We stopped by Fretboard Brewing in Blue Ash to talk to the owners about the brewery, their location in Blue Ash and their upcoming grand opening “Jam Session” celebration!
Jesse and I headed out to Fairfield to meet and talk to the folks from Swine City Brewing. We talked to owner Dan Ebben and his crew about opening a brewery and what to expect from Swine City when they open in the next month or two.
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.
The Middletown Journal rushed publication on this article last night, and it contained incorrect information about “Unbridled Brewing.” I found out about the article this morning and reached out to one of the owners to help clear the air.
I have to admit that I was a little skeptical when I heard that there was another bourbon bar opening in Cincinnati. Most bars in the area already have a pretty good selection and I have been really hoping for someone to go in a crazy new direction and open a tiki bar. But when the Horse and Barrel opened on Walnut Street downtown, I immediately heard good things about it from my whiskey friends. Then, when I met one of the owners and much of the staff at the January meeting of the Greater Cincinnati Bourbon Society and learned more about the history behind the bar, I knew it was worth checking out.
The owners of the Horse and Barrel, who also own Nicholson’s Scottish Pub, have deep ties to Kentucky and used to own a bourbon bar called Horse and Barrel attached to their Lexington deSha’s restaurant before it closed. So this isn’t so much a brand new bourbon bar hopping on the whiskey bandwagon but more of an established bar opening for the first time in Cincinnati. I had such a great time talking to the group at the meeting that Charlie and I went down to check them out last Sunday at the opening party.
The presentation and selection of the bourbon was all very well done. Unfortunately after being open for only a few weeks most of the rare bottles they had started with were already sold out, but they still had a great mix of old favorites and lesser known whiskeys. The cocktails were mixed perfectly and they had a nice selection of classic and creative cocktails on the menu. I thought the beer selection was also great compared to most whiskey bars I have been to. The food was outstanding, and something that many bars downtown are missing. I am craving some more of the blue cheese dip with fried bread even as I write this. And I do think that having the Horse and Barrel, a bar known for its bourbon, attached to Nicholson’s, a bar known for its scotch, is a great combination for one-stop whiskey drinking in Cincinnati.
It is still hard to compete with bourbon bars in Kentucky based on selection but until Ohio changes its liquor laws it is nice to have a good bourbon bar downtown, especially for people who are visiting the area and want to try some local flavor without venturing over the river. Now if someone can just get on opening that tiki bar for me I will be really happy.
It is hard enough keeping up with new breweries, distilleries, and bars opening in Cincinnati. Trying to keep a handle on what is going on in Dayton seems like just a little too much to ask these days. Luckily, I have a couple of friends in the area who invite me up when things get interesting.
Calamity Dawn and Dorian Bridges are the geeky bar-tending duo behind Calamity Labs. Together they roam the Eastern United States bringing booze, informative panels, and killer room parties to steampunk, comic, gaming and various other conventions, as well as doing private events. I got to know them during my misspent years with the steampunks. Calamity was one of our first guests on The Charlie Tonic Hour and created our official cocktail. I have followed the development of Calamity Labs as they have gone from doing panels at regional shows to leading presentations at DragonCon and competing and placing in The Bourbon Social Cocktail Competition. On Tuesday they hosted a test run of the latest panel that they will be presenting at shows this spring, Mixology 320: Mixology in Motion and they were kind enough to invite Charlie and I up to participate.
The event was hosted by Stillwrights Spirits at their Flat Rock Distillery in Fairborn, Ohio. Stillwrights has only been on the market for the past four months but Calamity Labs became fans right away. I was thrilled to be able to combine a trip to see friends and experience a fun night with learning about a new distillery that I didn’t even know existed. Stillwrights primarily makes flavored moonshine but they have a straight moonshine, bourbon and rum as well. One interesting thing about this distillery is that the owners were in the machine business before starting the distillery and were actually able to fabricate their own still. In addition to the traditional moonshine flavors I was excited to try some of the more tropical flavors they had like Margarita and Key Lime Pie. You can do a tour and tasting there on Saturdays for $10 so if you are in the Dayton area I encourage you to stop by and check them out.
