We’re drinking our way through the United States! Our first stop is an unexpectedly eclectic beer city: Cincinnati, Ohio.
“OK, Google. Breweries near me.”
It’s something Dawn has grown used to as we drive across America. Whenever we get near a new region, I can’t help but ask the Google Assistant where I should be stopping for a fresh flight of something I’ve never had before.
As we passed through the Midwest, our trusty Google Assistant pointed me towards a brewery in Cincinnati. And then another. I stopped to do some research on the city, which I’d never really given a second thought. I mean, it’s just Ohio, right? And it isn’t even the capital of Ohio. How much fun could it be?
Then I did some more research and found that many of Ohio’s best breweries were located in and around Cincinnati.
OK, Queen City, you have my attention.
Excited by the prospect of drinking a bunch of new beers from breweries I’ve never heard of, Dawn and I detoured south of our intended route to make the first official stop on our United States Brewery Tour: Cincinnati, Ohio.
These are the three breweries we checked out.
MadTree Brewing has everything a beer drinker could need. Not only do they have a ridiculous number of beers on tap–32 when I went in June 2019–but the taproom has all kinds of spaces to hang in.
In front of the building, right off the street, is their open-air beer garden.
Dogs are allowed in the beer garden but can’t enter the main building.
Inside the building there’s a cavernous room packed with high-top tables and a long bar, which together seat about 100 people. And that says nothing for all the standing room.
In the back there’s an event room that was hosting a farmer’s market with local vendors selling their coffee, honey, and handmade goods. And right next to that is their barrel room where they keep the liquid gold. Sadly, I didn’t get a look in there.
A few paragraphs back I mentioned how much beer these guys have on tap. Let’s take a look at that.
That’s just half the list, but it already dwarfs most taprooms I’ve ever been to. And there’s something for everyone already: pale ales, IPAs, Kolsches, brown ales, stouts, a Belgian wit, a gose, and even a gluten-free beer.
And then there’s the other half of the list, complete with more stouts, two imperial IPAs, a cider, a coffee blonde, and another gluten-free beer.
Naturally, I did what anyone would when visiting a new brewery: I got a flight.
With 32 beers on tap, I couldn’t try everything and live to speak of it. Limited to four beers, here’s what I chose:
- #11: Winter’s Respite, tropical stout
- #12: Like A Voss, hazy IPA
- #13: Rubus Cacao, raspberry chocolate stout
- #28: Coffee Table, coffee blonde ale
Winter’s Respite (6.2% ABV, 55 IBU) was a solid yet unspectacular stout that was easy drinking but not exactly memorable.
Like A Voss (6.9% ABV, 56 IBU) was your typical New England IPA with a thicker mouthfeel, balanced bitterness, and hazy appearance, but it had a funky finish thanks to the Kviek yeast.
Have you ever had one of those fruit-flavored chocolates, like orange or raspberry? That’s exactly what I’d liken Rubus Cacao (9.0% ABV, 12 IBU) to. It was an immensely enjoyable dessert beer that was very raspberry-forward with a dark chocolate backbone. Yet somehow it was much lighter than its appearance and description would lead you to believe. Truly, it was a great beer.
Still, it wasn’t my favorite beer at MadTree. That honor goes to Coffee Table (5.2% ABV, 27 IBU). This was my first coffee blonde, and it’s now something I’ll order at every brewery that offers one. The coffee flavor was incredibly pronounced, yet the beer was sessionable. Brewed with lactose, the extra body and sweetness were the perfect yin to the coffee’s yang. It was so good I ordered a pint after finishing my flight.
Thinking of visiting MadTree Brewing?
- Address: 3301 Madison Rd, Cincinnati, OH 45209
- Hours: 11:00a-11:00p Mon-Fri | 10:00a-1:00a Sat-Sun
- Food: Pizza by Catch a Fire Cafe
- Parking: Huge lot out back
- Events: Trivia Night, Vinyl Night, farmer’s markets, and more
- Social Media: Twitter for new releases and events
Located a couple of blocks from Findlay Market in downtown Cincinnati, Rhinegeist Brewing has a rather nondescript entrance that I actually walked past the first time.
Once inside the doorway, you’re greeted with three (maybe four?) flights of stairs that take you up to the beer hall.
I like taking the stairs–it makes me feel like I’m earning my beer–but the beer tour walking up at the same time wasn’t having as enjoyable an experience. Thankfully they had Bavarian pretzel necklaces for some much-needed, quick-converting carbohydrates.
When you finally reach the summit, you turn into an impossibly open space.
It’s a seriously massive space. You can choose from an impressive array of beers at one of two bars. For whatever reason, I didn’t take a clean photo of their beer list, so this zoomed-in one will have to do.
I’m an IPA guy first and foremost, but I’ll drink just about anything. One thing I rarely get is nitro beer. The creamy mouthfeel isn’t for me.
I’m standing in line looking the list over when the last beer catches my eye: Cobbstopper Nitro Sour Ale. “Hmm,” I think to myself. “I’ve never had a nitro sour before.”
Well, now I have.
