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Updated Jan 24: An Adventure to Fifty West Brewing

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Let’s cruise on down to Fifty West Brewing’s comfortable taproom. Actually it’s a restaurant and brewpub, but of course I treat it as a taproom. I’ve recently placed Fifty West near the top of my go-to beer joints. It’s pretty strange in a way that I, the fool who rides bicycles to breweries, would visit Fifty West whose theme is the automobile, or perhaps the American roadways.

Really though, I have some pretty epic memories of road trips that have spanned much of the country. I’ve moved around a lot and have taken some trips with nothing more than enough cash to cover gas. No roadside assistance. No credit card. No cell phone. Nothing but me, my earthly belongings, and my best friend (and enough kibble for him). Sadly, on one of my moves, under the stress of moving and all that comes with it, I left behind a bike that I sorely miss. I didn’t think I had room for it. If only I realized I could have strapped the thing down on the roof, on the grille, or somewhere. I had to leave a Hercules Centurion that I had bought at a thrift shop in Tempe, AZ. I left that trusty, interesting bike, into which I had invested some sweat, by the barn in the backyard of the house I was renting in a small town in Minnesota.

The great American road trip does hold a special place in my memory banks, though I realize I’m mostly remembering the good parts, not the bad.

Never mind all that, Fifty West is a local brewery. Nuff said!

A pleasing sight.

I must say that I have largely dismissed Fifty West until a couple weeks ago, despite the fact that we have precious few local breweries here in Cincinnati.

Pretty, eh?

Pretty, eh?

I developed the impression before I moved here that Fifty West was an overly expensive place that would almost always be too packed with people. I had not made it a priority, but did visit the place with my wife and child on one occasion – having a quick bite and a taster flight. On that visit I was able to check out the bar area and note that it was not as overrun with revelers as I expected. It seems pretty certain though that this place is going to be quite busy during peak hours.

Recently, I was running through my mental list of breweries and good beer joints and decided to give Fifty West a real try. I was excited to find that they are only about five miles from my current residence, which surprised me. I felt like Pleasant Ridge was somewhat far north, and they were south.

I found what is really one of the most enjoyable routes I have yet enjoyed in this town. Yes, as is my norm here in Cincinnati, I have traveled a good amount of the route on sidewalk for safety reasons. One of my two rides there was in the snow and that certainly dictates sidewalk riding around here. If I were to go with a group of fellow riders, however, the full on-street route would be pretty good.

Let me get you started with a map.

http://goo.gl/maps/nuXGR

December 27 update follows:

I recently returned to Fifty West, enjoying my nice route on a Sunday afternoon. This was the Sunday before Christmas which might help explain the odd, unpleasing experience I found myself having. When I arrived, I found a predictable amount of patrons inside for a Sunday late afternoon. A few tables of youngish folks, some of those tables quite loud. After-Bengal folks, I figured. There were a few people at the bar, but a handful of open seats. Great! I grabbed a seat and got settled, peeling off a couple layers.

After enjoying a pleasant little while of sipping some Mooving Violation Stout, things began to change. A couple groups of people came in. Then more. And more, and more – many of them of the same age range and volume range as that of those couple of loud tables. It occurred to me that Fifty West tonight was the Fifty West I had thought Fifty West was.

In the following pics, the place may not look that busy, but I think I snapped these shots before it reached its silly peak. Some of them were taken from my seat at the bar. Some were taken as I walked to and from the bathroom.

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How did I manage to get these pics? Over the shoulder shots, and under the arm pit shots – concepts and techniques with which I came up that very night. It’s not creepy.

FiftyWestCrowd2

This expression sums up how I was feeling.

This is how I was feeling.

I told these guys to quiet down. Just kidding. I did not.

I told these guys to quiet down. No, I did not.

I figure this was unusual for a Sunday evening, and this was pretty much confirmed by a guy named Wit that I spoke with outside as I was getting ready to saddle up and take off. Turns out, Wit is one of the owners and brewers – a very nice guy. He was cordial enough to speak to me, asking if I had a good time. I do try to be honest, so my response indicated a just okay experience. See, Wit seems to get it right. He wouldn’t let that go. I told him I didn’t want to call anyone out, but he pressed and I went ahead and explained to him the biggest problem with Fifty West (the same problem I had experienced on my prior visits): When it gets busy, the bartenders (yes, they serve liquor here too, so I don’t call them beertenders) do too much ignoring of the customers sitting at the bar, serving instead the folks who walk up to the bar. I did way too much sitting there with an empty glass or waiting to pay, getting ignored as the bartenders focused on moving the crowd of walk-ups.

