When I was trying to come up with a way to start yesterday’s short piece about Peanut Kahles going to The Party Source, the first thing that popped into my mind was “more change.” That’s a lot of what Hoperatives is about nowadays, chronicling the changing landscape of beer in Cincinnati. The landscape changes pretty quickly around here now, and I think that’s a good thing. There’s precedent for it, of course. Something Harry Truman once said that I don’t think people appreciate nearly enough is that the only thing new under the sun is the history you don’t know yet.1 If you try to study the history of brewing in Cincinnati you find out pretty quickly that it’s a lot like the menu at Taco Bell: a few ingredients that wind up making up a lot of different combinations. Take a bunch of Windischs, Mulhausers, Hudepohls, Moerleins, Kaufmanns and Haucks. Place them in a small geographic area. Add marriages within the families. Let it cook for 30-years or so. What you get is a brewing history that is second-to-none.
A simple blog post isn’t the place to try to fit everything that’s happened in Cincinnati beer into some grand historical context. It’s pretty clear to me that pre-Prohibition was the first era. Post-Prohibition with the closures and consolidation of the old breweries is probably a good place to set the second act. I don’t know what to do with the Main Streets, Mad Monks, Barrel Houses, Watson Brothers and Oldenburgs. Are they an era unto themselves? Then there’s Northern Kentucky. Wiedemann and Bavarian share some DNA with the breweries north of the Ohio River, but they also have a history unto themselves. I don’t know what to do with that. And what about Rock Bottom? And how do we fit Boston Beer Company into it all? Somebody who’s not me ought to write a book.
What I am willing to argue is that you can mark the beginning of the current beer era in Cincinnati with two events: Mike and Kathleen Dewey rolling the dice and starting Mt. Carmel in the basement of the farmhouse and Greg Hardman buying up the old Cincinnati brands with the intention of bringing them back to the city under the banner of the Christian Moerlein Brewing Company. When Mike and Kathleen started it was easier to name Cincinnati breweries that had failed than had succeeded. It was impossible to explain what the deal was with Moerlein unless the person you were talking to was familiar with Little Kings (and maybe not even them). Next week Rhinegeist will open and MadTree will no longer be the newest brewery in town. Depending on when Eight Ball Brewing gets up and running, Rhinegeist may well have the shortest reign as the new kids on the block. And it’s not like Blank Slate or Fifty West or MadTree measured their tenures in geologic terms. By comparison — and only by comparison — Rivertown and Listermann had forever settle in.2 Imagine what the scheduling task will be like if next year’s Cincinnati Beer Week tries another Tap Room Trolley. It was a pretty full day last year and MadTree, the Moerlein Taproom in OTR, Rhinegeist and Eight Ball didn’t exist. Good luck with that.
I don’t see the pace we’ve seen over the last year keeping up, but the good news is that everyone we have seems to be doing well. I don’t know if we’ll be adding any names to a similar post next year, but I’ll be shocked — very shocked — if any of the names I’ve mentioned here have disappeared. I expect we’ll see growth from within the existing players and that’s where the next round of changes will come from. On the other hand, throw a rock at room full of assistant brewers and you’ll get arrested for assaulting someone and that someone will probably have plans to open a brewery. That’s the way it was back in the first era of Cincinnati brewing, and that’s the way it is now.
And that’s a good thing.
1 Which leads to people who don’t forget history being forever doomed to repeat Santayana’s line about people who forget history being doomed to repeat it.
2 I’m going to catch well-deserved hell over that one.