Before visiting the so-called Queen City, June ’04, a spectacular multi-vehicle police chase took place as my wife and I drove from the nearby airport in Hebron, Kentucky (just across the Ohio River) to Cincinnati’s midtown. By all accounts, it was a serious drug bust. But cool to watch from up close.
As the first large mainland city in America, Cincinnati originally gained respect as a steamboat shipping corridor and remains a big part of the midwest Rust Belt. Its performing arts community is one of America’s best, but currently the city’s craft beer scene lacks depth.
Staying at a first-class hotel on the cheap made it easy to peruse the beautiful Fountain Square area just a few streets up from the riverbank where Paul Brown Football Stadium and Great America Ballpark now reside. After initially stopping by Nicholson’s Tavern, a Scottish pub offering Black Mac (Guinness Stout layered over Mc Ewan’s Scotch Ale) and Bumblebee (Guinness over Boddington’s Ale), my wife and I went uphill to the rougher West End section where nightclubs, cheap grub, and heavy partying ruled.
Fabulous BARRELHOUSE BREWPUB, formerly a craft beer haven on 12th Street (and now a successful microbrewery on Liberty Street), tendered awesomely well-rounded brews such as wheat-husked, clove-hopped, yellow-fruited Flying Pig Pilsner; laid-back malt-resigned barley roaster Red Legg Ale; buttery spice-hopped IPA-like Cumberland Pale Ale; banana-vanilla-bubblegum-candied Hocking Hills Hefeweizen; and creamy mocha-spiced Vandermeer Strong Lager.
I was even more impressed by the diversity of the next few brews tried. Truly sufficing were chocolate-buttered, cherry-pureed Barrelhouse Nectar, pale-malted, wheat-dried Cream Ale, boozy cherry-candied, orange-bruised Belgian Winter Ale, medicinal cherry-spiced, quince-sweet, pear-tinged Belgian Red Ale, and lactic chocolate-sweet port-wined dessert Stern Wheeler Stout.
Though fabulous pub closed down April ’05, its brewer crafts bottled beer (distributed first through Ohio and Kentucky) from a site one-quarter mile northwest of its former Over-The Rhine neighborhood, initially under the name Heritage Brewery, then Barrel House. See bottled reviews at Beer Index.