I did, in fairness, tell Wit that I had found the staff to be professional and courteous for the most part. The problem remains however. He apologized and explained that they were not expecting the crowd that evening. That’s nice, but it doesn’t address the problem. Oh well. I appreciate the contact. I really do.

Now let’s look briefly at the route from Pleasant Ridge to Fifty West. Consult the map for additional details. Heading east on Woodford Rd. from the intersection with Ridge Rd., I ride the sidewalk. This stretch, despite its residences on both sides, sees fast-moving traffic driven by Cincinnati drivers that are not respectful of cyclists. It’s a “cars rule” area if I may coin a term. The road curves right and soon goes over a railroad track. The majority of traffic makes a left turn near here, but we’ll go straight, heading onto what is unquestionably a residential street. The street is now named Robison Rd. Though this is a residential street, it’s still in a bike unfriendly area of course. Further, this is a popular cut-through for drivers seeking to get to southbound Kennedy Ave.

This is what we are going to do. When the road curves right, make a left turn to stay on Robison Rd. Ahead you see the somewhat busy Kennedy Ave. Turn right onto Kennedy, and you may choose to go ahead and ride on the roadway. The first time I took this route it was dark outside, and I didn’t know how much of a descent it was going to be, or how bumpy the road was. With drivers behind me, I rode the brakes due to low visibility and a headlight that wasn’t of the caliber capable of actually lighting your way (just capable of notifying drivers of  your presence). My poor wheels took a beating that night. On subsequent daytime trips through here, I have done pretty well on the road, flying on down and making fast progress.

After your descent you reach a stop light intersection. Just after that is an overpass crossing I-71. Use caution, as soon you reach the onramp onto which drivers are wishing to zoom without having anything slow them down. Do what you must to get their attention and let them know you intend to go straight (duh).

A very significant landmark is now in view on your left: MadTree Brewing. Yes, you are correct in assuming that MadTree is one of my regular stops. I have yet to write anything about them. Heck, I may tack them onto this post at a future date.

This area has been under construction for some time now. The project aims to extend Kennedy Ave. down to Madison Rd., which seems like a great idea. What we do here is follow the curve to the left onto Duck Creek Rd. This curve is not a great place to be as a cyclist, but hopefully you’re decked out in visible gear. On the map, I indicate that you should soon seek to get onto the sidewalk on the north side of the road, but recently it occurs to me that your next turn is so close, you may want to just stay out on the road.

Your next turn is Oaklawn Dr. – a right turn. This stretch is debatable in terms of road ride vs. sidewalk. Depends on current conditions. It’s only about 1500 ft. until your left turn at the stop light intersection with Madison Rd. It’s about two miles on Madison through some not-so-nice areas, but nothing too bad. For some reason, I feel fairly okay with being on the road here, but if traffic was hectic, I’d use the sidewalk. I certainly did on a snowy trip.

You’re looking for your nice right-hand curve into Plainville Rd. You don’t have to stop, but as the sign indicates, use caution. It’s about a mile on Plainville Rd. until you turn left at a stop sign intersection at Murray Ave. which curves right and becomes Madisonville Rd. This stretch is brief and leads you to a stop light intersection which allows you to turn left onto Wooster Pike (U.S. 50).

Cruise largely downhill on Wooster Pike, passing some big shopping centers. I have found it feasible to road ride here, but have not yet been here during a particularly busy time. Of course should you choose to sidewalk ride along this stretch, you will find that it disappears after the big shopping center.

Fairly soon, you see a big green sign over the road ahead that indicates Newtown Rd. If (I said If!) you can find a break in traffic in order to safely cross over the road and onto the sidewalk on the north side of the road, do so. Otherwise, proceed to the stop light at Newtown Rd., use the crosswalk which is located on the far side of the intersection, then come back toward Fifty West which lives in the big white house which will now be on your right.

So far, I’ve always been the only person at the place who arrived by bike, so I lock up to the railing outside the front door – the best parking spot in the place!

