Editor’s Letter, April 2020: My Beer Epiphany

Tapping into our brewing past and marveling at how far we’ve come in this new era of craft beers.

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

My most memorable beer epiphany came in 1989 in a Dublin pub, during my first visit to Ireland. Guinness stout was as synonymous with the country as leprechauns and “Danny Boy,” but I’d tried a glass once in Cincinnati and decided it was terrible. Near the end of the trip, I ordered a pint of Guinness in the town where it’s brewed just to check it off of my to-do list.

I recall the sound of angels singing above me after a few sips, although it’s possible that didn’t really happen. The cool black beer was smoother and creamier than anything I’d ever had, and the bartender formed a small shamrock in the head with the final drips from the tap. I instantly connected with generations of Irish who had enjoyed Guinness in Dublin. I was home.

I tried to replicate the experience later, of course, and Arnold’s was the only downtown bar I could find that consistently had Guinness stout on tap and knew how to pour a pint correctly. Arnold’s was always full of mystery and magic back then, especially when owner Jim Tarbell held court.

An earlier beer epiphany came during college, when we’d often drive to nearby St. Louis for weekend fun. One of our favorite goofs was taking a free tour of the massive Anheuser-Busch brewery complex south of downtown, which ended with 30 minutes of beer tasting, including exotic brands like Michelob and Bud Light. The city revolved around that company economically and culturally. Years later, probably at Arnold’s, I learned that Cincinnati had once surpassed St. Louis as a brewery town, but our brands never really recovered after Prohibition—while Budweiser became the “king of beers.”

Fast forward several decades, though, and Cincinnati is again a brewery town. In fact, we have 53 craft breweries in the region now, with another opening soon—that’s according to this month’s Craft Beer Boom cover story. They’ve become economic development engines for their communities and neighborhoods in addition to great places to meet friends and to feel at home. And occasionally, when you taste the perfect pint, hear angels sing.

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