Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Great ballpark needs some great local draft

Sips: Beer

By Ed Westemeier
Enquirer contributor

If you find yourself enjoying a glass of beer this month, stop and give it a second thought. This is a milestone month, as it was just 70 years ago that Prohibition ended.

Before it began, Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky represented one of the major brewing centers of North America. As Robert Wimbergpointed out in his book Cincinnati Breweries (Ohio Bookstore; $22.95), the annual per capita beer consumption here in the 1890s was about 50 gallons. That's more than a pint a day for every man, woman, and child in the city.

Unfortunately, the trend since then has not only meant fewer breweries, but also more of those flavorless industrial products known as "national brand beers." All my mail indicates many people would rather go a bit out of their way to get the flavor missing from today's offerings of the mega-breweries.

Still, there's some good news if you look for it. The craft beer industry (brewpubs, microbreweries, and regional specialty breweries) grew by more than 3 percent last year. This is the 23rd year of growth for craft beer, although the overall beer market remains fairly flat. I read this as convincing evidence American beer drinkers are increasingly looking for flavor instead of amusing TV commercials.

One thing that many Reds' fans have noticed is the lack of good beer at the new Great American Ball Park. Can it be that the ballpark's caretakers only care about netting a greater profit from the mass-market beers?

When Enquirer restaurant reviewer Polly Campbell sampled food in the park's concession stands, she expressed disappointment at the limited beer selections.

When I asked the folks at BarrelHouse Brewing Co. in Over-the-Rhine why their beer wasn't in the park, they just said: "We've been trying."

When I tried to get Sportservice, the company that handles food and beverage at the ball park, interested in this problem, no one returned my calls.

If you go to Jacobs Field in Cleveland, can you get a beer from Great Lakes, their local brewery? Of course. You can even, believe it or not, get a locally-brewed microbrew in Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

But are we offered a Cincinnati brew in our new ballpark? Well, you can get a RedLegg Ale (made by BarrelHouse) at one token tap in the Machine Room bar.

Sorry folks, but that doesn't cut it.

People keep asking me why BarrelHouse, which consistently supports public events, isn't widely available at the new ballpark. BarrelHouse beers are on tap in bars and restaurants throughout the Tristate, as far away as Dayton. In my humble opinion, some of the BarrelHouse beers are among the best examples of their styles you can find anywhere, particularly the Hocking Hills Hefeweizen.

If there's one thing I associate with enjoying a baseball game, it's draft beer. Bottles or cans are only a substitute for the real thing.So getting back to my starting point, I think we're facing another kind of Prohibition in Cincinnati. Reds' fans can't get what they want, which is simply a great beer to go with a great ball game. Maybe beer lovers should all call to tie up the Reds' switchboard for awhile. Maybe then, someone will listen to our rather reasonable demands.

Contact Ed Westemeier by e-mail:

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