Know Your Local Brewery: Cellar Dweller 3 Year Update

Three years ago I talked to Steve Shaw at Cellar Dweller to learn more about this new Cincinnati brewery. I’d had a few of their beers, and they were mediocre, one was fantastic but sadly a one off. At the time, I couldn’t find much information about them so I headed to Valley Vineyards and went to the source.

Every month, I look through my archives and decided what to post for #ThrowbackThursday. It shcoked me to discover it’s really been three years since I first met Steve Shaw. Thinking about that, and a recent Facebook discussion, I decided I had to go out and catch up with all the changes that have happened at Cellar Dweller.

Cellar Dweller Eye Opener 4-pack

Continue reading “Know Your Local Brewery: Cellar Dweller 3 Year Update”

Spirit Review: OYO Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka

Craft distilling is the biggest thing to happen in the spirits industry since prohibition. In 2005 there were 50 licensed distilleries operating in the United States and in 2012 that number had climbed to 250. At first glance Middle West Spirits in Columbus Ohio looks a lot like many of the other micro distilleries that have opened in that time frame. Owned by a small group of dedicated young professionals who left (presumably) lucrative jobs in other fields to start a distillery, Middle West has the slick marketing, steep prices, and even the obligatory connection to moonshining that I’ve seen at a lot of other craft distilleries.

A combination of pot and column stills allow for great flexibility in the distillation process.
A combination of pot and column stills allow for greater flexibility in the distillation process.

Once you get a little deeper into the distillery, you begin to notice the things that make Middle West different. Full sized barrels of their own whiskey aging in the corner. Sacks of grain from Ohio farms. Craft vinegar bottles ready for sampling.

Charlie and I visited with one of the owners, Brady Konya, to talk about what makes them different and recorded a great interview. We had a very interesting discussion and were even able to get a few samples of their products for review. So, here are my thoughts after being able to sit down with the Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka, an infusion made with local wildflower honey and fair trade vanilla beans.

OYO Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka

OYO Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka

 

OYO’s traditional vodka is made with 100% soft red winter wheat and is the flagship bottle of Middle West Spirits. They do two seasonal infusion with the vodka, a stone fruit and the honey vanilla bean. The base spirit is really important to the overall taste of the infusion so let me speak a little bit about what makes OYO vodka different. Most American vodka is very focused right now on being as pure and tasteless as possible which is one of the reasons I don’t really get that excited about vodka. But in direct contrast to this trend, OYO Vodka is very minimally filtered. The flavor of the grain, yeast, and natural sugars come through and it actually makes a vodka that not only has flavor, it is a really complex and pleasurable flavor. So when making infusions with OYO vodka you are not starting with a blank slate. Middle West has clearly been very thoughtful about which flavors to pair with the vodka and it shows.

And now for honey vanilla vodka itself. It has a nice body with a creamy mouth feel. The nose is sweet and floral with a clear vanilla scent. On the first taste the honey and vanilla flavors are there but they mingle nicely with more delicate notes of grass and almond. At 80 proof this is a true vodka infusion and the alcohol content is strong enough to stand up to the sweetness. The result is a peppery finish the leaves heat in the mouth but is nicely smooth going down. I really enjoyed sipping this vodka neat but the flavors would also lend themselves to mixing with citrus, pear, or coffee flavors in a cocktail.

If you want to try the Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka, I will be featuring OYO vodka and bourbon at the Local Beers and Spirits class I am teaching February 4th at Gorman Farms. I’d love to see you there and get your opinion of the Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka as well.

Salazar and The Eagle Open in Over the Rhine

Over the Rhine’s dining and bar scene continued its quest to take over the rest of the city, with two great new restaurants, Salazar and The Eagle, opening within two blocks and two days of each other this past December. I’m here today to give you a quick run down on their food and a deeper discussion of their bars.

To The Queen (yes that is marigold leaves as the garnish)
To The Queen
yes that is marigold leaves as the garnish

All of my foodie friends in Cincinnati have been eagerly awaiting Jose Salazar opening his own restaurant and a few weeks ago it finally happened. Salazar is located on the corner of Republic and 14th Street in Over the Rhine and serves food that can perhaps best be described as gourmet french comfort food. The menu is rustic and farm inspired but with a degree of class that belies its comfortable bistro style seating. The food I’ve had is incredible but the bar menu is what we are here to talk about.