The panel itself was a lot of fun. After a brief intro about the distillery and the basics of cocktail making, three audience members were chosen to go up to our mixing stations and were given twenty minutes to create an original cocktail recipe. I was able to compete and decided to play it safe by mixing ginger beer and grapefruit bitters with the Stillwrights Peach Cobbler Moonshine. Unfortunately for me, Calamity Labs rewards boldness and innovation, plus I over did it with the ginger beer a bit so I did not win. I did however, have a wonderful time. I think everyone learned a lot about the subtle art of cocktail creating. Along the way we were able to try a skill that was out of our comfort zone, and I got to see several good friends that I hadn’t seen in a long time.
If you want to learn more about Stillwrights or Calamity Labs they both have Facebook pages you can follow and you will find Calamity Labs at a variety of conventions in the coming year. You can hear more about the panel and our interview with the owner of Stillwrights on Episode 151 of The Charlie Tonic Hour.
Folks living along 75 north of the 275 loop [footnote]aka Beyond the Wall [/footnote] will soon be able to visit a local brewery without having to venture towards Cincinnati. DogBerry Brewing Company is coming soon to fill a large need for ultra-local craft beer in West Chester, Ohio.
It is Sunday afternoon and I am slowly coming down from the food high that I have been riding since Friday evening. I think I can safely say that the first Cincinnati Food and Wine Classic was a solid success with plenty of room to grow in the future. The event took place Friday evening and all day Saturday in Washington Park, with a few surrounding restaurants playing host to various after parties. I was lucky enough to attend both days with a VIP media badge and here are some of the highlights.
On Wednesday I got to attend a media sneak peek in the newly opened New Riff Distillery. I could tell as it was being constructed that it was going to be a beautiful facility with a lot of serious investment behind it. After talking with the production manager Jay Erisman and learning about the research, planning, and science that has gone into creating New Riff, I am firmly convinced that this will be a world-class distillery and treasure for local whiskey lovers.
The outside of New Riff is impressive, with a glass tower showing off the 60 foot column still. Inside the copper was polished and ready for photos. The large glass windows, stone walls and urban location reminded me the Town Branch distillery in Lexington but as Jay walked me through the distillery it became clear that New Riff was going to be a very different distillery than Town Branch. To start with the equipment itself is different. New Riff has both a column pot still so that they will be able to produce a variety of spirits, even adding some modifications to the traditional column still so that adjustments can be made to the distillation process at all levels. Jay pointed out over and over again little details they had adjusted or changed to ensure that they would be producing the highest level of whiskey they could. Everything from the angle of the mash tubs to the placement of the grain silos has been deliberately calculated, not just for the product they will start producing this week, but also for what they hope to be making ten years from now.
Everyone who is opening a new distillery has to create a story behind their brand. Many distilleries do this by telling you about their grandfather the moonshiner and the secret recipe he handed down. These stories are charming but often you find the facts don’t always add up when you scratch below the surface. That is why I was so impressed by New Riff’s attitude toward the outside resources they are using to get started. One resource in particular is the consultant who was instrumental in the development of New Riff, Larry Ebersold. Ebersold is the former master distiller at the MGP distillery in Lawrenceburg and Jay repeatedly credited him for his contributions to New Riff. And speaking of that Lawrenceburg distillery, that is also the source of the OKI Reserve bourbon that New Riff will begin selling this summer. Neither of these things, hiring a consultant or bottling a sourced bourbon, are at all unusual in the world of whiskey, but it is rare enough for a distillery to even admit doing it, let alone celebrate it.
Although small compared to other well-known bourbon producers, New Riff is large for a micro-distillery and even though they just opened their doors, they are planning for growth. In the meantime, while waiting for the barrels to age, you will be able to book one of their two beautiful event spaces for private events. You can also become a part of their innovative Ranger Program. Becoming a New Riff Ranger not only gives you a lifetime membership, a discount at the gift shop, and bragging rights, it allows entitles you to one personalized bottle of single barrel bourbon four years after you purchase your membership. Buy one for your friend’s wedding this summer and they can toast you with their bottle for their 4th anniversary.
Needless to say, I left New Riff feeling very excited. It is great to see that our area’s distilling history is starting to be revived alongside its brewing history. And may I say, well done to Ken Lewis. Bellevue now has the country’s largest beer and spirits store with a microbrewery and a distillery all in the same location. If he can just build a monorail to take you to each location he would be the Jungle Jim of the alcohol world.