A Deep Dive in to Cincinnati Culture – Friday the 29th through Sunday the 31st of July 2022
EXT. A Small farm.
[Timelapse footage of bees hovering about. Establishing shots of demonic goats with crooked eyes. A wide angle closeup of four men in perpetual, pensive wistfulnesses under branches flowing in the light breeze.]
We sat around our picnic table of truth and tranquility under blue skies, mystics and scholars pondering and debating the story of Phi. Our Battle Beast holograms depicting Chinook bittering hops, purified water, microorganisms, and Maris Otter two-row. Stoic. We didn’t know how we got to the seven-barrel urban farm nanobrewery on the outskirts of The Queen City, but we were thrilled by our discovery.
The nautilus shell spun us out in guidance toward the honeybees and the black Baphomet of the occult Templars. A sequence leading to the discovery of The Paradise starts with a backmasking of my rickety tape machine…
It was an early morning jet from the mortal coil in a City of Chicago Sneakaway. With hotel and return flight booked, I was still only roughly 72% sure I was making this trip. A hushed exit, slipping out before the Generation Alpha Twins awoke. For if one had been disturbed, the other would surely wake. It could have set off a domino effect of panic, causing who knows how much collateral damage.
I rolled down the window and lounged back in my Uber taking a deep breath as if I had just committed a successful heist. Typical awkward conversation en route from my far north side bungalow to meet and pick up our rental car downtown. I found serenity in that literal window.
Alex and I, both too early for Hertz, grabbed a patio table at Corner Bakery at Washington and Wells. With electricity mounting and our trip on the horizon, conversation organically paused due to the overhead L train, we existed in patience. Corner Bakery’s sub par drip coffee didn’t matter.
Three hours of quips about early 1990s Major League Baseball players, while cruising to doom and sludge metal lead us to follow a trail of corn through the country roads of Whitestown, Indiana. In an untold golden pattern among sunflowers and a built in numbering system through the cosmos, we arrived for lunch at Moontown Brewing.
Located in the formerly shuttered local Whitestown schoolhouse, we ordered diner style smash burgers and sat beneath Great American Beer Fest medals, carrying on the sentiment of the Milan Miracle. The former mayor sitting near us at the bar, very proud of the establishment and the town itself, offered to show us The 1915 Room. Ushering us on to the old basketball court of the school gymnasium-turned-brewery like Gene Hackman running a drill.
An historic Hoosier pastime venue salvaged and reclaimed. Sugar Creek Malt was topping the Moontown marquee scoreboard for India pale and cream ale as the fermenters and mash tun now shine like the trophies of the Franklin Wonder Five.
At the connecting brewpub bar, a fanciful couple overheard our Cincinnati trip talks as we plotted our upcoming weekend efficiencies. Honing our itinerary, we established that at age 42, staying out past 10 pm is like planning for a minor surgery. You need to mentally and physically prepare for a full day, and ideally you need at least a few days to recover.
Eavesdropping, the couple had secretly penned a list of twelve or fifteen places of recommendation for Cincinnati beer and slid the document over the bar in grace. Like a ransom offer scribbled on a cocktail napkin, I accepted the paper and nodded knowingly. One integer in the pattern, the sixth term in the sequence, would crop up in the most unexpected way (as these things do). I tucked the sacred list away and gave due thanks.
Study hall was letting out as the final period bell rang echoing in halls of the old Whitestown School. We hopped back in the car and set our sights on the first strategic target. A venue we dropped the ball on during the 2021 Indianapolis Beerhundred.
Loom in Indy served as the true missing link and a satisfying completion of the coloring book page of epochs past. It’s technically Black Circle Brewing Company’s second location, and currently the production center of all their brewing, distilling, and alchemy. Loom is a concept built around pubic use Dexter Commercial washer and dryer stacks.
You did read that correctly. The brewery is also a laundromat.
The bartender at Loom wasn’t thrilled that we walked in before they actually opened. But I don’t know what you’re supposed to do. Sure, the sign read “closed”, but like the Lost Boys out for whiskey and blood, by default we took the unlocked door as an open invite. The one thing that server couldn’t stomach about living in Indianapolis – all the damn vampires.
The celebrated hideaway is lined with murals iconic. Pinball machines illuminate a back den in a neon gauntlet. Orchestration in tiny 8-bit circus chorus echoing off the stainless steel spinning drum washbasins.
