Just like, well, pretty much every other red-blooded, beer-drinking homo sapiens living in or near Cincinnati, OH, I paid a visit to the shiny, brand-spanking new Moerlein Lager House last week. I had hoped to be one of the first through the door, but it took the better part of the week to squeeze a little time out of my schedule for a pour or two. And even then, the time I spent there was much too brief, to be sure.
In other words, I’ll just have to spend much more time there in the future.
Now, just settle down. I could almost hear a multitude of eyes rolling as you read that. And, please, keep the dismissive muttering about how you’ve read everything you need to know about the Lager House by now to yourself. Yes, I realize that you’ve likely already read all about it. I know that I’ve consumed every snippet, snatch, and swatch of material pressed, printed, pinned, photo’d, or blogged on the topic in the past week.
Rest easy, then. I’m not going to go on and on about about how beautiful the place is, or how not even the tiniest little detail seems to have been overlooked in its planning and design. And, no, I don’t have any sweet images of the view or the bar or, heck, even the wursts. If you want to see something like that, check out the Hoperatives First Look post, the Lager House website itself, or heck, I dunno, Pinterest or something (isn’t everything available there at this point?).
Admittedly, I didn’t take any pictures partially because I have all the photography skill of a myopic ring-tail lemur. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the camera on my phone takes perfectly good views and generates jpegs that look like something an art student focusing on cubism might appreciate. But still, the primary reason I don’t have pictures is because I don’t want to talk about how awesome and inspiring the Lager House looks.
Instead, I want to talk about what the Lager House means to me, or well, hopefully, to many of us.
I’ve made no attempt to hide that fact that I’m a huge fan of what Greg Hardman has been trying to do in rebuilding Cincinnati’s beer brands. I have been and will likely always be a tremendous cheerleader for the Christian Moerlein Brewing Company. With that said, though, I’ve been sort of hiding a dirty little secret: I haven’t always been the biggest fan of the Moerlein beers.
Don’t get me wrong, I like them well enough. And some of them, like the currently in-season Emancipator Doppelbock and the 1861 Porter made specifically for Arnold’s, I like very much. But beers like OTR and the Northern Liberties IPA should be right in the sweet spot for my palette. Unfortunately, while I’d have expected those brews to elicit a contented sigh from me, more often than not they’ve had me scratching my head.
Well, until last week, that is. Last week is when I finally found out what OTR is supposed to taste like. And I like it, a lot.
What I tasted as I happily emptied my first glass of OTR at the Lager House was a remarkable balance between malty sweetness and hoppy tartness. It was a clean taste, exactly what I’ve been searching for in a pale ale, free of anything muddling or, well, off.
In fact, it was just about perfect for me. I enjoyed it so much that I thought, maybe, just maybe, I’d found my go-to pale ale. The one to have in the fridge all the time. And to that end, I stopped and bought a 12-pack of OTR for the refrigerator at home.
But it just isn’t the same.
At least, not yet.
The truth is, it’s no great secret that most of the Moerlein beers are contract-brewed in Pennsylvania. And no matter how well-meaning someone’s intentions, when you don’t have complete control over an industrial process, you can’t always know what you’ll get in the end. Trust me, while that’s arguably the case of just nearly any commercial product, it’s especially true of brewing. Heck, I have completely control of the homebrew I make in my kitchen, and even then it’s 50/50 whether I’ll end up making the beer I’m intending. Brewing is both art and science, and that’s a difficult thing to consistently get right hundreds of miles away from here.
So, when most people look at the awesome new building perched beside the river next to Great American Ballpark, they see wonderful views, a much-needed reminder of Cincinnati’s rich brewing history, an awesome beer list, a top-notch menu, and, well, just a great place to hang out. And don’t get me wrong, the Moerlein Lager House is all of those things. Any way you look it, it’s got to be one of the most impressive brewpubs anywhere.
But to me, that’s not what really matters. What matters more than all of that is what the Lager House represents to Christian Moerlein, and that’s the true rebirth of one of Cincinnati’s grandest brewing traditions. It means making their beer with heart, soul, passion, and love as much as water, barely, yeast, and hops.
I’m pretty sure that’s what I tasted last week*.
And it was an downright inspiring taste of things to come.
*Yes, I realize that the beer being served at the Lager House at the moment isn’t yet Cincinnati-brewed. But whatever made the beer in my glass taste so awesome, it can only get even better when the brewing starts here in earnest.