Introducing Ei8ht Ball

A massive disturbance in the Cincinnati beer scene is going to begin at 11 am Saturday morning. At that time Ei8ht Ball will officially open it’s doors.

The Cincinnati area has had some great bars for a long time now. Dutch’s, Lackman, Japps, and Arnold’s are all fantastic places full of amazing beer. Ei8ht Ball is a different beast entirely. Oh yes, it serves beer but it also brews its own beer. Yes, it has tap handles… 42 of them! And those tap handles contain  some of the best beer you can get anywhere, including many locals. They also have bottles, but there’s no Bud Light here just a little thing called Zombie Dust  and another bit of nothing called Cantillon Classic Gueuze, but nobody likes either of those!

The other great thing Ei8ht Ball has going for it, and against my bank account, is that it’s located in The Party Source. You have to cross their entire craft beer section to get back to Ei8ht Ball. The Party Source has been one of the best bottle shops in town for years and now they’re adding Ei8ht Ball… oh, and a distillery will be opening there soon as well.

I keep mentioning that it’s a brewery so let’s talk about their beer. Ei8ht Ball is opening up with 2 brews, Prodigal Son and K-Hole. Prodigal Son is an American pale ale that really does justice to the style. Far too many APAs are light IPAs and that’s really not what the style is about. K-Hole is just plain nuts it’s an imperial stout but it’s got so much coffee it’s crazy. Both of these beers are amazing and are must tries as soon as you can get down there. Mitch Dougherty is heading up brewing operations there. Mitch was formerly the head brewer at Cincinnati’s Rock Bottom and won gold at the 2012 World Beer Cup in Wood and Barrel Aged Beer for Sarah’s Two Headed Buffalo so the guy has lots of experience making awesome beer.

Ei8ht Ball Tap List
Dat Tap List! – Thanks to Danny Gold for the photo

What’s a great bar, brewery, or bottle shop without great people though? For all the awesomeness I’ve already discussed it would suck if the people there didn’t know their shit. Danny Gold has been the craft beer guy at The Party Source for a while now and has done a phenomenal job at it but he couldn’t take care of this whole bar/brewery by himself. He’s assembled the Cincinnati beer dream team, they came together and formed Voltron wielding a pint instead of a sword! I already talked about head brewer Mitch Dougherty but Danny has also brought in Peanut Khales, formerly with the Dilly Cafe and always with the best damn beard in town! Peanut has been packing huge amounts of craft beer knowledge since before I was born.

So they’ve got 2 guys with mad beer knowledge so what, well they also have 2 awesome women with mad beer knowledge. Natalie Phillips was the head beer maiden at Belmont Party Supply up in Dayton, which was and still is Dayton’s best bottle shop. Lastly but certainly not least is Andrea Besl who was tending bar at Rivertown’s tap room and has been involved on increasingly higher levels at almost ever Cincinnati beer fest for the past few years. I’ve seen a fair bit of complaining lately from craft beer nerds that a place may have great beer but your server doesn’t know anything about them. These 4 don’t just know beer, they love beer, and they live beer.

The Dream Team - Thanks Jesse Folk for the photo!
The Dream Team – Thanks Jesse Folk for the photo!

This has been a lot of hyperbole but I really am truly excited for Ei8ht Ball’s future. They’re opening big and I know they’re only going to grow and get better over time.

Now that you’ve read all this go check out Brew Prof’s excellent post he did on Why you need to visit Ei8ht Ball.

Five Places to Get a Great Cocktail in Over the Rhine

I originally set out to make a list of some of the best bars in the city for this article. Nothing too fancy, just a list of places I would recommend to people from out-of-town if they wanted a great cocktail. Once I sat down to think about it I realized I had a problem. Not only do we have too many great bars and restaurants who are putting skill, art, and love into their cocktail menu to list in one article, but I was missing out on a great excuse to try a whole bunch of new places in the name of research. So for now I decided to limit myself to the one area of the city I am already way too familiar with and will be adding the top five cocktail bars of other neighborhoods in future weeks.

