These local stillhouses are bottling every possible potent potable, from horseradish vodka to bathtub gin to agave liquor to classic Kentucky bourbon.
Have a taste!
The Big Thinker
Entrepreneur Bob Slattery, owner of Fifty West Brewing Company, always had his sights set on the distilling industry. When he purchased Shumrick & Leys Distillery in April and rebranded it as Robert James Distillery, he wanted to explore innovative technology and equipment not yet widely used, to transform the business. Original founder Terry Shumrick, who stayed on as master distiller, is already using the new techniques, as well as traditional methods, at the Norwood production facility.
Meanwhile, another big idea was brewing between Slattery and Jim Bonaminio, founder of Jungle Jim’s International Market. In June, RJ Cinema opened in the former Eastgate Brew & View, a movie theater adjacent to Jungle Jim’s Eastgate. It’s still a theater, but also a distillery and taproom serving craft cocktails like the popular blackberry sour, with Robert James blackberry vodka, and a bloody mary made with their horseradish vodka. Moviegoers can grab a cocktail, order the RJ flatbread or street tacos, and dine and sip in their seats. Future plans include 90-minute distilling education sessions, a package deal with plenty of food and spirits tasting. For those who just want a brief lesson or a look, there’s a mini distilling machine at the bar.
4450 Eastgate South Dr., Eastgate, (513) 738-7680
Ohio’s first licensed microdistillery, Woodstone Creek got its start in Lebanon in 1999, then moved to Evanston in 2002, and finally to St. Bernard six years ago. A surprising variety of wine, mead, and small-batch, single-barrel spirits are made on-site and can be purchased by the bottle or in tasting flights on Friday and Saturday. Mead is a delightful wine alternative that’s served straight, barrel-aged, or mixed with fruit or brandy. Notable spirits include Hugo Arnold Bathtub Gin, silky Cincinnati Vodka, and 10-year-old single malt whiskey finished with peat sourced from the England-Scotland border.
4712 Vine St., St. Bernard, (513) 569-0300
The Triple Threat
This craft distillery—led by a seven-piece coterie of industry veterans—opened to much fanfare last December, and it taps into all that talent with a spirits-food-beer trifecta. The name of the game here is spirits, including ones you’d expect (gin, vodka, agave spirit, and rum) and ones you likely won’t find anywhere else locally (an orange-vanilla–forward gin, apple and apricot brandies, and their take on baijiu, a Chinese liquor fermented with sake yeast). But with house-brewed beers, hard and soft sodas, craft cocktails, and an expansive seasonal menu, there’s something here for everyone.
3717 Jonlen Dr., Fairfax, (513) 561-5000
Second Sight Spirits
Former Las Vegas Cirque de Soleil prop masters Carus Waggoner and Rick Couch have carefully curated the mystic atmosphere at their five-year-old distillery on Ludlow’s central Elm Street. There’s a lounge, an on-site bar, and a swami-inspired still, but the heart of the operation lies in their collaborations. When tattoo artist and Marvel comic illustrator Brian Level walked in and started talking about a tea-infused spirit, Waggoner and Couch listened—and created Black Belly, a 114-proof rum with tea, lavender, ginger, vanilla, and orange flavors.
301 Elm St., Ludlow, (859) 488-7866
The History Lover
The name Christian Waldschmidt may not mean much to you, but Sycamore Distilling hopes to change that. The Revolutionary War veteran and blacksmith founded Sycamore Township in 1794 and was the first in the area to open a distillery. More than 200 years later, March First Brewing and Sycamore Distilling cofounders Mark Stuhlreyer and Kevin Kluener would set up their own craft brewery and distillery in the same neighborhood. To pay homage to Waldschmidt and his early impact on the region, they placed an image of his Camp Dennison family homestead (now a Civil War museum) on the bottle. But they had no idea how much further the tribute would go.
Defunct since 2009, Milford’s Millcroft Inn was opened at 203 Mill St. by Waldschmidt’s daughter Catherine in 1828. As the Milford Planning Commission launched an effort to revitalize the entertainment district, Stuhlreyer and Kluener purchased the site last year to redevelop it into a dedicated distillery and tasting room for Sycamore, which will expand its production five-fold. The 25,000-square-foot complex—of which Sycamore will occupy roughly half—will open in about a year, featuring a large column still, a special event center, a VIP barrel room, a to-be-named restaurant tenant, a 360-degree-view rooftop patio, and a museum.
7885 E. Kemper Rd., Sycamore Twp., (513) 718-9173
Northside Distilling Co.
The Urban Distillery
This distilling operation got its start crafting clear corn whiskey in a Northside barn in 2015. A 2017 move downtown allowed founders Chris Leonidas and Josh Koch to expand the spirits line with vodka and bourbon, which star in Northside mules and old fashioneds at the on-site bar. Last year alone saw the addition of gin, rum, and “American Agave”—their take on tequila. So take a tour, and get acquainted with the stainless steel vats in the back responsible for your cocktail—it probably smells better than the barn where it all started.
922 Race St., downtown, no phone
New Riff Distilling
The Gateway Bourbon
Former Party Source owner Ken Lewis founded New Riff in 2014, constructing its state-of-the-art distillery in the Bellevue liquor store’s parking lot. The modern, open, and airy space comes with a tasting room and offers three immersive tour experiences. New Riff first released a wild gin in 2015; its first house-made bourbon (the distillery’s rickhouse is just down the street in Newport) hit shelves in 2018. It currently offers bourbon, rye, and more refined single-barrel varieties of each, all of which are high-rye, spicy, full-bodied whiskeys.
24 Distillery Way, Bellevue, (859) 261-7433
Knox Joseph Distillery & Northern Row Brewery and Distillery
The Long On-Ramp
One of the most important ingredients in distilling is often in shortest supply: time. In a rush to open the doors and join the craft spirits boom, it can be tempting to cut corners on recipe development and the aging process. Two new Over-the-Rhine distilleries are instead taking their time to perfect their debut products and first impressions.
Knox Joseph Distillery is working on bourbon, blended whiskey, gin, and a low-proof cocktail (they’ll eventually release multiple versions of each) in the basement of what will become OTR Still House, an entertainment venue and bar scheduled to open in the spring. Michele Hobbs, who founded Pet Wants, assembled a team of industry veterans after acquiring the historic building in 2014, and they’ve been tinkering with recipes ever since—including buying aged bourbon to create their own whiskey, then aging it some more.
Northern Row Brewery and Distillery, which has been selling its beer at events and select Cincinnati bars, is developing its own Five Stories spirits brand. Co-owner David Berger, like many people leading the local craft spirits scene, started out distilling at home before renovating an empty building north of Findlay Market into a taproom and workspace (above). Their first spirits include rum, gin, vodka, and a “tequila style” agave liquor (it has to be produced in Mexico to be labeled tequila), with bourbon to follow “once ready,” Berger says.
“While both beer and spirits are the result of fermentation, the processes vary dramatically,” he says. “Beer fermentation is fast, and you know right away how things are going. Spirit fermentation is more natural and mysterious. Having the patience to make products without knowing how they’ll finally turn out is difficult and scary.”
Hobbs keeps a broken clock in her office as a reminder to slow down and not focus on deadlines. “People ask me all the time when my products will be ready,” she says. “I always tell them, ‘They’ll take as long as they need.’”