Slight change of pace today as I have just returned to Kanazawa from an ambitious trip to the US. Since food and food culture are never far from my mind, much of my culture shock was culinary: actual vegetarian options! The cereal aisle! The peanut-butter aisle! Food labeled with allergy and dietary restriction information! Take-away boxes for large meals! Sourdough bread! Being able to substitute side dishes and ingredients!
Mostly it was neutral or positive shock; I was really happy to have plenty of choices to eat in the major metropolitan centers, rediscover some hometown favorites, and–you guessed it–have a constant flow of craft beer on draft. You all know how much I love Michigan and Michigan beer, but we didn’t visit my beloved second-homestate on this coast-to-coast whirlwind adventure. But between the two coasts and the Midwest, everyone I visited in the US, from my high school friends to my parents and in-laws, were determined to show me the beer time of my life on my trip home. Even the bride made sure there’d be nice dark beer for me and our real-beer-loving Japan cohort at the West Coast wedding! As a result, I got to enjoy some old favorites and try some new contenders, including some from Mt. Carmel Brewing Company, a microbrewery in my hometown of Cincinnati.
Regarding craft beer in the Midwest, one of the biggest surprises on my trip was seeing how Ohio has begun to embrace local craft beer, since I generally think of Michigan as the source of all delicious beer. Some statistics: according to The Michigan Beer Guide‘s “An Annotated History of Craft Beer Licenses by Type in MI,” there were 63 craft breweries in Michigan in 2011 (2 breweries and 61 microbreweries); in contrast, in Ohio, there were “over 30″ in 2010-11, according to The Akron-Beacon Journal Online. (There are 1,989 craft breweries nationwide recorded in the Brewers’ Association’s “Craft Brewing Statistics: Fact” for 2011.) Additionally, the states with the most breweries overall in 2010, according to the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, were (1) California with 318; (2) Colorado, 124; (3) Washington, 123; (4) Oregon, 119; (5) Wisconsin, 112; (6) Pennsylvania, 105; (7) Michigan, 103; (8) New York, 89; (9) Ohio, 63; and (10) Illinois, 55. (Also, “Michigan is the only state on this list that is 100 percent craft.”) (p. 12).
Mt. Carmel Brewing Company was founded in 2005 by Mike and Kathleen Dewey, and the brewery now operates out of a repurposed storm cellar of a home built in 1924. Currently, the beers are sold in only Ohio and Northern Kentucky, where the company is trying to cultivate a strong local market rather than focus on expanding to other regions. While in town, we paid a visit to the “public house” taproom, and even though we couldn’t get a tour on such short notice on a weekday, we shared nearly all the varieties of beer they had in stock and chatted with Jared–lovely way to spend the afternoon, considering Cincinnati gets so hot in late May.
Here’s a rundown on my impressions of the beers as I typed them on my phone at the counter:
Springtime Ale (seasonal): Brewed with heather tips. Refreshing and light but hoppy rather than fruity or sweet.
Blonde Ale: Subtle hoppy flavor but not too bitter. Crispy, good for beer beginners. Uses American hops from the Pacific Northwest and barley from Wisconsin. This is similar to a lager but is actually an ale–and is good.
Summer Wheat Ale: A bright, citrusy, hoppy brew that uses 35% wheat.
Amber Ale [aka Copper Ale]: Due to the association of copper ale with copper flavor, the company has renamed this one Amber. Has a balanced full body and is slightly beer. Would pair well with burgers.
Nut Brown Ale: A darker beer with overtones of nut, maple, and chocolate. The roasted flavor comes from a special malted barley that is roasted longer than the standard barley. Contains chocolate malt and crystal malt, and instead of Cascade hops, British Challenger hops are used. This beer is incredibly smooth. My personal favorite.
IPA (India Pale Ale): Green and bitter, a hoppy blend brewed with biscuit malt. Slighty spicy. This contemporary American IPA is different than the original pale ale that the British sent abroad ships to colonial India.
Third-Shift Imperial Coffee Stout: This tastes like equal parts coffee and beer! A cold-brewed coffee creates the strong coffee flavor, but the beer is actually smooth and has a large head. Unlike any “coffeeish” beer I’ve ever tried!
There are several varieties available on tap, or you can purchase bottles to open and split there at the counter. We got all but the imperial stout in bottles to be able to try the maximum range of styles between the six of us rather than committing to pints, but whatever you drink, it’s bound to be delicious. One thing I love about the bottles, other than the design, is that they list the qualities of the beer on the back. If you’ve never had an IPA or want to know just what to expect from the nut brown, there it is spelled out for you!
Now that hot weather is settling in on Cincinnati, now is the perfect season to pick up a growler and invite some friends to your porch–or borrow the brewery’s front porch instead for that Midwestern summertime feel. Kanpai!
Mount Carmel Brewing Company
4362 Mt. Carmel-Tobasco Rd.
Cincinnati, Ohio 45244
Open Monday – Friday 10:00-16:00 and Saturday 10:00-13:00. Tours available on Saturday or weekdays if you call in advance.
“2011 State of the Industry Brewing Report.” The Michigan Beer Guide. 16(120): May/June 2012. p. 12.
Armon, Rick. “Craft beer sales continue to rise.” The Akron Beacon Journal Online via Ohio.com. 12 March 2010. Accessed 30 May 2012.
Chappell, Bill. “U.S. Craft Beer Brewers Thrive, Despite Small Share Of The Market.” NPR: The Salt. 18 May 2012. Access 28 May 2012.
“Craft Brewing Statistics: Facts.” Brewers’ Association. 26 March 2012. Accessed 28 May 2012.
Raasch, Chuck. “Craft beers brew up booming business across U.S.” The Detroit Free Press. 27 May 2012. Accessed 28 May 2012.
Vo, Lam Thuy. “More Breweries, Less Beer.” NPR: Planet Money. 17 May 2012. Accessed 28 May 2012.