Last week, Cincinnati.com reported that an avid homebrewer named Scott LaFollette wants to expand out of his home and open a new brewery somewhere around the Lunken Airport/Columbia Tusculum area. He seems to have a good plan: the area has several under-utilized indutrial buildings, the new strip mall on OH-50 shows that the area wants to redevelop, he has already met with the community council of Columbia Tusculum to gauge resident response to the idea, and he says any waste product from the low-emission brewery will be given away for use as compost in the Columbia Tusculum Community Garden, which is set to be created this spring.
Personally, I can’t see much in the way of arguments against allowing Mr. LaFollette to continue with the permit process, but that is for another time and place. Of far greater interest is what the new brewery and the residents’ reactions represent. Cincinnati has a long history and culture around the good things that beer can be. This is not getting hammered and breaking things, rather this is about enjoying a delicious, all-natural beverage with your friends in just the right situation to make it an enjoyable experience.
Cincinnati’s rich beer history comes from its two largest ethnic-ancestory groups, the Irish and the Germans. The Irish are often viewed as drunkards or raging alcoholics. In fact, much of that view of Irish culture comes from two places. First, English drinking culture, which is as much about getting bombed out of your mind as any, first brought the drinking-for-the-sake-of-drinking to Ireland when Ireland was essentially an English colony. Second, as a way of justifying the colonization and imperial control over Ireland into the mid-20th century, England often portrayed the Irish as barbaric, and showing them to be drunk all the time was a way of dehumanizing and demonizing the people of Ireland. Surely, drinking in excess is not a strange concept to the Irish, but the stereotype takes away from the deep cultural appreciation for a good beverage after a hard day’s work, or as a way of indulging further into good company. The German drinking culture is largely geared around the fact that beer is a part of everyday life, rarely taken to the excess that so many Americans seem to think is the natural result of its consumption, and the German proclivity for hosting grand festivals for holidays. These two deeply rooted cultural values of using beer as a way of expressing indentity and as a means of celebration live on today in Cincinnati, through events like the BrewHaHa, the Taste of Cincinnati (which takes place this weekend), and others cultural events
Many people forget the meaning of Over the Rhine. Originally, Over the Rhine was so named because it was the part of Cincinnati where many of the multitude of German immigrants settled. With a heavy German population, the area became the natural site for the rapid expansion in the number of breweries in the city, which shot up from 8 in 1840 to 36 in 1860, in large part thanks to the German ’48ers (European immigrants to America escaping the consequences of failed revolutions all across Europe in 1848). In the area now known as the OTR Brewery District, beer gardens sprang up and became the central hub of social life in the city. By 1890, Cincinnati was the 3rd largest producer of beer by population, at 4.2 barrels of beer per person per year. In 1893, the national beer consumption average was 16 gallons a year per capita. In Cincinnati, the average was 40 gallons per capita. Unfortunately, the (shameful) period in our country known as the Prohibition Era ruined many of the local breweries across the country, and especially in Cincinnati. Prohibition did nothing more than fuel the rise of gangsters bringing alcohol illegally into the country, and lay the groundwork for the large national breweries today, like Anheiser-Busch and Miller, to control the American market for most of the rest of the century.
Smaller, more localized breweries are now making a huge comeback in the United States. According to beer connoisseur Randy Mosher in his fascinating book Tasting Beer, the United States, although known to the rest of the world only for beers like Buweiser and Miller Lite, has the richest and most diverse microbrewing tradition in the world. Cincinnati is a prime example. Many breweries which were once closed, and many new local breweries have been making steady progess in the past several years. Local brews like Rivertown Brewing Company, Mt. Carmel Brewing Company, the Hudepohl beer brand, the newly brought-back-to-life Christian Moerlein Brewery, and many more are getting more and more popular and are continually coming out with new brews for us to enjoy. Even the legendary Boston brewery Sam Adams has realized Cincinnati’s rich brewing history, as the Boston-based beer is now brewed primarily in Cincinnati.
Cincinnati has a rich and proud history and culture of brewing delicious beer for all to enjoy. I sincerely wish Mr. LaFollette all the best, and I hope that you all will get out there and support your local breweries, and keep the tradition alive.