in the Land of Bourbon. Speaking of, did you know the Cincinnati Reds have an official Bourbon? It’s true.
Most of my Mid-Atlantic friends simply don’t get west of West Virginia, and we’re always bragging about our regional scene, but brewing is a real part of the history and lifeblood of Ohio, as it is still home to millions of Americans of German descent. Take a road trip six hours west and prepare to enjoy these amazing brews you won’t find anywhere on the East Coast. When I head out I-70 next summer, I’m bringing a bigger beer cooler. Prosit!
One thing I saw all over the state was taproom dogs. Everywhere I went, there were well-behaved four-legged friends enjoying the atmosphere with their human servants. The health and alcoholic beverage regulations are so outdated and quirky across these United States (like when I couldn’t even taste the beer in some Rhode Island “tasting rooms”) so it’s good to see a place that doesn’t freak out on “Beer!” or “Dogs!”. Beer and dogs go together. After a long day at work, you shouldn’t have to choose between spending time with your best friend or sipping some craft at your favorite brewery.
R.I.P. Blank Slate
When I arrived in Cincinnati, every beer nerd I met was wistful that
Blank Slate Brewing had suddenly closed their doors just a few days prior to my visit. Most of the aficionados I spoke to for recommendations started with Blank Slate before walking it back after reminding themselves that it was no longer there. In 4 different breweries, craft beer drinkers mentioned their slogan: “Our minds may be empty, but our beer is not.” Just a little unscientific polling here, Blank Slate, but take it from us: You had many fans. I just wish I could’ve tried it.
You Missed One
Saving you the time it takes to leave a comment, I don’t need to be reminded to check out Taft’s Ale House. You’re first on my list next year.