12th Street OTR

Five Places to Get a Great Cocktail in Over the Rhine

The rapid change of Over the Rhine from an economically depressed historical neighborhood to the city’s newest hot spot for trend setters and foodies has been a boon for cocktail aficionados. Craft cocktails are a must for every new bar and restaurant in the area, leaving us with dozens of places within a three block radius to get a $10 cocktail.  Luckily we are talking about really good cocktails here and they are pretty darn strong to boot so that makes them easier to swallow (har.) But with limited time on your hands you may wonder which spots to hit on a night out. Here is my list of five places in Over the Rhine where you are guaranteed to get a great cocktail.

5. The Lackman: This bar is probably my least favorite on the list when it comes to atmosphere and price but since this is a list is about the quality of cocktails it made the cut. The drinks I’ve had there are always wonderfully executed and served with a consistent quality. They have some barrel-aged drinks on a rotating basis, including a barrel-aged negroni last time I was there. The bottle selection is not very deep, but it is high quality. Service is usually very good even when crowded. The beer choice is great and rotates regularly. In short they are doing everything right, they are just missing some of the heart of other places and they charge you a bit more for the pleasure.

4. Bakersfield: I’ve written before about my admiration of Bakersfield’s cocktails. They were the first place in the area where I ordered a barrel aged Manhattan and I love their Red Headed Stranger Cocktail. I also am a big fan of their $3 shot specials which always include a solid bourbon or tequila selection. I recommend stopping by on Fridays for a $3 shot of Four Roses. The cocktail list shows a great deal of thought and compliments their food and the vibe of the place. Just don’t go there if you are looking for a gin martini. Bakersfield loses points for being a tequila and whiskey only kind of place, but you can’t expect urban cowboys to drink fruit flavored vodka now can you?

3. Neon’s: When Charlie and I did our run around OTR for Yelp Drinks Neon’s ended up with the winning cocktail with a smoked elderflower that was out of this world. They make their own bitters and syrups for their cocktails as well as a huge number of infusions so the variety of drinks you can get there is almost endless. They have a beautiful patio and a really excellent beer selection that is always good for trying something new. The drawbacks seem to have a lot to do with how popular it has become, with crowding and slow service being the most common complaint. Also, although I enjoy the creativity that can come from making your own infusions, they can be hit or miss. I’ve tried several bourbon infusions at Neon’s and, unfortunately, many of them seemed to be a waste of good bourbon.

2.  The Senate: The Senate Restaurant is one few places in OTR that manages to be a triple-threat. Great food, extensive beer list, and amazing cocktails that rotate out on a regular basis. The senate hits all the flavor profiles in their house cocktail list, from bitter to sweet, from fruity to fatty, from classic to cutting edge. I had a drink there once with duck fat, it looked like sludge but tasted divine and was served with a fig newton garnish. Recently I took my friend there for her bachelorette party and this was her reaction to the Fidel Castro she was drinking.

I think that says it all.

1. Japp’s: I realize that a lot of people probably think I am on the payroll for Japp’s considering how often I rave about it. But seriously, this place has everything a cocktail nerd could ask for. First of all, the atmosphere is great. Beautiful historic building with no TVs and frequent live bands that compliment the style. But this is an article about cocktails and here is where Japp’s really shines. They train staff the amazingly well with a really high degree of professionalism and consistency for all of their drinks and I am willing to bet that this is one of the few places you can go in the whole city where you can order a Blood and Sand or a Martinez and not have the bartender ask you what’s in it. On top of the classic cocktails, the rotating weekly list of house specials is always great and the bottle choice is amazing. And let’s not forget that fresh juices and house-made syrups and bitters that are standard at this location. Nothing but the quality and the price is actually pretty reasonable if you look at what the other places are charging for similarly crafted cocktails. Not to mention that the bar’s owner and still regular bartender Molly Wellmann literally wrote the book on craft cocktails.

