Queen City Drinks: Christian Moerlein and the resurrection of a historic Cincinnati beer brand

CINCINNATI -- The Queen City is known for a variety of beer brands in modern days, but the grandaddy of them all is the brainchild of a Bavarian immigrant known as Christian Moerlein.

The original Christian Moerlein Brewing Company was founded by a Bavarian named Christian Moerlein.

Moerlein was born in 1814 and learned blacksmithing and brewing in Bavaria, then immigrated to the United States in 1841 and eventually settled in Over-the-Rhine where he started his brewery. The company went on to become the biggest brewery in Cincinnati at the time as well, as one of the Top 5 in the entire country.

Moerlein died in 1897 and his company was not long to follow suit due to Prohibition. Like many breweries in Cincinnati and across the country, the Christian Moerlein Brewing Company was unable to continue on and the brand died out.

One of the beers brewed by Christian Moerlein (the guy, not the company) was his Barbarossa. This recipe has been tweaked since the 1800s but the brand and idea remain the same. (You can head over to Queen City Drinks.com for a review of it.)

Lucky for Cincinnati, Prohibition was not the end of the Moerlein story. When the amendment was repealed, Moerlein did not return but companies such as the Hudepohl Brewing Company did. By 1981 Hudepohl had bought the rights to the Moerlein name and released Christian Moerlein Select Lager.

This was exciting both for the return of a Cincinnati brand but also because it was the first American-brewed beer to fully confirm to the reinheitsgebot. The reinheitsgebot is a 1518 Bavarian purity law limiting beer ingredients to water, hops, and malt. Yeast was not included since it had not yet been discovered.

The Christian Moerlein brand and beers remained owned by Hudepohl and other companies for several years until the new millennium.

In 2004, Greg Hardman stepped in and began buying up as many of the Cincinnati brands he could get his hands on and brought Christian Moerlein back in full effect. Christian Moerlein also became the flagship brand for the new endeavor.

The brewery sponsored events around town, named their beers and focused their artwork on Cincinnati, and of course their main sales market was Cincinnati. One of those Cincinnati focused beers is the OTR Ale (which you can read as part of this series.)

Despite all that Cincinnati soul the liquid in the bottle was not from Cincinnati, or even Ohio. It was being contract-brewed out of a brewery in Pennsylvania.

Contract brewing is not a dirty word like some think. It’s how Sam Adams got started and how Quaff Bros continues to exist. It was, at the time, the only option available to Christian Moerlein but the brewers always had the goal of bringing everything back to Cincinnati.

That goal was partly achieved in 2011 when Christian Moerlein began making an extremely limited amount of beer in Over-The-Rhine -- just one beer in fact -- Arnold’s 1861 Porter (only available at Arnold’s).

More steps were taken with the opening of the Moerlein Lager House  on The Banks but any beer bought in a bottle at Kroger was still from out-of-state. Finally Greg Hardman’s dream was realized in the spring of 2013 with the opening of a full-scale 15,000-barrel plant in the historic Kauffman Brewery in Over-The-Rhine. As of today, all Christian Moerlein beer -- bottle or draft -- is brewed in Cincinnati.

There was still one big change that company needed though -- a head brewer.

Richard Dubé was the head brewer at the Lager House from the day it opened and he began to tweak the Christian Moerlein recipes that were served there.

With the opening of the production brewery in OTR, he became the Vice President of Brewing Operations and those recipe changes got put into bottles of Christian Moerlein all across the Tri-State area.

For more on Christian Moerlein’s beer, check out my review of Northern Liberties -- a very modern hop-forward IPA recently reformulated by Richard Dubé.

To read this report in its entirety, (reviews included,) go to: http://queencitydrinks.com/reviews/beer-review-moerlein-otr-ale-and-the-rebirth-of-a-brand/