I stopped by Rhinehaus for the first time last night.  This cozy joint in OTR would be a good spot to catch a Reds game and drink some good local crafts.  They had a Blank Slate brew on tap dubbed “Fork in the Road.”  This smooth amber ale is right in my wheel house.  The dark grains lend to a rich, malty flavor which is balanced with a measured  blend of fresh Citra and Centennial hops at 70 IBU.  A word of advice, if you see a Blank Slate tap go for it.  You won’t regret it.

It’s Cincinnati Beerfest weekend!  This year over 100 breweries—and ALL of the local ones—will come together to offer we gracious Cincinnatians and those coming from afar with over 365 unique brews.  The event offers a rare opportunity to check out new breweries, different styles, and special releases/hard to find brews like Mad Tree’s Bourbon Barrel Axis Mundi and Blank Slate’s Shroominous. The magnitude and the quality of the lineup has made it one of the premiere events in the country, and it’s a great event to hit up with a group of friends and a nice change of pace to get you out of your February funk.  

Below is the beer list for the Cincinnati Beerfest
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In local beer news Rhinegeist made a Top 10 "New Brewer" list by ratebeer.com.  They were seventh overall out of over 2600 new breweries worldwide which great news for their growth strategy as they just began distributing their canned beer (like today) at a few select local retailers (Jungles, Whole Foods, Remke, etc).  I actually just had their "Cougar" golden ale at the Incline Public House last weekend which is a really smooth and easy going lighter ale that went really well with my burger--by the way, is it just me or are straightforward beers like this, done well, a bit underrated in today's hopped up world of beer? One final note, if you haven't been already, you should check out theIPH.  They have an above average beer menu and you won't have trouble finding a few locals brews on tap to go along with their good food and spectacular view of downtown.

PictureThe soon to open anex at Rivertown

I checked out Rivertown’s tap room last night, asked them what was new, and they said "Bock."  It’s a rich malty lager that unlike many bocks isn’t overly sweet.  The smoothness and $3-a-pint price tag lends to repeatability (which at 7.2% can quickly lead to a rough Thursday morning).  In the unlikely event that business would bring you to Lockland you can enjoy most of their pints for $4 or less which makes it one of the price-friendliest breweries in town--their website also mentions tours Friday at 6 and Saturday at 3.  If you don't get out that way you can pick up some Jenneke a Belgian Pale ale, or Roebling an imperial porter, at your local beer store. These guys started from scratch just a few years ago but their passion for quality brews has turned them into one of the leading brewers in town.

One final note... I saw about 4 Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels aging on the racks.  Not sure what style of beer is aging in there but I'm definitely going to pay attention.

Beers: 7.5/10 (probably a 6 in 2012 but they have improved quality quite a bit and they continue to make quality new brews like Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Stout, Fat Happy Monk, etc)
Passion: 9/10 (These guys know their beer. Bartenders will eagerly engage in a conversation about their brews and brew methods.
Ambiance:  2.5/5 (Not much atmosphere in the tap room but the rating comes with the anticipation of a new and improved anex)
Location: 1/5 (Lockland. Industrial Park.)
Pints ~$3.50 (5/5)

The next stop on my Cincy brewery journey was the Moerlein Lager House.  

This place has been a big hit since opening their doors nearly two years ago right across the street from GASP.  

They have over 20 beers on tap (about half their own) and the beer I tried was a collaboration with Triple Digit called Saigon Sap.  This lager—brewed with Saigon cinnamon, apple cider, and brown sugar—was certainly unique, but for all of the unconventional ingredients it was actually quite approachable.  The dark red lager is moderately sweet and a bit harsh at first, but as it is savored the flavors and aromas come together nicely about midway through. I ordered another.  

If you haven’t checked it out, the lager house itself is certainly worth a try. It offer nice views, good food and good beer.  I even heard they do growler refills for $7 on Friday nights.  

Beers: 7/10 (you've had Moerlein before, they're just above average)
Passion: 4/10 (Don't expect the bartenders to know much about craft beer or have helpful insights on their own brews; this place is a restaurant first, brewery second)
Ambiance:  5/5 (two huge bars, outdoor patio, floor to ceiling windows on both floors with great views of the river and NKY)
Location: 4.5/5 (The Banks, game days, weekends--there aren't many other places that beat their location) 
Pints ~$6
OVERALL = 68% 

photo: www.craftbrewingbusiness.com
Tonight I made the second stop of my Cincy Beer Journey at the Ei8ht Ball Brewery.  This new spot is located inside The Party Source—and in the same fashion that a grocery store places its essential items—its way back in the back.  Right now Ei8ht Ball features only one in-house brew, an excellent coffee infused imperial stout they call “K-Hole.”  It’s safe to say that if you like coffee you will be on board with this brew—rich, full bodied, with a nice balance of a coffee aroma, flavor, and bitterness. For you non-coffee beer people… well, you could try one of the other 49 brews on tap.  Aside from all the locales I noticed taps for Mikkeller, Nogne O, and Three Floyds to name a few.  Now if those 50 don’t get it done for you, well, you’re still in the middle of what has to be one of the largest beer stores in the Tri-state, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding something else.  All-in-all, it’s a fantastic upgrade to an already impressive store, and if you see something on tap you can always get a growler to go.

