On Thursday, April 5, the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition is hosting a Cincinnati Brewery Taproom Tour as part of the 41st Annual Appalachian Studies Association Conference’s evening activities, open not just to conference registrants but to all interested folks who sign up here . Cincinnati is home to a great number of craft breweries, many of which are in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky’s traditionally Appalachian neighborhoods. Here’s a preview of tour guide Owen Cramer’s take on Cincinnati’s brewing history and the social, economic, technical and political forces shaping the craft beer scene today.

By Owen Cramer, arrogant beer nerd, avid home brewer, amateur historian and (through wife Pauletta Hansel) an Appalachian-in-law.


Cincinnati Germans caused the American Civil War – and somehow that is tied to beer. 

Cincinnati Appalachians won World War II – and somehow that is tied to beer.  

Evidence of the root cause of American Civil War are visible today on the lintels of buildings throughout Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine.  German words in German script are the architectural fossil evidence of a massive migration that occurred over 160 years ago.  This migration was so large and so focused that it tipped the political balance of power in the United States. Germans almost universally moved to Northern states, avoiding the South and its “peculiar institution.”  Germans shared an anti-slavery bias built on generations of their serfdom experience.  Even within the Northern states, the German migration was more “lump” than melting pot.  The largest “lump” was within the triangle cities St. Louis, Milwaukee and Cincinnati.  In political and population terms, it was the lump that broke the camel’s back.  It meant that by 1860, compromise with Southern states was no longer politically necessary. The result was the American Civil War.  The war-weary Germans coming to St. Louis, Milwaukee and Cincinnati seeking peace triggered the bloodiest war in our history.

Consider that German triangle of St. Louis, Milwaukee and Cincinnati.  What comes to mind when you think of St. Louis and Milwaukee?  Certainly beer and maybe baseball.  When out-of-towners think of Cincinnati, what comes to mind?   Probably baseball but probably not beer.  Why?  That is a question tied to our Cincinnati sense of community.  Want to discuss it further?  Then join us for the beer tour!

Germans were not the largest migration to impact Cincinnati.  That would be the Appalachians.  While draining the population of places like Breathitt County, Kentucky, the Appalachian migration fueled Cincinnati’s industrial growth, economic prosperity and criminal enterprises.  While the German migration to Cincinnati triggered the American Civil War, the Appalachian migration to Cincinnati won World War II.

The evidence is visible today throughout Cincinnati.  Look for the crumbling warehouses along rail lines.  Look for the collapsing factory buildings along street that aspire to be gritty.  Look for the industrial offal dumped along roadsides or buried in superfund sites.  This is the architectural fossil evidence of an Industrial America that is almost extinct now. Occasionally there are exceptions – like an old can factory reborn as an apartment building with a trendy restaurant.  As a rule, we ignore it and forget our history.  We overlook that Modern Cincinnati was built by the shift labor from tens of thousands of Appalachian migrants.  Like the Germans, they are mostly assimilated now.  Sure, they have their occasional festivals (Octoberfest, Appalachian Festival) and music (tubas and jug bands.) They have their culinary contributions that to this upstate New Yorker are more puzzling than acceptable (goetta, my wife’s unsweetened cornbread and soup beans served with ketchup.)   Unlike the Germans, the Appalachians are part of our recent history – not something that occurred 160 years ago.

In Norwood, Ohio, streets travel in a jumble of directions that only make sense by envisioning a huge GM plant sitting in the middle of it. That plant is gone now.  The jobs are gone now.  The people who worked in those jobs are gone now.  All that remains is the psychic footprint on the community.  That and a mostly forgotten history….

Seventy five years ago, before the 1 ½ ton and “deuce and a half” trucks rolled across war-torn Europe, they rolled out of the same Norwood Chevy plant that later produced Camaros.   Nearby, big-box stores and chain restaurants act as gravestones – marking the final resting place of the Machine Tool Capital of the World.  The ashes of Cincinnati Milicron and LeBlond lie under a Sam’s Club and similar stores.   These were not just any factories.  These factories made the machines that made other machines.  The lathes and mills built here literally built America – and by “literally” I mean literally.  Figuratively too I guess.   These machines “literally” built the machines that built those trucks – and built America.  Those plants, those, jobs, those pensions and union benefits are gone now.   In its place, we have a Sam’s Club that offers the community nothing more than whatever the Walton Family pays serfs nowadays.

Come with us on the beer tour.  See for yourself – the huge scale of the industry now gone.  The footprints and shadows of the factories that were the target (and possibly the cause) of the Appalachian migration.  See how those places, people and communities are linked through a shared history we may not even recognize.  And see that beer is a common thread in the stiches of our community – in our past, our present and our aspirations for the future.   Like machines making other machines, is beer the community that makes other communities?  Join us and decide for yourself.

The Cincinnati Brewery Taproom Tour begins on 6th street outside the Millennium Hotel on Thursday April 5th 2018 at 6:00 PM. Your generous $25 donation to the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition (payable at the time of the tour) gets you SAFE and COMFORTABLE transportation, knowledgeable local beer guides and wonderful camaraderie.  Beer and food are not included.

The first brewery stop will be in the downtown area.  After introductions, we will visit some of Cincinnati’s neighborhood breweries and probably a big local/regional brewery or two.

There will be opportunities for food and non-beer beverages along the way.  The tour will probably wrap-up around 10:30. Experience has shown five breweries (plus or minus two) is the usual cut-off between a fun evening and too-much-of-a-good-thing.  Registration is required   (so we know what transportation is needed.) Contact us if more info is needed.



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