I found solace there when I discovered familiar sounds of Synthwave and Vaporwave humming from the bartender’s Spotify playlist. It’s rare to stumble upon another cult member. Especially in broad daylight. It was reassurance that things in life may not be as grim as I thought.
War Master West Coast Double IPA filled glasses around the bar top, and Carney Rye’d IPA was poured in a call back to our original gangster Black Circle epiphany.
I checked in to the most ridiculously boutique Cincinnati hotel I could possibly locate – The Symphony Hotel in Over-the-Rhine. A restored 1871 townhome where each of nine rooms is devoted to a classical composer. On a tiny piano I played what I thought was the musical code for entrance to my abode, The Rachmaninoff Room. I came to find the overture to “The Marriage of Figaro” is actually by Mozart and not Rachmoninoff. The joke from the 1971 Willy Wonka film was lost on me for my entire life until this writing. Just the same, my confusion has ruined my joke for this essay.
We had some time before dinner, so my friend Stephen and I, weary travelers with dusty spurs, assembled for a cocktail at Sundry & Vice just down the street, equidistant from both of our hotels. The well-curated spirits list plotted in a division of lines into a ratio of extreme and mean. Indoor street lamps guiding the way, we both ordered the Harlequin Heart, a rye based creation with a diamond lineup of lemon, strawberry, egg white, bitter aperitivo, vermouth, and cacao.
After sitting at that bar listening to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, the bitters and vermouth began to run marvelous plays on the sweet Darryl Strawberries as the spirit burn at the back, tossed up an Eric Davis style 8-5 triple play to the cacao. That drink and the atmosphere there was a combo to plunge one in to psycho-subnautica as a floating leviathan, in true and blissful salute to the apothecary and ingenuity of American cocktail tradition.
Cincinnati as a rivertown was constructed between The Seven Dwarf Mountains of Hamilton County. At the crossroad junction of our country’s North, East, South and West, the city lies in a basin with the seven constellated hills rising up on all sides congruent. Ambitious architecture lends to a billing of the Paris of America.
Dodging the Blue Chip City railcars, we reconvened for dinner at Northern Row Brewing & Distilling at the foot of Mount Auburn. The brewpub at the northernmost point of Over-the-Rhine showcases the original riveted Carnegie steel columns and truss beams, existing since the building’s early years as a lagering icehouse.
We strolled down the McMicken Ave and angled adjacent sides of the Golden Rectangle through an alley to get to Rhinegeist Brewery on Elm. Because apparently we still had one more stubborn level to defeat in the first day of this old man deep dive for beer. The twenty-five thousand square foot production facility and taproom takes on traditions past from pre-prohibition Christian Moerlein Brewing Company bottling plant, which existed in the same location. I dig that Rhinegeist opened during the height of West Coast inspired beer and have carried on this trope.
The head brewer being a former chemist at Eli Lilly for over twenty years definitely harpooned me with Flamingo, a juicy ale experimenting with Omega Cosmic Punch Ale Yeast. Fruit esters abounded from the thiolized yeast strain and pink lemonade clouds raining over the creamsicle yacht ride led me to my fluorescent sunset.
By our third round attempting to push the bounds at Rhinegeist, watching the twenty-somethings play midnight corn hole only succeeded in a zoning out. I wish I could be as excited as them tossing those beanbags. So much hope there. Shit. I wish I could be that emotively excited about anything, really. One by one we peeled off for the night to retire side like peak era Rob Dibble.
Solo reflection time would depict much of my second day. I woke early and walked to Coffee Emporium, heart set on a light roasted drip, strictly black and a blueberry muffin as unwritten law now holds.
There was a woman out in front of the cafe, transcendental, possibly unhoused, and more than likely imaginary. Sitting at a table on the patio, she asked me if I could buy her a coffee.
When the spectre started to rattle off her order I became panicky. Something about mocha latte with whip cream and some sort of syrupy orange, and half something and add something else. Before she even finished, my brain glazed over in my post-alcohol, pre-caffeine state like I was Homer Simpson: “Uh oh…I don’t know what she’s sayin’.”
“Sorry can you repeat that?” I asked.
After making a phone note I went in to Coffee Emporium. I came to find the roastery a staple of the Cincinnati coffee scene and I felt lucky to have stumbled in. The angelically patient staff assisted me with the order as I recited it, and I was on my way.
I handed the drink to the lady, and ducked away before the other guy now sitting there had time to ask me for a coffee, too.