At 4.4% ABV and 12 IBU, this nitro is easy-drinking and sessionable. It’s Rhinegeist’s take on a peach cobbler, but they’ve also added vanilla and lactose to create a wonderfully smooth yet complex beer that isn’t lip-puckeringly tart like many sours. It’s basically a liquid peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream, except you aren’t stuffed after one serving.
I wanted to get a flight but I didn’t see any of the small glasses or wood boards breweries use. I’m an idiot. They have those things, I just didn’t see them. Don’t be like me. Get a flight.
Rhinegeist also has a rooftop bar, but I didn’t get a chance to walk upstairs and check it out.
If you’re more of a cider fan, Rhinegeist does that, too. When I visited they had three ciders on tap, though check out their website to see what they’re currently brewing.
Overall, Rhinegeist was an extremely enjoyable experience. If I wasn’t driving I would have tried many more beers, but even having just one I had a blast. The space is great if you have a large group of people and all want to mill about and socialize.
Rhinegeist is also the only Cincinnati brewery I’d ever heard of before. I did some research and it appears they distribute in their local area–Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, Pennsylvania–and then, oddly, Massachusetts (where I call home when I’m not on the road).
Curious about the brewery’s name? I was. It’s fun to say, but what does it mean?
Rhinegeist is located in Cincinnati’s Over-The-Rhine neighborhood, which explains the first half of the word. “Geist” means the spirit of an individual (or just ghost, remember Poltergeist?), so together Rhinegeist celebrates the spirit of the neighborhood they call home. It also explains the creepy skull logo.
Thinking of visiting Rhinegeist Brewing?
- Address: 1910 Elm St, Cincinnati, OH 45202
- Hours: Each day is different but generally something like 3:00p-12:00a and until 2:00a on the weekends
- Food: Sartre Cart with burgers, sandwiches, and the best beer-brined pickle you’ll ever have
- Parking: Lot across the street plus street parking
- Events: Live music, beer tastings, and more
- Social Media: Twitter for new releases and events
Urban Artifact Brewing
The last stop on my one-day Cincinnati brewery tour, Urban Artifact was easily the most unique brewery I’ve ever seen. It’s in the basement of an old church!
Rivaling the building’s unique appeal is their beer list. It’s not as extensive as the ones at either MadTree or Rhinegeist, but Urban Artifact makes their limited offerings count. Everything is fruity and funky; these guys specialize in sours.
The closest thing to a conventional beer on there is number four, Finn, a tart pale ale. Trust me, it’s much more tart than your typical pale ale.
Two nice touches that give Urban Artifact an authentic feel are at the bottom of each side of the list: a date when the lines were last cleaned and the lifetime pounds of fruit used (372,413 as of this writing).
You can get a flight at Urban Artifact, but not every beer is available to be included. Of the 11 beers available when I went, only six could be had as part of a flight.
Let’s look at the board:
- #4: Finn, tart pale ale
- #8: Gyroscope, raspberry Midwest fruit tart
- #9: Apple Peach Cranberry Parfait, parfait (that’s the listed style)
- #11: Gaslight, sour fresh hop double IPA
Finn (5.3%, 36 IBU) is a thin, easy-drinking ale if you can handle its tartness. The mouthfeel is light and it finishes dry, which are qualities that I like in a beer, but this one fell a little flat for me as all I got was dry and tart. It was a little too one dimensional.
Gyroscope (7.5%, not sure on IBU) is a thick, hazy, fruity sour, but it isn’t quite as thick as the parfait coming next. It’s extremely fruit-forward in a berry jam sort of way, but there’s a nice tartness that cuts the sweetness just the right amount. Overall, I really enjoyed this beer and would order it again.
Apple Peach Cranberry Parfait (5.4%, not sure on IBU) was the stand-out beer here. What the heck is a parfait beer? I asked the bartender. Apparently, every Saturday Urban Artifact puts a new fruit parfait on tap. It’s a sour beer with a ton of fruit tossed in on top (like a parfait). There’s so much fruit that you’ll probably get chunks of it in your beer. It’s the haziest, “dirtiest” beer I’ve ever had, but it was awesome. The fruits you get will differ, but the end result is the same: full-bodied with low carbonation and a ton of fresh, fruity sweetness. Dawn and I both got it in our flights and then ordered full pours after.
Gaslight (8.1%, 30 IBU) is a fresh hopped sour double IPA that was equal parts hoppy and tart. It’s a medium-to-full-bodied beer that pours a dark amber, but I find it a little hard to describe. It was like a double IPA that wasn’t hoppy enough, or like a sour that wasn’t tart enough. Ultimately this one didn’t exactly land for me.
Urban Artifact is just a unique place to get a beer, and if sours and wild cultures are your thing then it’s an absolute must-stop.
Thinking of visiting Urban Artifact?
- Address: 1660 Blue Rock St, Cincinnati, OH 45223
- Hours: Mon-Thu 4:00p-12:00a, Fri-Sat 12:00p-1:30a, Sun 12:00p-12:00a
- Food: Pizza, apps, and salads from Wildfire Pizza served in the bar
- Parking: Street parking out front
- Events: Saturday Parfait tapping, live music, open mic, and more
- Social Media: Twitter for new releases and events