A few months back during a quick stop at Streetside Brewery in Columbia-Tusculum, I saw an advertisement in the bathroom for Craft Connection‘s new Cincinnati Brewery Passport (1st edition). When we prompted the bartender, she handed us two of these beautiful bad boys:
Included in this first edition are eighteen craft breweries and two bourbon distilleries. Inside, there’s a small advertisement for each brewery, with the last two pages reserved for stamps (see below). Although a few notable Cincinnati-area breweries were left off this pass (ahem, MadTree), most of my other favorites were included, plus a whole bunch of new-to-me stops to make it extra fun to discover new places we had yet to visit. The rewards for completing the passport are a specially-branded pint glass (see above), a million empty calories, and a feeling of accomplishment. We picked up our passports on November 5, and finished them on February 18… just 105 days to knock out all 20 stops.
I thought it would be fun to rank my favorites of the tour into a couple of groups, so enjoy all of my bad opinions and feel free to share your own experiences in the comments.
Top 5, in no particular order:
Rhingeist (OTR): Look, I love what I love, okay? Rhinegeist has loooong been one of my favorites, so I didn’t need any passport to motivate me to drink their beer. We actually took a VIP behind-the-scenes tour of the brewery with a group of friends recently (which I definitely recommend), and got our stamps after the tour. I am very much looking forward to Rhinegeist rooftop patio weather once it warms up.
- Fifty West Brewing Company (Mariemont): This is always one of my favorites, mainly because before the opening of Little Miami Brewing, it was the closest to home (Milford). They have a few delicious brews and are now canning some of their stuff, and in the summer they have volleyball on the Production Works side of Wooster Piek. One of my favorites of theirs is a summer treat – the ice cream ale.
- Streetside Brewing (Columbia-Tusculum): They always have something colorful that I want to drink. I’m a big fan of fruit-inspired beers and Streetside has always got some kind of gose that I love. The tap room is always a little dead when we’re there, but I assume it’s because we usually stop by on Sunday afternoons on the way to the zoo.
- Taft’s Ale House (OTR): I love, love, love Taft’s. Not just their beer, but their food. It is so so so good. I really dig the old church feel of the ale house and Nellie’s in the basement isn’t bad either when just stopping for a drink. Another place I don’t have to be provoked to visit.
- Fretboard Brewing (Blue Ash): I’ve actually been to Fretboard a handful of times now because it’s a nice post-work spot in the Montgomery/Blue Ash area, and each time we stop in there, the place is packed to the gills with happy hour patrons who all had the same great idea. I’m in love with their amber ale, but I haven’t tried much else yet.
Not-Quite Top 5 But Still Pretty Good
- Brink Brewing (College Hill): This one was one of the hardest for us to get to because it’s just not anywhere near anything we normally patronize and it’s nowhere near home, but it was worth the special trip to head over and have the King Cake Pilsner. If you’ve ever read my blog before you know I love New Orleans, Mardi Gras, and … yeah, king cake. I was disappointed that Abita (in NOLA) only had a king cake soda and not a beer, so this was a killer find. The taproom is also really great, it’s just sad it’s so far out of our way.
Darkness Brewing (Bellevue): I’ve driven past this place a handful of times but it’s super easy to miss. We decided to do all the Northern Kentucky stops in one day, so we started here. I had a brown ale called Barley’s Comet that doesn’t seem to be on their current list, but it was pretty tasty. Plus, the taproom has a really cool outer space vibe to it.
- Urban Artifact (Northside): I really enjoy Urban Artifact because they’re a little bit more funky with their beers than everyone else. They’re big on the sour/gose game and have a few pretty good ones. They also have/had a pickle beer, which I want to try out of curiosity as your resident Friend Who Eats Everyone’s Pickles.
- Rivertown Brewing (Monroe): I don’t know that I would go back to Rivertown a bunch of times, but they do have a few beers I really love (Nice Melons). We actually took a tour of their new Monroe facility thanks to a great Groupon that sent us home with pint glasses, a growler, and lots of samples in our belly. The taproom in Monroe is really nice, and they have food! The drawback: it’s in Monroe.
- Braxton Labs (Newport): I’ve had Braxton’s beers before and while I don’t think there’s anything super spectacular about them (unpopular opinion: the Graeter’s beer is overrated), I actually really liked the selection at Labs, where they’re a bit more creative with small batch stuff. We did a flight with a variety of berliner weisses that were all fruit-flavored, including kiwi!
Meh, but Not That Bad
- Braxton Brewing (Covington): Like I mentioned before, I’ve had Braxton’s beers before and they’ve never really knocked me off my feet, but they’re also not awful. We had never been to the Covington taproom before and it was a crowded Saturday night, chock-full of puppies and loud music. It was kind of just okay.
- March First (Blue Ash): This place is so close to work that I want to love it, but I haven’t yet. Their Holtman’s-inspired apple fritter cider was fricking delicious, but it seems to have fallen off the tap list for a while. I have yet to find anything else there that is interesting to me, and the tap room is ridiculously small and unremarkable (it’s in an office park).
- Christian Moerlein Brewing (OTR): While I love the tap room at the malt house in OTR and the history associated with the name Christian Moerlein, their beers haven’t really ‘done it’ for me.
- Boone County Distilling (Somefuckingwhere in Kentucky): This place was one of the last we made it to; we only made it there thanks to a deeply discounted distillery tour through American Legacy Tours. Neither of us are big bourbon people, so it was a hard sell for us. The only reason I have them in this category and not the bottom is because the bourbon cream was really good and I really liked the tasting experience they had after the tour. The facility is really nice, but it’s south of Florence in the middle of nowhere.
- Listermann Brewing (Evanston): I want to like Listermann. I really do. It’s across from Xavier, my first college love, it’s been around ages, and the taproom is cozy. But their beers, as with a few others, really aren’t my jam. Never the less, they are the final stop on the tour for us because they are where you turn in your fully-punched book for the pint glasses!
Bottom 5 (we are never, ever getting back together):
- West Side Brewing (Westwood): Uhh. Hm. Well, it’s on the West Side, and I’m an East Sider and that’s all I have to say, right? Just kidding. It is fairly out of the way for us, but we made a stop after having Camp Washington Chili. We shared some kind of amber ale and it really made my stomach hurt so I can’t say we’ll go out of our way to come back.
- Taft’s Brewporium (Spring Grove): For as much as I love Taft’s beers, I don’t love the Brewporium. I’d much rather go get them at the Ale House. They have food here, but it isn’t my tasty chicken sandwich. We actually stopped by for their grand opening in the summer, as well. It wasn’t bad, but we’ll stick to the OTR location instead.
- Wooden Cask (Newport): Gross. Don’t go here unless you like barrel-aged garbage. And if you do like barrel-aged garbage, drink up!
- Nine Giant (Pleasant Ridge): I wanted to like this place because it’s in kind of a cool location but I didn’t really care for either of the beers we got, and the ‘nine giant’ story on the wall was overly cheesy. But, you do get free french fries with your passport when you go there, so that’s kind of cool.
- New Riff Distilling (Newport): I’ve been to New Riff a handful of times for networking things in their event spaces, but again — it’s bourbon. And they don’t even have their own bourbon yet, but you can try their gin and rye. And they were both pretty gross.