Over-the-Rhine, arguably the epicenter for the Cincinnatian renaissance is currently an open canvas for muralists. Most of my time there I walked around scoping out the incredible murals on so many walls, structure after building, alleyway after gangway. Every mural connects in an elliptical spiral galaxy as I followed a spellbound path.
I set my coffee on a parking lot bollard while I finished my muffin. I unsheathed the cigar from my pocket like a Hattori Hanzo katana blade. Staring at an enormous wall painting called Ice Cream Daydream I lit my stogie.
Rise, in the Brewery District, directly across from Rhinegeist was a piece to give me pause. There are too many to list but I sauntered along in awe as I walked the entire neighborhood of creation with my coffee. The chocolate notes ending in plum along with the spice from my Maduro was a perfect blend to wade through the outdoor artistry in ideal Midwestern summer weather.
“The Rhine” which no longer exists, was the Miami & Erie Canal. There are no traces of it. No monuments or old locks or ports. At least from what I found. I can’t be too let down at the lack of preservation – I come from a city that let itself burn down once, almost entirely.
I did find that gentrification hasn’t fully taken over. It’s still gritty. A jarring blend of hood stares and charming specialty shops. Toy dogs and baby strollers and gangsta rap rattling loose headlamps and trashcan lids. I found myself having to posture up more than once. Trying to look hard in order to stave off a jack move in front of an origami paper store with my craft coffee.
I walked downtown to the Backstage District to hit the Contemporary Arts Center precisely as it opened. As I approached I saw the woman from earlier who asked me to buy her a coffee, walking about in as much slow motion wonderment as I was.
“Did you like your coffee?” I asked.
“I really enjoyed it, Ryan.” She replied.
I understood then she was a prophetess. A soothsayer. Her coffee order was but a grave rubbing. You see, the truth is I never introduced my self to her or told her my name. Finding patterns in the static. In weather systems and star charts. Pineapples and pinecones, everywhere you look, the angles are pitched toward the elevated.
The Contemporary Arts museum had an exhibition called Breaking Water, originally sparked by Cincinnati’s close proximity to the Ohio River. Climate changing, water is signified as a pragmatic force of life yet also a potential liaison of ruination causing hope of decentering human consumption. Each piece included, offered a different perspective on water. One artist rendered on a series of vintage television sets, a transition from being in the womb to the process of entering the world.
As a companion piece to Breaking Water, my journey led me to 5th & Vine – and the opening credits of WKRP in Cincinnati from other vintage television sets – ones from my past. The apropos Genius of Water, a fountain and city symbol marks the centerpiece of hardscape plaza, Fountain Square. A cast bronze figurehead atop deep emerald granite, with four nude imps – one on a dolphin, one frolicking with ducks, one struggling with a serpent, the one riding a tortoise to eternity.
I roamed south over Pete Rose Way and picked up the Ohio River Trail heading east. I passed the Unity of Garden Park Labyrinth, Carol Ann’s Carousel, and the American Queen Paddle Wheel. The river walk connected me to the Newport Southbank Bridge, also known as the Purple People Bridge.
The Purple People Bridge, a pedway that is literally purple – like…Grape Ape purple, spans the Ohio River from Ohio in to Kentucky. I took a brief hiatus at the state boundary so I could register its significance. Due to its location on the Ohio River, Cincinnati was a border town in a free state, across from Kentucky, which was a slave state. I stood for a second on the dividing line between the Union and the Confederacy, the bridge itself constructed only seven years after the Civil War. The people of Cincinnati contributed a lot to abolitionism. Fugitive slaves used the Ohio River at this location to escape and flee to the North, Cincinnati having numerous stations on the Underground Railroad.
Appearing as a tangent at another turn of the twelve-degree golden spiral arm, materializing was an oasis. At the end of the Purple People Bridge at Newport on the Levee was a pot of gold. Under the violet rainbow exists Hofbräuhaus, a German style brewery and beer hall. The sad men’s club was about to meet for authentic Bavarian bliss, Bock, and beyond.
Dunkel Weizen and Maibock recipes handed down from the Duke of Bavaria four centuries ago, and entrusted to the Brewmaster, a monk of high esteem. Hofbräuhaus adheres strictly to German Purity Law in the highest Munich tradition – following Reinheitsgebot under the supervision of Staatliche’s Hofbräuhaus in München. I got to enjoy the traditional lagerbier in a half litre – full bready flavor with a crisp finish that paired perfectly with German mealtime.
