Roughly a week ago, Cincinnati Council Member Laure Quinlivan publicly asked a very reasonable question about our city’s image. Cincinnati’s image? To some, this seemed like kind of a silly question, because most of us already know what this city is all about: traditional values, tightly-knit communities, and a proud, rich history. Those of us living in the area generally tend to lean toward substance more than style, though, and overlook flash in favor of family and friends. So what’s all this business about an image? Who really cares? We know who and what we are, and by and large, we’re pretty happy with that.
The question, though, was never about us. If you read my other blog, Puddintopia, you’ve probably heard me mention before that my father taught high school political science in the NKy for years. One of the first things he covered every year was a very simple, very crucial tenet: those who succeed have a goal and a plan. Is there a goal for Cincinnati? Yes, I believe so; we need to find a way to bring growth to the region, economically, socially, personally, whatever. However we go about it, growth will be the key to our success. But is there a plan to affect that growth?
That, right there, is what the Council Member’s question was all about. In order to grow, we need to attract the interest of people, companies, and groups that don’t already realize exactly how great a place Cincinnati really is. This city desperately needs some PR, a bit of fresh marketing to the outside world. And it doesn’t seem to me that Harry’s Law is going to help much. So, yes, we absolutely need to think a little about our image.
With that in mind, then, what do we say and how do we say it to help people realize they want to come here? Well, sadly, you can’t lean too heavily on how great a place it is for its community and values. Those are reasons people will eventually want to live here, not reasons to come for a visit. You have to have a quicker hook. Most people won’t take the time to get to know you unless you have a solid opening line.
We’re not going to change who we are though, no matter how much marketing we need. The image of Cincinnati has to be authentic; it can’t be all smoke and pyrotechnics followed by crummy lip-syncing. That’s just not how we do things. It won’t fly at the chili counters or ice-cream parlors. So the real trick in developing a new image for the city is that you have to find a way to underscore the glories of our past while pointing to the wonderful potential of our future.
Is that even possible? I say, yes, absolutely. To accomplish it, all you have to do is put a big shiny spotlight on (wait for it) beer as part of our tradition.
And no, I’m not just talking about how much we enjoy the occasional brew with friends around here. What I’m really talking about is about how beer, and brewing, truly seem to be in our blood.
In the post I wrote last week, I suggested that we are currently in the “young stages of a beer revolution in Cincinnati, one emphasizing production as well as appreciation.” Don’t believe me? Well, Christian Moerlein, the company building that fancy Lager House at The Banks, is Cincinnati-based and owned by resident Greg Hardman. I’ve not yet met the man, but I’m pretty sure he agrees with me. Moerlein, which also brews historic Cincy brands Hudepohl and Burger, recently opened a new brewing facility in Over-The-Rhine, which is expected to be fully operational this spring.
Moerlein is just the tip of the iceberg for the modern brewing story in Cincinnati. Depending on who you believe, the Boston Beer Company is now the single largest American-owned brewery. Guess where they brew a huge proportion of their product every year? Yep, right under our noses. Mt. Carmel Brewing is doing good things on the eastern edge of town, fine people are making some excellent beer at Rivertown Brewing in Lockland, Red Ear Brewing is operating on Pike street in Covington, Great Crescent Brewery is a short hop away in Aurora, IN, and Dan Listermann is finally making beer for other people to drink at Listermann. Oh, and very soon, Cloister Brewing will undoubtedly be producing quality brews for thirsty people in Northside.
And that’s just the commercial brewing operations I know about. But wait, there’s more! Brewmaster Mitch Dougherty has been doing us proud at the Rock Bottom Restaurant Brewery on Fountain Square for years now, even earning a Bronze medal at the World Beer Cup and a Gold Medal at the Festival of Barrel Aged Beers. And let’s not forget that in Newport, our Hofbrauhaus was the first one ever in the United States, and they brew all of their beer on site.
You might have heard, the Germans can be picky about their beer; it’s worth noting that they picked us first.
When I look out across the Cincinnati metro region, I see a lot of people working hard to produce great beer, and more and more places showing off our appreciation for it. For instance, the Dilly Cafe in Mariemont has been named one of the top 100 beer bars in America. In general, it’s a lot harder than you’d expect to find a bar around town that’s not offering something for every craft beer lover. A decade ago, I’d walk into an unfamiliar bar and have to hope to find a friendly tap handle. Now, more often than not, I’m staggered by so many options that I don’t know where to start.
So, yes, we’re definitely a beer town.
I say, why not try to leverage that?
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Cincinnati was one of the greatest beer cities in the US. Since those golden days, there have obviously been some ups and downs. But look at where we are today, and then take a moment to consider the overall state of the US economy, especially in recent years (including the large-scale brewing industry). Through the recession, few industries managed to squeak by unscathed. Craft brewing did, though. The industry showed growth in 2008, 2009, and 2010, which is even more interesting when you consider that overall beer sales were down in those years.
Craft beer is a growing industry, and right now, this is a city looking for growth. At the same time, this is a city extremely proud of its history, and brewing quality beer is part of our collective soul. To me, this sounds like a perfect match, a match made in Over-the-Rhine well over a century ago.
Those who succeed have a goal and a plan. To promote growth, we need to enhance the city’s image to the outside world. Our skill in quality brewing and appreciation for good beer should be the cornerstone of that image. There’s no reason we can’t make Cincinnati the Great American Beer Town once again.
So support your local breweries! Because if we support them and somehow get this message to Ms. Quinlivan and the rest of City Council, those breweries can go a long way toward supporting all of us.
And supporting each other is exactly what this community is all about.