I’ll talk a bit more about my experiences at Fifty West, and about some of their beers next.

January 24 update follows:

 

FiftyWestBarShotNice

Fifty West has some beers I’ve found tasty and have enjoyed in their cozy, attractive bar area. I think the environment would be improved a bit if the TV behind the bar in the corner were not present, especially given that the ambient lighting is fairly dim.

FiftyWestTV

On this most recent visit I was offered a snack by the bartender, which I appreciate. Have a look at this:

What are these? Thanks though.

What are these? Thanks though.

The beers that I have liked are the Mooving Violation chocolate milk stout, the Coast to Coast, their standard IPA, the Coffee Please stout (brewed with local coffee from nearby Madeira), and their two big IPAs, Spooner Summit, and the cleverly named Punch You In The Eye PA.

Makes me feel big.

The largest coasters around?

One very refreshing thing about Fifty West is the simplicity of their pricing. All their beers (almost all) are $5, tax included. If I recall, all their growler fills are $10, tax included. One surprise I received was delivered with my Coffee Please stout: It costs more, and comes in a snifter, despite tipping the scales at only 6% ABV. Produced in a pretty small batch at a high cost, I assume. Just wish this budget-conscious beer lover had warning.

I’ll go ahead and mention something that needs mentioning here while we’re talking beers and growlers: When I’ve gotten my own growlers filled here, they have gotten dunked in soapy water, then in the sanitizer sink. Yes, they then rinse the growlers with water on that device below the taps that sprays water upward. This isn’t cool with me though. I keep my growlers clean and do so without ever using soap or any other cleaner. It’s about water, agitation and exposure to air when stored. I asked about this, and the bartender (nicely) explained that there is a local law that states something like because they are a restaurant they must do this with outside vessels. The couple of growlers of Spooner Summit I’ve gotten on different occasions have both tasted bad at home. Could there be a link?

I understand the building that houses Fifty West has quite a rich history. I’m not going to take the time to look it up again tonight; I’ll let you.

On the way to the restroom.

The rich, historical trip to the restroom.

Also on the way there. I always like it when the brew equipment is on display.

Also on the way there. I always like it when the brew equipment is on display, and this is framed tastefully inside a window.

My beer and bathroom water.

My beer and bathroom water.

One potentially great feature of Fifty West Brewing is that they are located quite near one of the area’s only significant bike trails. This of course doesn’t help me in the area of town where I currently live, and doesn’t help a whole lot of the Cincinnati area residents, but it could come in very handy for those who live near any part of the Loveland Bike Trail, or the short, pretty much adjoining section in Newtown. Those folks, if they wished, and were able, could roll out of their garages, mount up and hit a local brewery/restaurant, enjoying the protected joy of a separated bike trail most of the way. I hope more people do! Right now I’m remembering longingly Seattle’s Burke Gilman.

I also hope you’ll join me on my next adventure!

Cheers, and keep spinning those spokes!

 

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Updated December 13: An Adventure to Christian Moerlein Brewery Taproom

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Join me as I roll on over to Christian Moerlein Brewing’s taproom in the Over The Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati. Moerlein beer is a standard in this town. You find it in all the stores, and they have a beautiful, upscale restaurant/Lager House down by the water in Downtown. That establishment is not what we’re going to visit on this adventure, though it does serve its purpose (and did so especially when I briefly lived in Covington, KY, just a bridge away). No, we’re talking the brewery taproom.

Nice logo. They have a very cool graphic identity.

Nice logo. They have a very cool graphic identity.

I didn’t initially know about the taproom when I moved here, and have been very pleased with it. Yes, it’s in the same nasty neighborhood that I described in my post on Rhinegeist Brewery, but it’s definitely worth visiting. The brewery taproom is a unique atmosphere with so much to offer the lover of local craft beer.

A very great place to lock up. Just up the steps is the taproom. I love that I don't have to leave my bike outside in this neighborhood.

A very great place to lock up. Just up the steps is the taproom. I love that I don’t have to leave my bike outside in this neighborhood. It’s not official bike parking, but no one has said anything.

I’ll get you started with a map of my route to the taproom from Pleasant Ridge. Examine the map and its details and tips, then stay tuned.

http://goo.gl/maps/70AAG

December 13 update follows:

MoerleinPig

As I have taken to doing these days, more detail has been included on the map so I can devote less space here in the text to describing the routes. Just click on the various pins for info.