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The 71 South
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The Coco Del Cielo

In the interest of full disclosure the bar manager, Jacob Trevino, has become a good friend since he first waited on Charlie and me at Japp’s. Not only have we interviewed him on our podcast, he came to our Boxing Day party so he’s basically family now. That being said, I have been genuinely impressed by the bar menu he came up with for Salazar.  Cincinnati has a wealth of great places doing retro/classic style cocktails and I love them all. But Jacob is making drinks that are more forward thinking and original than a lot of other places in Cincinnati. Several of his drinks are less sweet than you might expect for a restaurant cocktail and none of them taste like anything that other people are serving. Perhaps because he came to Cincinnati via Texas and New Orleans, the spirits, combinations, and even some of the garnishes are just not what you would expect and I think that is a great thing.

Just to give you an example, his Creole Gimlet has gin and lime but it also uses a house-made falernum and creole bitters. I’ve had just about everything on the menu at this point. They are all amazing but the 71 South, Pinky Swear, and the Coco Del Cielo were three of my favorites. The beer selection was smaller but focused, with a few quality examples of several types of beer from both local and national microbreweries. Do yourself a favor and get in there to check out the restaurant and bar soon.

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While Salazar had the breathless anticipation of the foodie crowd in Cincinnati, The Eagle seemed to have just about everyone waiting to get a seat once they opened. Owned and operated by the same people who have Bakersfield, The Eagle also opened in late December and is located on Vine Street, just a few blocks away from Salazar.  The Eagle is located in an old post office and continues the trend of doing high-class cheap food, this time with fried chicken. For a more detailed review of the food check The Eagle Has Landed, but I thought it was very good. The price was right and I liked all of the sides a lot. The fried chicken was actually kind of too spicy for me. I am pretty sure they use tabasco in the batter so be warned.

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The Moscow Mule
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OTR Lemonade

Rather than focusing on craft cocktails that pack a punch, all of the house cocktails at The Eagle are classic drinks served in large glass mugs that really make you feel like  you are getting your money’s worth. The Moscow was my favorite but the OTR Lemonade and the Bloody Mary were also enjoyed by my group. The beer selection was very good, much bigger than similar sized restaurants in the neighborhood. The downside of The Eagle is the wait. Be prepared to wait 1-2 hours for a table on the weekends. If you go I recommend putting your name in and then heading to Salazar for a cocktail and some warm olives while you wait.

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?

BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse Cincinnati

BJs-Restaurant-Logo

A few weeks ago while I was leading a microbrewery tour with Tonic Tours, I started talking with a guy named Dave Reed who was enjoying a pint at Rivertown’s taproom. Turns out he is the beer manager at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse and he invited Charlie and I down to enjoy some beer, check out their food, and see what we thought of the place.

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Because I live near Tri-County Mall I have driven by BJ’s a number of times since they opened but something about the name and the location in the mall had caused me to write them off as a cheesy sports bar with too much testosterone and too many chicken wings so I’d never actually been inside. In the end, I may not have taken Dave up on his offer except that my cousin who usually has pretty good taste in beer recently told me that BJ’s has one of the best pumpkin ale’s he’d ever had. I was intrigued to see if I had judged BJ’s too harshly.

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BJ’s started as a deep-dish pizza restaurant in 1978 in Southern California. The chain took off in California and in 1996 they added a brewery to their line up and began brewing their own beer to serve in their restaurants. All of the beer served at the Cincinnati location is brewed in the Reno brewery. In addition to the Tri-County location they have recently opened a location in Florence, KY and a BJ’s will be opening in Dayton later this month.

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BJ’s has 12 of their own beers on tap, with selections ranging from their standard American-style light beer to a stout and a double IPA coming out later this month. When we sat down with Dave at BJ’s he brought us a flight of their four most popular beers: the LightSwitch Lager, BrewHouse Blonde, Piranha Pale Ale, and Jeremiah Red. All of the beers were solid, approachable, and fairly safe which makes sense given that these are the best selling beers in a fairly mainstream restaurant. There was actually a barely detectable hint of hops in their light beer and I particularly enjoyed the Jeremiah Red. It has a fairly complex malt profile although it may be a bit sweet for most people’s taste in an Irish Red Ale. I wish that we had gotten a chance to try some of the darker varieties of beer as well to see how they compared, but overall I would rate the beer good but not great. In addition to their own beer’s BJ’s also has 12 more beers on tap with everything from Blue Moon to Rivertown’s Hopbomber.

