german brewing Cincinnati

Cincinnati Celebrates Its German Brewing Heritage

Beer is to Cincinnati as bourbon is to Kentucky.

In the 19th cen­tury and well into the 20th, the Queen City was one of the largest beer-drinking and beer-brewing cities in the U.S. One of Cincinnati’s first breweries opened in 1812 on the banks of the Ohio River, just a few years after Ohio became a state, and another 250 opened and closed in the period that ended in the 1970s and 1980s.

In the 19th cen­tury and well into the 20th, the Queen City was one of the largest beer-drinking and beer-brewing cities in the U.S. One of Cincinnati’s first breweries opened in 1812 on the banks of the Ohio River, just a few years after Ohio became a state, and another 250 opened and closed in the period that ended in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1893, the average annual beer consumption per person in the city was 40 gallons, more than twice the national average, in part because of the belief that beer was safer to drink than the local unpurified water. Cincinnati’s brewing industry would have made a present-day American politician weep with jealousy: From hops dealers to barrel makers, 40,000 jobs were created.

Even during the 13 long, dry years of Prohibition when alcohol was illegal, nationwide, the beer continued to flow. Cincinnati was the third “wettest” city in the U.S. after New York and Chicago, with more than 3,000 speakeasies during Prohibition.

In fact, one of the country’s richest and most successful bootleggers, George Remus — an attorney who knew all the Prohibition law loopholes and was said to have inspired famed fictional bootlegger Jay Gatsby — was based in Cincinnati.

Today, following a period during which many of the best- known local breweries were sold, merged, moved or went out of business, Cincinnati is again home to dozens of breweries, each offering something mouthwatering for beer lovers.

Over-The-Rhine Historic District

over-the-rhine cincinnati

Over-the-Rhine’s classic Italianate architecture has gotten a facelife in recent years as the neighborhood has been revitalized

Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine, a predominantly low-income and working-class transitional neighborhood just north of downtown, is one of the largest, most intact urban historic districts in the U.S. — it often stands in for old New York City in movies, including 2015’s Carol and Miles Ahead.

Even in its slightly dilapidated condition, it has a distinctive architectural splendor heralded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation for its Italianate design the nation’s largest contiguous collection; many of the more than 500 threatened buildings that dot the neighborhood are being restored.

In addition to the trendy shops and restaurants that have appeared in this neighborhood in the last 15 years, a wealth of craft breweries have joined the landscape.

At the historic pre- Prohibition Malt House Tap Room, Franciscan friars from nearby St. Francis Seraph parish bless every new batch of beer coming off the line. Owned by the Christian Moerlein Brewing Company, pioneering makers of Cincinnati’s first craft-style beer, the tap room features signature beers like the Moerlein Over-the-Rhine pale ale.

Make a Weekend of It

Cincinnati's Oktoberfest

Cincinnati’s Oktoberfest Festival

Cincinnati’s Oktoberfest: Happening Sept. 15-17, Oktoberfest Zinzinnati attracts more than 600,000 people during a weekend-long festival that features German food and music, the world’s largest chicken dance, the annual Running of the Wieners, and of course, beer.

In addition to the gigantic party — which has become so large that last year it was moved to a more accommodating part of downtown — the Cincinnati Reds have a homestand the same weekend against division rival Pittsburgh. It will include a game featuring Oktoberfest-themed swag and drinks.

Chef Daniel Wright has a playful take on pub food at Senate, including a menu featuring eight different hot dogs, such as the Croque Madame (with Black Forest ham, poached egg and bechamel), and a rotating celebrity-themed option like the Lindsey Lohan (goat cheese, caramelized onions, bacon, arugula, balsamic vinegar and „tons of drama”).

Open since fall 2016, the boutique Hotel Covington sits on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, within walking distance of the scenic and walkable Roebling Suspension Bridge. Housed in its state’s first skyscraper and high-end department store, the Covington makes nods to its history with details such as brass garbage cans shaped like shopping bags.

findlay market cincinnati ohio

Findlay Market – Cincinnati, Ohio

Historic Findlay Market is Ohio’s oldest continuously operated public market, in business since 1855. Its merchants include butchers, produce vendors, retailers and street performers, and it often hosts special events on weekends. Local favorites include Taste of Belgium for authentic Belgian waffles, Maverick Chocolate, Eli’s BBQ and Churchill’s Fine Teas.

Taft’s Ale House, set in an old Protestant church and named for the Cincinnati-born president, has one-of-a-kind brews, including Nellie’s Key Lime Caribbean Ale, a wheat beer brewed with Key lime juice; Cherrywood, an American amber ale; and Maverick Chocolate Porter, a dark beer brewed with cacao nibs and husks. When it comes to food, don’t miss the Big Billy sandwich made with thin-sliced tri-tip steak.

rhinegeist brewery

Rhinegeist Brewery

Stop in Rhinegeist, a brewery built within the skeleton of an 1890s-era Moerlein bottling plant and reopened in 2013. Choose from dozens of tasty beers, including a few brewed to commemorate local events or institutions (Glow pale ale, for example, is linked to Lumenocity, a popular summer music and light show in Over-the-Rhine).

Rhinegeist’s tasting room features a giant indoor adult playground with ping pong and comhole — the popular bean-bag toss game that got its modern start in Cincinnati.

Brewing Heritage Trail

Following in the footsteps of Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail and Boston’s Freedom TVail, the first part of Cincinnati’s own historic trail is scheduled to open in September. The Cincinnati Brewing Heritage Trail is the first dedicated beer history trail in America — a three-year, $5.2 million project that will wind 2.3 miles through Over-the-Rhine and parts of downtown Cincinnati.

New mural celebrates Cincinnati's beer heritage

New mural celebrates Cincinnati’s Beer Heritage Trail

“The trail tells more than just how much beer we made and how much we drank. It is the story of American immigration, ingenuity, ethnic conflict, industrialization, the labor struggle and 19th- century living conditions,” says Steve Hampton, executive director of the Brewery District Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation.

Visitors can follow the trail using the Brewing Heritage Trail app (available on the trail’s website) or take an existing guided tour, such as a walking tour sponsored by American Legacy Tours that focuses on Over-the- Rhine history.

The tour takes participants below the city streets to explore underground lagering tunnels before ending with a visit to the Christian Moerlein bottling plant and tap room. For those who prefer wheeled transport, the Cincy Brew Bus travels to historic breweries for tastings.