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 soon a successful microbrewery on Liberty Street before closing 2010), 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, its brewer crafted 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.

Best local beer store, Party Town, 10 miles South of Cincy in Florence, Kentucky, sold specialty foods, fireworks, and liquor. Bought several Berghoff, Great Lakes, Bell’s, Kentucky Ales, and Bluegrass brews along with new Californians by Reaper Ale and Hoppy Brewing.