So now is the part where you go ahead and tell me how wrong I am. What places did I leave off? What places are overrated? I want to know. And before anyone says anything I do want to give honorable mention to Arnold’s, where I would actually rather drink most nights than a lot of the other places on this list. Arnold’s has a personality that can’t be beaten in this city and they have upped their cocktail game considerably in the past few years, but the mixed drinks are still inconsistent and rely on pre-made mixes. And let’s face it; wouldn’t we all rather keep Arnold’s feeling a little more down to earth and little less trendy?

Some more Yard House pictures…

I’m not going to do a full-scale review of the Yard House just yet because 1) I largely agree with what Tom said in his review  and 2) I don’t want to judge a business on a soft opening (especially when I’m eating and drinking for free). I’ll just include a few of my thoughts short format belong, along with a few pictures.

– The space itself is just a tad above average. Very minimalist, with a one story, spread out floor plan. I think keeping it open looks neat, but will lead to crowd volume issues during busy hours, which was not helped at the preview by the music blasting. I like the Lager House’s materials and construction considerably more.

– The view is beautiful of the Ohio River and Roebling Bridge (see below). This is going to be a fantastic place to sit for happy hour once the weather warms up.

– While there are a ton of tap handles, I wasn’t super impressed by the selection. There aren’t enough locals and too many handles are used for macro. I understand that  this is at The Banks and caters to a wide subset of the population (AKA: not just beer geeks), but I think there’s considerable room to improve. I think this will happen as the folks responsible for beer buying there get a better understanding of the lay of the land in terms of local beers in Cincinnati.

– The small bites of food I had were fantastic in every case. I’m looking forward to coming back during happy hour sometime when they have half off appetizers and I believe pizzas.

– People talk a lot about what this means for the Lager House. I think the effect with be at worst minimal and at best a benefit to both places. With the Red’s season starting back up, there will clearly be enough demand for both places. Also, I’m a believer that a rising ride lifts all boats. I think the Lager House’s superior beer selection will make the Yard House up their game and I believe the Yard Houses’s eclectic and high-quality food selection will make the Lager House up theirs. Overall, having both is great for consumers. I’m not going to say that the two are equivalent, but if the Lager House was full, I’d be more than happy to walk over to the Yard House for a beer and snack (or vice-versa).

– Overall, I was impressed with not just the Yard House and its food/beer, but with the service, as well. Obviously things were slow because of the crowd size and learning the systems, but it’s nice to see servers new at a place, still chipper and pleasant to interact with.

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The Yard House from afar. It’s situated right next to the apartments at The Banks.
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A little closer up view.
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My terrible, washed out picture of the main entrance.
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The bar: lots and lots of beer. The taps wrap around the entire thing.
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Those are all the kegs on tap at the time.
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A fantastic view of the Ohio River.

Yard House Preview-Review

All of us here at Queen City Drinks were lucky enough to get invites to the soft opening of the newest place on the banks, The Yard House. The Yard House is an interesting place with an amazing beer selection on 160 taps! Due to the overall craziness at the entrance I started with a Fat Heads Head Hunter IPA after actually getting a chance to review the full list I moved to their special house beer, a Belgian Amber Tripel.

That is a lot of taps

The Yard House Belgian Amber Tripel clocks in at 9% abv and is a complex brew. It’s much more of an amber then a tripel as the sweet caramel flavors from the amber overwhelm the fruity Belgian action. It’s definitely worth a try but pales in comparison to the rest of their beer menu. Not to say this is a bad beer, just that they have SO MANY amazing brews.

A nitro tap is a beautiful thing!

I finished off my time there with what is quickly becoming one of my favorite beers, Rivertown’s Roebling porter on a nitro tap. This is only the second place I’ve seen this, the first being Rivertown’s tap room. Out of the bottle Roebling is so-so but on a nitro tap it is absolutely astounding.