We drove back over the river toward Cincy’s Northside neighborhood in order to check out Urban Artifact. Operating in the former historic St. Patrick’s Church, the name of the game here is world class Fruit Tart made exclusively with real fruit. Rustic wild ales reanimated, some from spores salvaged from long lost wooden vessels in forgotten Cincinnati lagering tunnels.
The church, a sanctuary of life retaken for community on multiple fronts. Each number is the sum of the two numbers before it. The pattern goes on ad infinitum. Fully fermented-out fruit sugars yield some dry but still fruit-forward flavors. The key? Well, the key is sessionablilty. A reason to actually hang out at church.
The taproom must’ve been in the church basement because it reminded me of Wednesday night youth group. Just with more raspberry beer. Less Steven Curtis Chapman, and less fear and judgment, but with more tulip glasses and more warmth and shoegaze on the stereo.
After stopping at Humble Monk Brewing, the edge of the night and bevel of our balancing act directed us to Ghost Baby, back in Over-the-Rhine.
Existing four stories under Vine Street in yet another hidden lagering tunnel, the nightclub has no street level signage. Merely two purple exterior bulbs coolly glowing in the night air like orbs signaling us as god damn middle-aged hipster moths.
We walked through the entrance right passed a group of fools who didn’t know where they were. Whispers and faint baby apparition giggles beckoned from the underground reliquary. We entered a freight elevator and were scuttled deep, down into the earth. The doors coasted open and we walked out like Goodfellas through the tunnel to Ghost Baby Den. Vacant since the 1850s the rooms called out an ethos of sprits past.
Spying an ornate bar fashioned after a baby rattle while “Gin and Juice” blared densely, we strolled by plush couches cradling madams and souteneurs. We traded pounds with outlaws and desperados as we made our way to the half-domed clubroom. A spotlit velvet curtain began to rise as we grabbed a marble bistro table beneath a disco ball, swimming in blue palatial luminescence.
As firstnighters become about-towners we absorbed the swank. Gorgeous cocktails delivered by gorgeous people. As a recurring theme in the equation of age plus time of day plus alcohol consumed, we didn’t stay long. We might have been called out as fraudulent based on the picture below of a guy who definitely wanted to murder us:
What can you say about Ghost Baby? It’s a merry-go-round of colorful people. Reloaded every night as a dynamic, opulent and striking haunt.
I pulled up a morning bar stool alone at Alcove, a restaurant owned and operated by MadTree Brewing. An urban bloom living wall behind the bar and a mad tree silhouette of moss. A greenhouse with expansive windows in a light filled lounge – a nook of nature in the heart of a city. A biscuits and gravy brunch, and a MadTree IPA and a black coffee.
For my money there might be nothing better than being alone in the morning, no one talking to you besides the bartender. Incrementally working off a hangover by existing and caffeinating and self-medicating with small doses of alcohol by volume. The bittering hops cutting through the fat of the gravy and the dark chocolate notes of the coffee highlighting it all. Brilliance in the art of taking it easy.
We each bought a ticket in nosebleed to see Barry Larkin and the Redstockings take on the Brothers Ripken and the Orioles at the Great American Ball Park. It was free Reds Fannypack Day at the stadium. It wasn’t on a free Chris Sabo Glasses Day level, but it had to do.
I came to find that “Cincinnati chili” is a thing, and I experienced it in the form of a Skyline chilidog at the ballpark. A copious mound of cold shredded cheese to rival any one of the Seven Dwarf Mountains. I put $200 on the Reds under the guise of Pete and ordered a giant pour of Oberon. An Oscar Meyer dog and a wheat beer in a plastic cup at a Major League Ballpark? I’d complain, Jimmy, but who would listen?
Though the Reds were the second worst team in the MLB for 2022, a Big Red Machine victory over the O’s was an increase to the division line of the Golden Section of the weekend. The celebration in anima of Sparky Anderson sent us down the concrete ramps in to the parking garage party. Finding the rental car and pulling up the rough itinerary we decided on venturing to Listermann Brewing in Norwood.
Parking across from the brewery’s goombah-stomping Luigi mural, we found ourselves in one of those neighborhoods that naturally makes you question how you got there. Internally you begin to think about what the most efficient strategy is, if a carjacker in an N-95 mask strolls up cocking a desert eagle.
Stealing our rent-a-car with the swiftness of Listermann stealing Nintendo’s intellectual property.