This first section does warrant some detailed description. Setting out from Pleasant Ridge, we’ll start at the intersection of Woodford Rd. and Ridge Ave. As you see on the map, this area is not bike friendly in the least. Cars and their drivers rule these streets. I don’t know who originally named Pleasant Ridge, but I’m confident they were not a cyclist. Ride at your peril. Personally, I ride the sidewalks through here.

Head south on Ridge. I am riding on the sidewalk on the east side of the road. Unfortunately, shortly after you bump over the railroad tracks the sidewalk disappears, a bumpy beaten path taking its place.

If this doesn't prove Cincinnati needs to put in a sidewalk here, what does?

If this doesn’t prove Cincinnati needs to put in a sidewalk here, what does?

Proceed, and at the stop light intersection you come to next, cut into the parking lot of what is apparently a former Kmart. Cutting through here, paralleling Ridge, gains you some separation from silly hectic Ridge Ave. At the end of the parking lot, go down the short grass hill that dumps you at the driveway of a Gold Star Chili place. Now you have your sidewalk back. Of course be in high alert, as drivers will likely not see you, and almost certainly will not yield to you.

Still on the sidewalk on the east side of Ridge Rd., traverse many more business driveways, the majority of them belonging to fast food places. Before too long you reach an intersection beyond which is the bridge over I-71. Here it gets especially interesting. I’ve got the routine down, as this is the only way to get from my house to the Target store. You’ll definitely want to dismount here and walk/run. Bump onto the narrow sidewalk of the bridge over the interstate. Just after the end of that sidewalk, step down about a foot onto the dirt, then step over a square utility box of some sort directly in your path that sticks out of the ground maybe 10 inches. From here, you have a great vantage point of the big circular offramp which brings cars you’ll have to wait for. You are standing in what feels like a precarious spot as, were a driver to turn too sharply,  you have just about a couple feet of separation. I plan to jump over the guard  rail if this ever happens. But really, you do have a great vantage point from which to watch cars coming and find your opportunity to cross over the offramp lane and onto the dirt then continue your trek south on another bumpy beaten path.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you ride/walk around here, you’ve really got (how do the kids say?) street cred. You’ve got to want it. The route is actually pretty doable, but I realize it will be utterly unpalatable to most cyclists. Me? I’ve got no choice. I refuse to be relegated to my car by my crappy surroundings.

Next, you arrive at a spot that feels nice. It’s a very large concrete pillar beside which you have protection from any vehicle that may come careening. This is at the currently closed Duck Creek Rd. Cross over the street onto the sidewalk and proceed to the next intersection where you have a crosswalk with a walk button. Cross over onto an island where you need to cross one more lane of traffic – the offramp from the Norwood Lateral Parkway. Here be very careful! Even though you are crossing in a crosswalk, there is no line of sight from drivers roaring off the Parkway toward you. They can’t see you, and aren’t looking for you. Assume 100% that you must wait for them, or you will probably be wiped out. Problem is you can’t really see them either. You must gauge how many cars are coming down the offramp when you are crossing over onto the island in order to have an idea what is heading your way. With haste, cross when you have a chance onto the sidewalk and proceed up the hill.

As I write this, I am chuckling inside. It really sounds atrocious, doesn’t it? Well, this is the state of non-motorized infrastructure, and of drivers’ mindset in the Cincinnati area.

Now on the west sidewalk of Ridge Ave. heading the same direction as traffic, continue to keep eyes and ears peeled, as most drivers will not give you your legal right of way at cross streets and driveways. They will turn right in front of you. That is just the way it is in this town. Make your way forward to Madison Rd. where you turn right. When you find a good spot and time, mount up and get out on the roadway, finally beginning your “ride.”

On this stretch of Madison, there are sharrows symbols in the road. Yep, there actually are. There are, in fact, also bike lanes on Madison that appear and disappear. Enjoy the approximately 8 mile blast along Madison. Expect congestion at certain points such as near Edwards Rd.

As described on the map, turn left onto what is ultimately Vine St., but at this point is called Jefferson Ave. Proceed on a road without bike lanes, if I recall, but is downhill. The name changes to Vine St., and at a certain point becomes a pretty steep, fast descent. It’s fun.

