I'm a lurker around these parts, but I've been pulled into the fray this time due to being a member of troymccluresf's regular drinking squad. He's got the coasts on lock, but that area everyone likes to call flyover country (IT HAS FEELINGS, YOU KNOW) is my area of expertise.
Cincinnati has a special place in my heart not only because I spent five years living there, but because the beer scene is just spectacular. The brewing history runs deep into the 1800s, and if you ever find yourself in Cincinnati, your number one priority should be to sign up for one of the many tours of the underground tunnels that once fueled the many breweries in the Over-the-Rhine district.
Due to its central location, as well as being on the border of Ohio and Kentucky, you've got access to an equal variety of east coast, southern and midwestern brews, including the endless stream of great beers from Ohio and Michigan (Hoppin' Frog, Great Lakes, Bell's, Founders, Short's - to name a few).
Cincinnati is simply a great town for beer and baseball. The Bockfest parade streams through the brewery district, their Oktoberfest celebration draws over half a million beer-and-pork lovers (as well as the world's largest chicken dance, but please don't ask me about that), and the city nearly closes itself down for the Opening Day parade as downtown office towers convert their parking lots to impromptu midday parties to support the thousands of happy red-and-white-clad baseball fans.
I lived there in the mid-2000s, and while the local beer scene was certainly good, it was most notable for what was brought in from neighboring cities and states. In the last few years, the Cincinnati beer scene has exploded. The long-planned Banks district has recently opened, and its first local restaurant to open is the Moerlein Lager House. The Christian Moerlein brewery is named after its founder, a Bavarian immigrant who found himself in Cincinnati in 1841. Twelve years later, he took his lagering knowledge and opened a brewery. The Lager House is now a popular destination walking distance from Great American, and when you crave another Moerlein brew, you can pick them (and a host of other local beers) up inside the ballpark. Their lagers compose a large chunk of their offerings, but their IPA will appease all of us west-coast hop-heads, and while it may not be appropriate for the hot Cincinnati summers, their stout is just delightful. Fifth and Vine, their Oktoberfest Marzen, might just be my favorite no matter the time of year.
For years, Mt. Carmel Brewing drew me in due to its distinct packaging - completely outside of the cans vs. bottles debate, they bucked the trend and sold in half gallon growlers that you could find in many local grocery stores. A few years back, they started selling in six packs as well, which means it's much easier to find them in bars and has opened them up to wider distribution. This isn't a brewery that's focusing on hop bombs and imperial everything and barrel-aged experiments - think of it as Cincinnati's Anchor. They focus on a couple of very solid offerings, and they do them well: a blonde, a stout, an IPA, and my very favorite, their brown ale.
Unfortunately, for now, the distribution of Cincinnati breweries is generally limited to their region. Distribution laws are tough, and the demand in the city is so great that until they considerably upgrade their production, getting beer all the way out to the west coast would be a major challenge. For now, if you find yourself in Cincinnati on a warm summer day, kick back on the Lager House's patio, make your way through the long list of up-and-coming local brews, and stroll your way along the waterfront to catch a game.