The taproom itself, a makeshift clubhouse lodge fit for four magi like us traveling cross-country looking to trade beer for our gifts of frankincense and myrrh. The confessional we chose was the VIP booth in the back of the hodgepodge wooden conventicle.
Medaling at Fobab three years in a row was Chickow! – a barrel aged imperial hazelnut brown ale. I really think we would have spent the remainder of the evening there, sipping that sweet medicinal tincture, but the tap room began to flood. Not with fluids but with twenty-one year olds.
This turn of events was a usurping surprise for even the most jaded of old school craft enthusiasts. An encroachment. We came to find that production facility was directly on the cusp of Xavier University. Absolutely nothing particularly wrong with this establishment of higher education – honestly I’d never even heard of it before. But…in the latticework of life, the vibe of Gen Z will never mesh well with the quintessence of Gen Y. The math just does not pan out in any theory this side of Graphmatica.
God bless Listermann for what he’s doing and I hope he is raking it in hand over fist, opening a brewery next to a goddamn college campus. The beer was great, but we were subconsciously already closing out before we even collectively decided to leave. Our spirits were out the door before we even finished our final round.
Out front, I pulled the original recommendation list from my pocket. Uncrinkling the folded essence of biblichor, wafting paper and ink aromas. Pure. The fluid that flows in the veins of gods. The Hallowed Papyrus of the Divine Strangers of Indiana. We packed up and headed on a whim to Mt Healthy, Ohio.
We never would have ended up that far out of the city had we not started at Listermann.
Our chaperone? The Golden Ratio.
Was it a farm? Was it some guy’s house? We literally could not tell from Google. Regardless, Fibonacci Brewing Company was our destination.
When we arrived and saw the brewery operates in what I can only describe as an old fashioned Dairy Queen walk-up window, complete with a vintage-looking sign on a pole out front. Things became illuminated. The cosmic constant told us we were supposed to be there. This has become canon.
The bar was a flutter with patrons trying to get their pours and crowlers like kids in Bill’s Candy Shop aiming for Wonka Bars. Our crew as a communal Charlie Bucket waited for our shot. When the pours flowed we felt gracious. A theorem-turned-proof.
Earth Daisy double IPA – earth and pine in a balancing act with caramel. Cerasus, an imperial Gose with cherries, and Horapha cream ale with Thai basil, honey, and lemons.
If the old ice cream window taproom and the excellent beers were all there was to Fibonacci, I’d still be singing its tales. But there was profligacy abounding once we began to explore.
Behind the old school facility are brood box hives for honeybees. I stood alone watching them buzz about. Sipping my ale and breathing in the clean, fresh air, I appreciated the hyperlocal honey stored in the supers would become meade and beer in a cycle of one. I appreciated being there in that moment on my own.
I met the sad men in the open greenway as we grabbed a table under a canopy of trees. Scanning around we saw a micro farm on this beautiful nanobrewery. The horned king black goats chuckled at us. Those demon lords chomped sloppy apples and spied us from lazy eyes behind Golden Section fences.
Staring at the baby prince of beasts, it was revealed to me how the prophetess knew my name. It was written on the side of the coffee cup I entrusted to her. A mind game from darkness of the tiny black goats that beckon and scoff. Black Phillip’s return.
We made our way in to a second, secret Fibonacci taproom on the same farm. This one is located in an old house, next to the lime green goat shacks. The wooden bartop was eloquently detailed and blazoned with the Golden Rectangles, a mathematical connection between two aspects of an object. The Ratio: 1.618. The Golden Spiral flowed throughout, from the epicenter onward…
The Fibonacci Sequence is an ever present force found in many aspects of nature and all over society. Horticulture, literature, music, data encryption, psychology, cinema, finance, architecture.
Hurricane patterns and elephant tusks. Pentagrams and pentagons. Hop cones.
I had no choice but to order Equilateral – a bright geometrical triple IPA derived from an equal mass of three hops used both in the boil as well as in dry hopping.
A stage to our left and a man in a hammock to the north. Fluffy white cotton candy clouds hummed by over head as we soaked in the discovery yielded to us on the treasure map and coaxed forth by the Black Devil Goats of Hades. In the spirit of Johnny Bench and The Great Eight, in perfect geometry, the Fibonacci Paradise was the capstone for the sad men’s club Cincinnati Beercation.
We didn’t want to leave. The truth is, in some ways we’re still there.