Cincinnati, Ohio, was once a city well-known for its beer. With a large German immigrant population, the city boasted over thirty breweries by 1860. However, Prohibition in the early-1900s led to several breweries closing. The explosion of craft beer in the United States since 2000 has led to the city boasting more breweries now. Rhinegeist Brewery was not the first craft brewery in town, but may be one of the city’s best known brands with its easily recognizable ghost skeleton logo.
The short version of Rhinegeist’s history is that the brewery opened in a former Christian Moerlein Brewing Company building in 2013. However, the tale is much longer and involves two consultants working in San Francisco. Eventually Bob Bonder and Bryant Goulding relocated to Cincinnati, and in 2011 earnestly began planning what became Rhinegeist Brewery. The pair struggled to find a brewer until meeting Jim Matt, who visited Bonder’s Tazza Mia coffee kiosk, in 2012. Matt had a 20-year career as a chemist for Eli Lilly, but was also homebrewing and serving as a beer competition judge. With a brewer secured, plans moved forward to open a brewery. The team ultimately secured a 250,000-square-foot building in Over-the-Rhine, which served as Christian Moerlein Brewing Company’s packaging hall until the brewery closed in 1919. On June 29, 2013, Rhinegeist Brewery opened its doors to the public.
The story behind the name
When choosing a name for their brewery, Bonder and Goulding chose “Rhine” to represent the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood where the brewery would be located. “The Rhine” also references the Miami and Erie Canal that separated downtown Cincinnati from the area that attracted German immigrants in the mid-1800s. The workers were said to be “crossing the Rhine” as they walked into downtown for work. The canal has since been drained and covered by Liberty Parkway, which marks the southern extent of the historic district. “Geist” is the German word for ghost, which specifically pays homage to the area’s German immigrants. The Rhinegeist logo is a ghostly figure shaped like a drop of beer, which brings the creative process full circle as brewing makes a comeback in Cincinnati.
Visiting the brewery
Despite occupying a 250,000-square-foot building, Rhinegeist Brewery does not have a large sign showing the way. However, visitors will know they’re at the right spot when they see the crowds flowing in and out of the facility.
After walking up a flight of stairs, visitors walk out into the brewery’s large open-floor plan. The area includes multiple communal tables and space for cornhole.
The main bar is tucked into the back of the space with more communal tables along the windows. Beers and ciders available at the bar include the brewery’s year-round, seasonal, and limited-release offerings. The current tap list is on the brewery’s website, and available through the Untappd app.
Visitors who enjoy eclectic artwork should check out the mural above the bar that faces the fermentation tanks sitting on the main floor. It features a truly saga-like experience that defies the mind, but also tickles the fancy. In addition to the large mural, the brewery pays homage to the city’s baseball team with a wooden bobblehead sculpture near the souvenir store.
In addition to the large open-floor space, Rhinegeist Brewery has a rooftop deck that provides a fantastic view of downtown Cincinnati. The rooftop has its own bar, so patrons wanting to enjoy the outdoors do not have to trudge back and forth to continue enjoying their libations.
Like most regional breweries, Rhinegeist Brewery offers a variety of year-round and seasonal beers that provide drinkers an opportunity to find something that suits their palettes. There are typically twenty varieties on draft at the brewery. The entire list of year-round, seasonal, and limited-release beers and ciders is on their website.
The quintessential beers people should try at Rhinegeist are Truth and Uncle, which were two brews Jim Matt shared with Bob Bonder and Bryant Goulding that led to him becoming the first brewmaster. Truth is a standard West Coast IPA that is big on grapefruit notes. Uncle is an English mild that is smooth from start to finish with roasted, nutty notes. Both closely mirror the style guidelines, so drinkers should consider other options if they are looking for a beer with flourish.
Touring the Brewery
In 2018, Rhinegeist began offering tours of its 110,000-square-foot brewery. There are multiple tour options depending upon the size of your group and interests. More info is available on the brewery’s website. All tours cover similar ground at the brewery, but tasting options and souvenirs vary.
Tours start just past the brewery shop where visitors stand above the fermentation and brite tanks.
Tour guests also get to see the brewery’s office and quality control lab. The most notable part of the office is the large whiteboard used for planning the brewing cycle along with seasonal beer releases.
After walking down a level, visitors get to see how the height of the tanks. It is a truly astonishing sight to look up at 16-foot-tall fermenters. The rest of the tour includes a stop at the canning line, where visitors will see the multiple pallets of empty beer cans waiting to be filled.
Across from the canning line is the brewery’s keg cleaner.
With the opportunity to witness different ends of the packaging process, tour guests also get to see the brewery’s barrel storage.
Barrel storage is the last stop on the tour before guests walk upstairs to the main hall.
Tour lengths vary with the public tour taking 30-45 minutes and the VIP Tasting tours lasting 90 minutes. Pricing also varies as the public tour costs just $6 while the VIP Tasting tour costs $30.
Getting to the brewery
Rhinegeist Brewery is located in the Over-the-Rhine District, which is just over a mile from downtown’s Fountain Square. It is about a 30-minute walk from downtown or an 11-minute ride on the Cincinnati Bell Streetcar from the 6th & Main station near Fountain Square to the Brewery District station, which is immediately in front of Rhinegeist. There is a free parking lot across the street from the brewery and pay parking lots near Findlay Market.
Address: 1910 Elm Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202
Hours: Monday to Thursday 3 p.m. to Midnight; Friday 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday Noon to Midnight; and Sunday Noon to 9 p.m.
Accessibility: There is not a public elevator, but people who need assistance can contact the brewery and gain access to the events elevator. The brewery suggests calling the taproom at (513) 381-1367, or contacting a staff member upon arriving at the brewery.