Food wise they had people roving around with trays of appetizers and small bites. The joint was so packed it was hard to get around to try the different tastes and then I ended up hanging out at the bar while most of the trays moved around the edges of the tables. I did end up being able to try 2 or 3 things including some rocking pasta with chicken and some kind of Asian beef and rice.

Speaking of food brings me to the fact that the Yard House doesn’t seem like a restaurant. This is mostly due to the way it’s laid out, big central bar surrounded by a ring of 4-person high tops with 6 person booths lining the edges. There is also a massive patio with a mix of 4 and 6 person tables. The size and focus of the bar really makes it seem that that is what this is, an amazing bar. Sure it’s got food, most bars do, and that food is likely amazing. But the first part of the menu is all beer. Now don’t misunderstand me, this is not a bad thing at all. And time may show that my observation is completely wrong.

Building wise it’s a really nice place. An amazing view of the river, the Roebling bridge, and Paul Brown stadium. So 2 walls are all glass, 1 wall is the entrance, the last wall… yeah it’s a massive room full of kegs! On the inside they’ve got some great automatic blinds that they seemed to be playing with randomly last night. It’d go from slightly dark to mid-day brightness as soon as they opened the blinds. There is a ring of TVs above the bar showing sports.

One note on local beer, the Yard House has quite a few local brews but noticeably absent is anything from Blank Slate, MadTree, 50 West, Cellar Dweller or Listermans/Triple Digit. However Rivertown, Mt. Carmel, and Moerlein are well represented. Now the reason for this, I’ve been told, is that the Yard House nailed down the tap list something like 6 months ago. MadTree didn’t exist and Blank Slate was still self-distributing back then. So give them some time and I’m confident their tap handles will make an appearance.

There is another soft opening night tonight and the general public can get in after 8 pm. Then it opens for real tomorrow afternoon. I would suggest giving them a few weeks before going though. Let all the kinks get hammered out and give the massive crowds time to die down. But definitely make a point to get there soon it is an awesome, very welcomed, addition to the banks!

Now keep an eye out for the thoughts from other members of Queen City Drinks!

Yard House Tap List Revealed

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With a couple weeks left until the Yard House chain’s location here in Cincinnati opens, we got ahold of what will be available to drink on once they open. I’ll leave the commentary to you folks and add the disclaimer that I’m sure some of this will change by the time they open the doors.

You can find the menu (PDF) here.

Dutch’s & MadTree

Dutch’s (facebook page) is easily my favorite bar in town, but calling it a bar is really a disservice. It’s a bottle shop, amazing craft beer bar, and larder. So basically it’s full of great beer to drink there, great beer to take home, and great food to go with your great beer! Multiple times a week they have special tap takeovers and last night was no different. MadTree is up in the house with Batch One, Identity Crisis, and PyscHOPathy!

Continue reading “Dutch’s & MadTree”

Yelp Drinks 2013 Rapid Review

When I read about Yelp Drinks 2013 I have to admit I got excited. I am something of a craft cocktail obsessive and the chance to check out a few places I’d been hearing about for half price was too tempting to miss. The deal is simple, 20 local bars and restaurants agree to feature three of their drinks at half price anytime before nine during the featured week, which just so happens to be this week. The timing was great for me because I’ve just started doing a second, all alcohol, podcast called Bottoms Up and I thought that featuring some exciting local bars would make for a good show. So last night Charlie, my partner-in-crime and co-host, picked me up and we hit 5 of the bars in 90 minutes. You can listen as we talk to the bartenders and try the drinks starting Friday over on the Charlie Tonic site but here is my rapid fire review of the five locations we hit.

Blood Orange Martini at Mayberry.
Blood Orange Martini at Mayberry.

