The mission: One thousand different Cincinnati beers.
Linsey Kraeling, founder of Tour de Cincinnati, hit this craft beer milestone during Cincinnati Winter Beerfest. Drinking her 1,000th unique Cincinnati beer, she finished a five-year odyssey of hops and barley.
What she learned: “Cincinnati has good beer. I've been to other beer cities — Denver, Grand Rapids — and Cincinnati holds its own.”
Cincinnati breweries stay under the radar, and likely will continue to do so, because most are small. They don't have the capacity to ship beer all over the country, but they do provide a wide variety of beer and atmospheres for Cincy natives and tourists to enjoy.
Cincinnati is a city of 52 neighborhoods, and most have a brewery the locals call home. Kraeling has visited them all, and says every place has beer not only worth drinking, but worth traveling for.
“And it's not just the city any more,” Kraeling said. “The suburbs are creating their own pockets of awesome.”
To hit 1,000 unique Cincinnati beers, Kraeling visited 204 venues — bars and breweries, but also restaurants, parks and festivals. Although Kraeling mostly has checked in IPAs, pale ales and saisons, she also has sipped stouts, sours, lagers, pilsners and every other beer you can imagine. She says her favorite — right now — is Listermann's Satisfied, a stout brewed with chocolate, caramel and peanuts.
Just like every brewery has its own vibe, every brewery has a stand-out beer worth trying, Kraeling said.
“Linsey is the type of person we make beer for — never satisfied with the same beer over and over, always wanting to push the limit on the possibilities of beer,” said Jason Brewer of Listermann Brewing Co. “To have her promoting these things and the beer in our city is only going to bring more people in to the fun, creative side of beer in Cincinnati.”
Celebrating Cincy, Discovering Beer
But before 2012, Kraeling wasn't even a beer person — or so she believed. “I didn’t like light domestic beer so therefore I thought I didn’t like beer.”
What she always has liked: Exploring Cincinnati. “I like to be a tourist in my own city,” Kraeling said.
When she met her husband, Brandon, she found someone who would explore with her. As they tried the new bars and restaurants popping up in Over-The-Rhine, Brandon, a “beer guy,” set out to convert Kraeling to the drink that has deep roots in the region.
Favorites, If She Has to Pick
More than half of Kraeling's Cincy beers were poured at The Growler House, a bar just blocks from her old apartment, where the taps always are changing and trivia nights get raucous. After Kraeling and her husband bought a house in Westwood, West Side Brewing was one of their first forays into their neighborhood. Forced to pick her favorite Cincinnati brewery, Kraeling taps Listermann, near Xavier University, which always has interesting beer and is the kind of place where everyone knows your name — until basketball game day, when X's starting line-up is all anyone needs to know. (Having Renegade Grille serving up wings, burgers and other delicious food doesn't hurt, Kraeling added.)
He also introduced her to UnTappd, an app that allows people to keep track and rate the beers they drink. Kraeling checked in her first beer, a Hop Bomber from Blank Slate Brewing Co., on Dec. 7, 2012.
Check-ins trickled in at first — 22 in 2013 and 45 in 2014. That year, Kraeling also started Tour de Cincinnati, a blog aimed at celebrating all the things to see, do, eat and drink in Cincinnati.
Tour de Cincinnati began as a challenge to herself — try one new Cincinnati thing every week for a year — but became a retort to anyone who dared to call the Queen City boring.
“When people say there’s nothing to do here, they could not be more wrong,” Kraeling said.
By May 2016, Kraeling had checked in 1,000 beers on UnTappd and, looking at her stats, realized that more than half of her beers were local to Cincinnati. That seemed far more interesting — and worth tracking — to Kraeling, and the countdown to 1,000 unique Cincy beers began. Because UnTappd doesn't track stats by brewing location, Kraeling manually created her own spreadsheet to hold herself accountable.
The Next Beer
Wherever you're going in Cincinnati, whatever kind of beer you're looking for or experience you're hoping to have, Kraeling can recommend a brewery. For a tourist, she usually points to Taft's Ale House in OTR: the beer is solid, the food is good and the building is gorgeous.
In the last five years, Kraeling went from thinking she disliked beer to developing a taste for sweet stouts and inaccessible sours. She's watched breweries open and close. (“Blank Slate closing — that was rough.”) She's formed friendships with brewers and bartenders. She's seen brewing trends ebb and flow.
Right now, every brewery seems to have a New England IPA in the mix. What’s next for Cincinnati beer? “I don’t know,” Kraeling said. “But I’ll probably drink it.”
Follow Linsey's next beer adventure and Cincinnati explorations at https://tourdecincinnati.com/.
*All photos provided, courtesy of Tour De Cincinnati. *
Hillary Copsey is a writer and editor enjoying all the exhibits, music, libraries and restaurants Cincinnati has to offer. Follow @HillaryCopsey on Twitter and Instagram.