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I have to say that the food impressed me a little more than the beer. The deep dish pizza was delicious, a nice amount of toppings that didn’t get overwhelmed by the crust. The seared ahi tuna salad I ordered was amazing, with the tuna cooked to perfection and nicely balanced by the rice-wine vinaigrette and generous portion of avocado. I was actually most impressed by the wide selection items on their menu that fit different diets. They had a surprisingly large number of gluten-free dishes that they apparently even use separate utensils and trays for to avoid cross-contamination. Their low calorie dishes, including the salad I got, were great even if they insist on calling them “Enlightened Entrees.”

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Over all the biggest disappointment was that this pumpkin ale I’d heard about from my cousin was not available yet. I guess I will just have to head back in October when the finally tap it and try a few more of their beers before I make a final decision. Over all I would to head to BJ’s for the food first and enjoy the beer as an accompaniment to the meal rather than the main attraction. With easy parking, little to no wait, and plenty of big screen TV’s there are worse choices for a night out with solid food and beer you can’t try anywhere else. If you want to check out BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse a good opportunity is coming up at the end of the month. They are doing a beer and cider dinner September 30th; for $30 per person you get five courses of food with a beer or cider paired with each one. Call the restaurant to reserve a seat at (513) 671-1805. And be sure to check out Episode 30 of Bottoms Up to hear Charlie and I try the beer and get a rundown of each one.

BJ's Restaurant and Brew House on Urbanspoon

Tonic Tours – Cincinnati Brewery Tours

When I went to San Diego for a bachelor party earlier this year we were able to sign up for a local brewery tour which provided a bus, a driver, some water, and tours at each of 3 breweries of our choice (we picked Stone, Green Flash, and Lost Abbey). As soon as we were done with that tour my friends and I began debating and plotting away to do that same thing in Cincinnati.

Luckily someone else has already done that for us making Tonic Tours are the first local tour of breweries that I’m aware of. I’ll let you read Tonic Tours description of the event before we dive into my thoughts:

Tonic Tours is launching public microbrewery tours in Cincinnati. We start at Everything’s d’Vine for an introduction to beer tasting before we drive the van to Rivertown Brewing, Fifty West, and Mad Tree before ending back up downtown at Everything’s d’Vine. Food will be available at Fifty West and water and snacks will be provided along the way. You will learn a little about the past, present, and future of making beer in Cincinnati as well as getting to try some amazing local beer at each stop.

For $90 you get a van ride from Everything D’Vine to Rivertown to 50 West to Madtree and back to Everything D’Vine, a tour and tasting at each brewery, water and snacks in the van, a commemorative glass, and some light food at Fifty West as well. If you want dinner at 50 West (I suggest the C.A.B. sandwich) or more beer at any of the stops then that is extra. Just getting tasting and a tour at Rivertown, 50 West, and MadTree is pretty sweet in itself. If you’ve already been to those then hang tight as the schedule will rotate up every few months.

If you’ve lived here your entire live or are only in town for the weekend this is a great way to discover, or re-discover, Cincinnati’s local breweries! These tours will be running the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month for $90 a head, you can book your spot over on www.TonicTours.com.

Full Disclosure: I was invited on this tour by Ginny Tonic who comped the tour and all beer, I still paid for my own food. Ginny Tonic is a writer for this blog and I gave her some advice and suggestions to help plan this tour. I will not say that this has in no way impacted my review of the tour since it very well may have. However, I have done my best to be objective and non-biased in the above review. If anyone wants to provide me with things to review I only promise that I will review them and I will write a blog post about them. I do not, under any circumstance, promise a positive review.

Know your local brewery: Cellar Dweller

When I first had Cellar Dweller last year I was not quite amazed. I remember trying 3 or 4 and found them all to be good, not great and certainly not astounding. That changed drastically a few weeks ago at Village Wine Cellar in Lebanon. I had the Doorbell IPA that went through a Hop Rocket right before kegging and man was it amazing (sadly as I found out there has only been one sixth-barrel of that so far). That motivated me to get me off my ass, pay a visit to the Cellar Dweller, and help you all know a bit more about them.

The fist things to know is that, as of now, Cellar Dweller is one guy, Steve Shaw, and he’s in a… well, in a cellar. Unlike most breweries who own their own warehouse, Cellar Dweller has the advantage of being beneath the Valley Vineyards Winery. Steve is part of Valley Vineyards family and they were happy to lend him a hand when he got the idea for Cellar Dweller.

Valley Vineyards Cellar Dweller

Continue reading “Know your local brewery: Cellar Dweller”