The Craft Brewing Explosion and the Modern Day Tavern

Guest writer Henry Simanson explores the history of local breweries across the country and in Cincinnati.

By: Henry Simason ~Guest Writer~

Brewery:Rhinegeist Growler Fills: $15- $20 refills Address: 1910 Elm St Cincinnati, OH 45202

In the late 1880s there were over 2,000 breweries open in America. One hundred years later there were only 92. A combination of dwindling demand and the influences of Prohibition had destroyed what had not only been a thriving market, but also an important aspect of American culture. American-made beer had historically been a point of pride. Without ways to transport beer across the country, one would rarely come upon a village or township without also finding a local village brewery and tavern.

A brewery whose name means, “Ghost of the Rhine” is far from that. One of the key figures in revitalizing Cincinnati’s historic Over-The-Rhine neighborhood, Rhinegeist is a must-try in the Cincinnati brewing scene. If your weekends lead you to art galleries, Findlay Market or bars like Japps and Neons, then this might just be your favorite brewery. Surrounded by the city’s fastest growing entertainment district, there should be nothing stopping you from going down to Elm Street to try a fresh beer.

Brewing beer was becoming an art form and at the same time the American tavern culturally held a place of great societal importance. The tavern was not only a place of refreshment and entertainment, but also the physical space for social gatherings.

The common American tavern was a central venue of debate and discussion in American history, the type of place that can today be romanticized as one of the great original theaters for community and collaboration in America. However, as time passed, the place local breweries held in these taverns would soon change.

In the 1920s, Prohibition shut down every brewery in the United States, and although the tavern would still represent a place of cultural importance, the brewing of beer would be changed forever. Following Prohibition, only 300 breweries would attempt to re-open.

Unfortunately for these small brewers, Anheuser-Busch re-opened with a game-changing idea. It became the first brewery to refrigerate and transport its beer throughout the country. Small breweries soon were either purchased by the large corporate breweries or closed down because they could not compete.

America’s beer market seemed as though it would be forever controlled and overshadowed by corporate giants like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors. An industry that had become synonymous with community and craftsmanship was now an industry whose influence was to be defined by mass production. This trend would undoubtedly only get more extreme over the next 50 years.

Brewery: Listermann’s Growler Fills: $15 refills Address: 1621 Dana Ave Cincinnati, OH 45207

1982 was the first year Bud Light was distributed nationally when the craft beer market seemed dead in the water. With less than 100 breweries standing, an unexpected change took place. The homebrewing market began to grow rapidly. Homebrewing represented a stark contrast from America’s corporate beer scene, which was becoming more centered on the best beer being the cheapest and most accessible.

Homebrewing can be regarded as an art form: something that took time, trial and error, patience and ingenuity. Homebrewing, by nature, was centered on friendship, community and collaboration. This was a hobby that naturally brought people together, just as it had before Prohibition, supporting the development of community and public spiritedness.

This is a great first stop for anyone trying to get an introduction into the craft brewing community. Listermann’s offers not only one of the most unique beer lists in the region, but also a great shop for anyone interested in homebrewing. If you are on the adventurous side, get a flight of their Triple Digit line of beers, characterized as being all over 10% ABV.

As homebrewing gained more popularity, homebrewers started collaborating with other likeminds to open up commercial operations. These new “craft” breweries soon began opening up all over the country. Homebrewing was helping to create an industry that would soon explode.

Currently the craft beer industry is in the middle of its biggest boom since the end of Prohibition. In the last five years alone the market has exploded, as over 1,000 new breweries have opened their doors. It is almost impossible to walk into a local restaurant or bar without seeing local breweries on tap. Drinking local is suddenly becoming a cultural phenomenon. Cincinnati’s community, although late in the overall craft brewing game, has proved that it is ready for the craft brewing revolution over the last few years.

Dan Listermann is one of the key figures in the development of brewing in Cincinnati. Listermann, recognizing the growing demand, started his own homebrewing supply shop in 1991. Listermann’s shop grew to the point that not only did he need to open up a larger location across the street from Xavier on Dana Avenue, but in 2008 he was able to turn the shop into a brewery.

Brewery: MadTree Growler Fills: $15-$20 refills Address: 5164 Kennedy Avenue Cincinnati, OH 45213

Listermann is regarded as one of the most important figures in paving the way for craft beer’s current foothold in Cincinnati markets. There are now over 10 different craft breweries in the Cincinnati metropolitan area, as this city has suddenly become determined to make its mark as a beer town.

The revitalization of the local brewery is without a doubt pushing the beer industry to places it has never gone before. However, more than that, the rise represents the revitalization of the tavern, or if you’re a Cincinnatian with German ancestry, the public house. So, if you are sick of a national college beer culture pushing for excess and partying and are looking for great conversations and some of the best beer the country has to offer, take a look at some of the top breweries to visit in the city.

It is without doubt that any Cincinnatian who calls himself or herself a beer lover can recognize the classic MadTree tap handle from a mile away. MadTree holds a secure spot as a top brewery in the region. My personal favorite is the PsycHOPathy IPA, a beer whose name tells you all you need to know about it. A great place to try it on tap is Arthur’s in Hyde Park, just a short drive from Xavier’s campus. Look out for MadTree’s seasonal releases The Great PumpCan, which heads their fall line, and the Thundersnow, which heads the winter line. Both sit at over 8% ABV and are not for the faint of heart.