Soon you wind up in the Over The Rhine neighborhood. It’s not a safe place to be but I assume you’ve either chosen to ride here here in daylight or have some friends with you. At Liberty St., cross over onto the sidewalk to your left (not crossing over Liberty). The next street you come to is Moore St. Turn left.

Ahead on the sidewalk you will find on your left the entrance to the Moerlein Brewery and Taproom. I have found the double doors open when the place is open. There is also usually a sandwich board out on the sidewalk. I don’t know if in cold weather the doors will be open.

Ahead. See it? A beacon of hope.

Ahead. See it? A beacon of hope.

Here's one of the open doors.

Here’s one of the open doors.

Across the street you see a small area of parking for the taproom. There is also a larger, I believe paved, parking lot for the taproom that you passed before arriving here.

The across the street parking lot devoted to Moerlein.

The across the street parking lot devoted to Moerlein.

Enter and see a large space, but see an equally large arrow on the wall directing you forward toward the taproom.

View from near the "bike tie out" toward the entrance.

View from near my “bike parking” toward the entrance.

Climb a few steps and enter a large, unique space. The ceiling has to be the most interesting, cool feature of this place. It looks to me like some of the ancient Gothic church interiors. Arches blend into arches and still more arches, forming the ceiling. Neat. A very cool place to drink a beer.

the

The place is nicely appointed. Attractive lights hang from the ceiling. The seating consists of nice, I’m sure repurposed, benches. This large space is ideal for friends to come and revel. Pool playing is available (for free, I think!). Cornhole awaits the interested. There is a super-sized “Jenga” game made of 2x4s. There is a juke box that also can take pictures of you and your buzzed friends for a fee. Apparently Moerlein is targeting, just as is Rheingeist Brewing, the younger crowd that finds it hip to make forays into this “up and coming” neighborhood for evenings of entertainment.

The place, however, also provides a nice place for more mature folks to either join a group of friends or belly up to the very nice shiny bar for a view of the game, or most importantly, a couple pints of some pretty good local beer.

MoerleinBartop

Quite neat place at which to sit with your beer.

A neat spot at the bar.

Moerlein’s beer occupies space on shelves of most, if not all, the markets and liquor stores in the area. I initially viewed it as a quality, but barely “craft” beer. I know the Moerlein name enjoys a deservedly rich, important history in Cincinnati beer and beer in America.

I had found, however, their beer to be nothing special, the lineup consisting of mainly unmemorable beers hovering around the  5.5% ABV mark, conjuring impressions of semi-mass-produced mediocrity. My favorites from Moerlein were their OTR, a unique-tasting amber, and Northern Liberties, their IPA which reminds me the Interurban IPA from Seattle’s awesome Fremont Brewing.

My opinion has recently changed though as I have tasted surprising beers such as Helltown Brown, and their coffee porter with one of the most pronounced coffee flavors I’ve experienced, their Christkindle winter warmer, and more.

Okay, I’m impressed and excited, Moerlein. These beers all sport a more substantial potency which, while I recognize has nothing directly to do with quality or viability, does reflect something different from what I thought Christian Moerlein was capable of, and willing to, provide.

I’m taking Moerlein beer more seriously now. I was already appreciative of them as a local brewery, but now they rank, in my mind and on my palate,  among true craft breweries.

Twelve taps of beer including, somewhat strangely, at least a couple Hudepohl beers.

Twelve taps of beer including, somewhat strangely, at least a couple Hudepohl beers.

I have found the service here to be good. The beertenders have often engaged me in a bit of conversation. This is certainly not something that I require (or often want), but it appears to point to management’s policy that the employees be professional and welcoming.

All beers are $5 per pint. I don’t recall them providing self-serve water for the customer, so bathroom water it is. They are big on their tours, some of which take you through some historic underground areas. I want to take one of these tours someday, but never seem to have the time.

Overall, I love this place so far. Christian Moerlein Taproom, I’m very glad to have you around.

If I were to return home after dark, I would likely not retrace my outgoing route, as I would face a fairly steep ascent through some very rough neighborhoods. Instead I would head down to downtown then proceed along the waterfront, using the route I detailed in my post on Double Barrel Brewing.

Thanks for joining me on this adventure. I look forward to our next one!

Cheers, and keep spinning those spokes!

 

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