Rhinegeist Brewery, founded in 2013, is among Cincinnati’s more unusual, ambitious breweries. Its brewing style does it all — from honoring the city’s historic brewing roots, to challenging the hop capacity of an IPA (and adding apples, for good measure). Rhinegeist is part of a brewing renaissance in the city, itself: See, back in the 19th century, before character-defining La Croix seltzer preferences, and almonds had yet to be milked, the Queen City thoroughly loved its beer. In 1893, the annual beer intake of Cincinnati residents was about 40 gallons per person.
Prohibition came along and laid the city’s brewing scene low, almost to the point of disappearance. But in recent years, scrappy talents have begun redeveloping on the bones of the city’s former brewing scene — in Rhinegeist’s case, almost literally; the brewery was built into the former packaging hall of the historic 1853 Christian Moerlein Brewing Company. (In case you couldn’t tell from the brewery name, Rhinegeist isn’t afraid to play with ghosts.) Below, read on for 10 more things to know about Rhinegeist.
Rhinegeist is proudly ‘Cincy Made,’ partly because of an algorithm.
Rhinegeist is the brainchild of two former San Francisco-based business consultants, Bob Bonder and Bryant Goulding. First looking to start a coffee business, Bonder used an algorithm to pinpoint Cincinnati as his next entrepreneurial terrain. When he started the now permanently closed Tazza Mia Coffee, he noticed the surprising dearth of young, plucky craft breweries in a city formerly defined by its beer. He contacted Goulding, a former coworker, to come join him, and the two began making plans to start their own brewery.
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Bonder and Goulding wanted to start a brewery in Cincinnati, specifically, because of the city’s combination of its economically up-and-coming vibe, and its rooted historic feel — its brewing history dates back over 200 years. Since neither had brewing experience, they later approached former Eli Lilly chemist and avid homebrewer Jim Matt to join the team as head brewer.
It’s both the 26th and 36th top-ranked brewery in the nation.
Rhinegeist has garnered enough attention in the seven years since its inception to hit two major brewery ranking lists: In 2019, Rhinegeist ranked 26th on the Brewers Association’s Top 50 Craft Brewing Companies and 36th on the Top 50 Overall Brewing Companies in the U.S.
Rhinegeist might be a little haunted.
“Rhinegeist” is a portmanteau, or a blend of words. It’s a combination of Rhine (as in the Over-the-Rhine Cincinnati neighborhood, where the brewery is located) and “geist,” which is German for ghost (as in, “Ach! Geist!”). The brewery isn’t so named because its neighborhood is haunted (although, considering the neighborhood was once home to the most breweries per capita in Cincinnati, it probably is). Rather, the brand’s title is a way to combine the neighborhood’s name with a play on “zeitgeist,” or “spirit of the times.”
As the founders explain in this video, the Rhinegeist logo — which looks like a cute little skull tear drop (or beer drop) — is meant to unite the city’s brewing history with its future. Hence, Rhinegeist proudly self-identifies as “Cincy Made.”
It loves apples almost as much as hops.
Rhinegeist isn’t just a brewery — it’s also a cidery, a.k.a. Cidergeist. The cider brand makes a semi-dry hard cider that’s all about apple expressiveness, as well as a dry-hopped cider with an herbal edge. Rhinegeist has also been making a limited run of draft-only ciders since 2015, using juices sourced from the Pacific Northwest.
Rhinegeist is a brewery, a cidery, and more.
Rhinegeist loves uniting fruit and alcohol. Among the several offerings in its fruited beer category is the Moonburst, a sour fruited ale that combines the aforementioned house-cultured Brett yeast with stone fruit, secondary fermentation, and 14 months of barrel aging. The brand also makes a Bubbles Rosé Ale, made with cranberry and peach, and another beer-wine crossover called Slangria — which sounds like something you say after drinking too much sangria, but is actually a pomegranate, blueberry, and lime-packed ale, brewed with Cascade hops.
Rhinegeist messes with Brett.
Rhinegeist takes the pursuit of flavor very, very seriously. Part of this is by messing with Brettanomyces, that special yeast as renowned in brewing as it is shunned in traditional winemaking for its ability to impart fruity, funky flavor to anything it touches. The brewery’s Quarky Mosaic Brett Pale Ale, “a complex Brett Pale Ale intensified by fruity esters from wild yeast and massive notes of orange, mango and berry,” is a tasty example that’s been sold since 2018.
Like a Tarot card, the ghost signals rebirth.
Cincinnati at large — and the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood specifically — enjoyed a serious brewing culture from 1812, when its first brewery was founded, all the way up until Prohibition, when the city’s brewing scene got smacked into near oblivion. During its pre-Prohibition heyday in 1998, Cincinnati was brewing over 35 million gallons of beer among 23 breweries. Only now, in the 21st century, have Cincinnati breweries surpassed the pre-Prohibition number, thanks in part to Rhinegeist and fellow Cincy craft breweries like Fifty West, Fibonacci, Darkness Brewing, West Side, MadTree, and more.
Rhinegeist celebrates its European brewing roots.
It’s apt that Rhinegeist itself has a mixture of West Coast and European influences in its roster: Cincinnati’s brewing scene was eventually dominated by a massive mid-century influx of German immigrants (and Rhinegeist makes both a year-round lager and witbier, not to mention a seasonal bock and hefeweizen). But Cincinnati brewing really began with an Englishman, Davis Embree, who opened the city’s first brewery in 1811 (he also made mustard, because why not?). Among Rhinegeist’s original brews is Uncle, a low-ABV malty British Mild that drinks like a gentle hug from an Englishman in a thick sweater.
It’s got a West Coast hop habit.
Bob Bonder and Bryant Goulding came to Cincinnati from San Francisco, so perhaps it’s no shock that they brought a California love for artfully aggressive hopping techniques with them. Among Rhinegeist’s flagship offerings is Truth IPA, which was originally a homebrew project of head brewer Jim Matt. The original recipe used seven pounds of hops and was called “Inspiration Island,” likely because it makes you feel like you’re drinking a lush, floral island of hops (Amarillo, Citra, Simcoe, and Centennial). Naturally, it remains its top seller to this day.
Rhinegeist has serious fun with barrel aging.
Barrel-aged beers aren’t exactly hard to find these days, but there’s ubiquitous bourbon barrel-aged stout, and then there’s Rhinegeist’s limited-supply Añejo Borealis, aged in tequila barrels. Whereas most barrel-aged beers land on the darker end of the spectrum, this draft-only brew is all pucker: It’s a sour ale with lemon, lime, and sea salt. Rhinegeist also makes a 12.7 percent alcohol wheatwine, an ale aged in both bourbon and Scotch barrels. The brand is among our favorite weird-yet-helpfully-descriptive beer names: “Double Oaked Bogbeast.”