Beer: 8/10 (but really, this is TBD because there was only one of their brews on tap; the rest of their selection was quite impressive)
Passion: 8/10 (you could tell these guys were excited and knowledgeable about the Belgian tasting they were hosting that night with some hard to find brews)
Ambiance: 2/5 (not much going on here, just a few seats and tables--it's more of a growler station than anything else; I was disappointed that it wasn't larger)
Location: 2.5/5 (it's at the Party Source, which is great and all, but it's not really near anything; maybe when they open the distillery next door it will become more of a destination)
Pints: $5-8

I was too busy checking in to Rhinegeist on 4Square to realize I had actually walked into the brewery so when I looked up from my phone I had to take a step back to take in the magnitude of Rhinegeist.  If you've been there then you know what I'm talking about.  The upstairs brewery on Elm St just north of Findlay Market in OTR is an enormous space that takes up an entire floor of an old warehouse--an old brewery to be exact.  

It has a feel of a cathedral without the extravagant ornamentation and instead of a crucifix, gleaming tanks filled with beer take center stage.  Here it's about the beer and creating a place where friends can and strangers can come together to have a good time. The rest of the space is occupied by art vendors, corn hole sets, and benches for folks to just relax and enjoy their brew.  

I was able to go on a tour with my homebrew club, Cincinnnati Malt Infusers, which is how I know that the beer in the fermentor below is a very happy barley wine due out later this month (this is the same fermentor being installed in the picture at top left some months earlier).  Right now Rhinegeist is brewing 4000 bbl a year with plans to double soon.  According to their head brewer, (Jim Matt was his name I think), they have capacity in their current building for 20,000 bbl a year.  I actually hope they move production offsite so as not to take too much space away from the common area.  They have a pretty standard brewing process; I did note that they don't mashout and they brew their beers for 90 minutes.

Last, but most importantly, the beers.  I had a "Dad" and an "Uncle" (I've had Truth before, an IPA, I highly recommend).  Dad is an American Amber (this one was a Xmas edition) that I thought was not exactly spectacular and maybe even a bit below average as far as ambers go.  I believe there is some rye malt in there but felt like it would be better with a sweeter malt backbone.  

Uncle is an English Mild that comes in under 4% ABV. It's not the easiest beer style to find so I thought I'd give it a try.  I gotta say this beer was fantastic and perfect for a long Saturday afternoon of beer drinking.  This is a literal example of a "liquid bread" beer.  The aroma and taste even have a biscuit like quality with a toasty finish. Little bitterness and purposefully little hop complexity here.  When I drank this beer I remember thinking that this is what I thought beer would taste like before I had my first drink.  The only shame is that it took me seven years of legally drinking to find it.

Beer: 8.5/10 (some nice selections and they're only getting started)
Passion: 8.5/10 (great tour, you can tell that beer is really important to them; I also like how they balance that with other cool events at their brewery that are not beer related)
Ambiance: 5/5 (such a cool, unique environment)
Location: 3/5 (tough call here, this could be a 1 or a 5 in a few years)
Pints ~$6.50

I want to use This Space to plug the "proprietor, janitor, and yeast farmer" aka the brewmaster at Blank Slate Brewing, Scott LaFollette.  One, because he let me--a complete stranger--tour his brewery last week, and two, because he took the time out of his crazy schedule to chat for a couple hours. This guy knows his beer and is determined to become another local brewering success story, and I'm sold. He has fresh ideas, adventurous brews, and he's a bonafide brewer so you'll always get good quality.  He essentially runs the entire brewery by himself and has chronicled his journey and musings of the beer industry along the way.  He has been brewing for years but his operation is very much in its delicate infancy so check out his site and follow him to find out what restaurants and bars carry his beer, and check out his website already!
I have some ideas for stout recipes but before I get started I'm going to go out and focus on the style--try a bunch to see what I like and don't like.  When I find one I'm going to recreate the base recipe and modify it with my earth shattering, mind blowing methods and ingredients.

any suggestions on where to begin?

I hadn't tried a Moerlein beer in several months, but at the Reds game on Friday it was by far the best option I had.  I'm glad I tried it again because I had forgotten how good this beer is.  Pale ales typically get on my nerves because they are so predictable and not all that great.  This one was solid though.  I love a good malt flavor and a a balance of noble and american hops in my pale ales and this one was all of those things.  I would have had no problem drinking six of these throughout the game but my wallet and wife wouldn't be happy with me.  I'm not going to go through the ASTMO--go here for that--but I will say that I'm going to add this brew to my rotation.