Mayberry: I’ve been wanting to try the gastro pub for awhile now so we started here with the plan to get some food while we had a drink. Oddly enough the menu really didn’t appeal to me. Everything seemed to have pork belly and I know that doesn’t sound like a problem but it just wasn’t what we were in the mood for so we settled on ordering two Blood Orange Martini’s and some Bacon Garlic Popcorn to snack on. The Blood Orange Martini was made with vodka, freshly squeeze blood orange juice, and triple sec. It was an uncomplicated and refreshing drink and the driest of all the cocktails we sampled. Not too sweet at all and if you don’t like the taste of vodka you probably won’t like it. The burnt orange peel was a nice touch.

OTR cocktail at Japp's
OTR cocktail at Japp’s

Japp’s Since 1879Of course I am no stranger to Japp’s but with it right across the street from Mayberry I couldn’t walk past without trying a drink. Since we were in Over the Rhine I decided to order the OTR Cocktail and it was an interesting experience in having the same cocktail made by a different person. The OTR has vodka, vanilla, fresh squeezed lime, cranberry and rose water. The first time I had it the vanilla and rose water came through and it was a much softer and sweeter take on the old stand by combo of vodka, cranberry, and citrus. This time the lime was much stronger and I didn’t taste any vanilla at all. Sadly, this was the first time Japp’s has let me down.

Rosemary Bistro at Taste of Belgium
Rosemary Bistro at Taste of Belgium

Taste of Belgium: I’ve been a fan of these addictive little waffles since I first picked them up at a farmer’s market but I haven’t been to their new restaurant yet, in part because I thought that as much as I love the waffles, eating them for dinner seemed a bit much.  But it turns out that Taste of Belgium was my favorite food stop of the night. To make up for the disappointing and over-priced popcorn, Charlie and I decided to split a burger.  It was delicious and the toppings of bacon, goat cheese and caramelized apples complimented each other beautifully. Not only was the food great but the cocktail here tied for first place of the night. The Rosemary Bistro was made with Watershed Bourbon Barrel Gin, house-made rosemary leek syrup, and topped off with tonic water and a sprig of rosemary. The result is a crisp and slightly savory take on a traditional gin and tonic. Two thumbs up for this one. 

What's left of my Yelptini at Below Zero.
What’s left of my Yelptini at Below Zero.

Below Zero Lounge: The drink here was the most disappointing but the atmosphere was the most fun so I guess it’s a draw. I ordered the Yelptini which has vodka, triple sec, and cranberry juice. Now you may be saying to yourself, as I was, wait a minute isn’t that basically a Cosmopolitan minus the lime? Yes indeed it is and it tasted basically like a Cosmopolitan as well. Nevertheless, a cosmo is a nice cocktail and I managed to forget to take a picture until the glass was nearly empty so it’s not like I didn’t enjoy it. The crowd at Below Zero were unpretentious, talkative, and just plain fun to be around. I admit I was disappointed when it was time to move on to our final stop.

Smoked Elderflower at Neon's
Smoked Elderflower at Neon’s

Neon’s Unplugged: I never though I would enjoy a bar called Neon’s but this is where we got the second winning drink of the night. With its long narrow interior, dark wood beams, patrons wearing knit hats, and a dog laying by the entrance Neon’s felt like a pub in a European fishing village but the variety of craft beer and house-made bitters was decidedly modern. We decided on the Smoked Elderflower cocktail and this one was a winner. Something like a smoked gimlet, this drink was made with vodka, smoked fig bitters, St Germain, a splash of lemon juice, Sprite and then garnished with fresh lavender and a lemon wheel. The result was a smokey-citrus taste that was really unique and enjoyable. This is a bar I will definitely be trying again.

If you want to try these or any of the other 55 drinks that are on special during Yelp Drinks you have until Sunday to make it out. If I get the chance I will be stopping by Arnold’s for their Maple and Bacon infused Wild Turkey Old Fashioned.

Also in the interest of full disclosure and because I don’t want everyone thinking that I regularly slam back five cocktails on a work night, except for the first stop Charlie and I shared one of each of these drinks so it’s not as bad as it looks. Drink happy and drink safe!

You can hear Charlie and I try all of these drinks on Episode 2 of Bottoms Up.