It’s A Sign
“Check out our beer and bourbon flights” read the sign in the lobby outside Butler’s, the hotel bar and restaurant of the Cincinnati Marriott North hotel. The hotel sits some 20 miles north of downtown Cincinnati in West Chester. Given its location just-off the-highway, surrounded by strip malls, adjacent to other hotels and no evidence of local residences, the frequent traveler can be forgiven for assuming Butler’s would play to the middle and offer a pretty uninteresting array of standard hotel fare and an uninspiring beer list. On my first pass by the sign on the way to my room, I squinted toward the bar and noted a few tap handles, none of which I could identify from a distance. You know the deal: you look at the handles for familiar shapes and colors for a quick confirmation of whether the place has any well-known craft offerings or just the usual Big Beer assortment. Sometimes the concession to craft beer fans includes a ‘Sam’ or a ‘Sierra’. You can even encounter the occasional New Belgium or Stone tap depending on what part of the country you’re in. It is more common to be presented with a few major label taps with one ‘crafty’ beer thrown in. Think Bud, Bud Lite and the regional InBev-owned label. Or, Coors, Coors Light and Blue Moon. All of the above are easy to identify by color, shape and logo, or their tap handles. Seeing none of those from my vantage point in the lobby, I was at least curious. Up in my room I checked online for Butler’s tap list and didn’t find much detail other than ‘always local, always changing’. An accompanying list of a nice mix of local and national craft cans gave me hope that Butler’s taps might deliver a true local craft beer experience.
When traveling for business, or for any reason where you don’t have complete control of the schedule, getting a chance to sample the local brews can be fleeting, sometimes impossible. To have the option to beersplore right there in the hotel – no transportation required, just head to the lobby – was too intriguing to pass up. If it turned out that the beers on offer were not true local craft, so be it. I could always order one of those cans.
I approached the bar and now I could read the tap handles: one, Mad Tree, I recognized right away; the others, Fifty West, Municipal and Grainworks, I did not.
When asked about the beer flight, the bartender explained that for $10 it included 4 tasters of your choice, and she explained that they were featuring 4 local breweries. There were some major brands on tap, too, including good ole Sam, but I went with the 4 locals. The tasters arrived in a wooden paddle with a shallow circle for each. While this presentation is not uncommon in a tap room, it surprised me in a suburban Marriott. Only after I was two tasters did the bartender return to explain the flight should’ve included only 3 beer tasters and 4th taster glass filled with a salty snack mix. I prefer the way it was delivered to me: give me the 4 beers and I will order my own food, which I did.
The lineup featured a blonde, a wit, a red and an IPA each from a different brewery in the Cincinnati-area. That’s impressive diversity in offerings and a pretty serious commitment by the Marriott: 4 taps dedicated to local brews, each in a different style.
Usually when engaging a flight, I start with the lighter beers and move across the spectrum. On this occasion I followed the order in which they were arranged on the paddle from left to right resulting in:
- Punch You In The EyePA – Double IPA from 50 West Brewing Company
- Happy Amber – Red Ale from MadTree Brewing Co
- Approachable Blonde – Blonde Ale ale from Municipal Brew Works
- Picket Fence – Witbier – from Grainworks Brewing Co
Name: Punch You In The EyePA
Style: Double IPA
Brewery: Fifty West Brewing Company
Notes: At 9.2% ABV and 100 IBUs you’d expect this to pack a wallop. It is surprisingly sweet and viscous. It slides over the tongue and leaves behind a nice piney aftertaste. This was a great start to the flight but I made sure to drink some water between beers because this Punch You In The EyePA is full-flavored and your tongue doesn’t soon forget it.
Name: Happy Amber
Style: Amber Ale
Brewery: MadTree Brewing Company
Notes: Dropping a massive 70 IBUs from the first taster, this 30 IBU/6% ABV amber might carry half the load of the Fifty West offering that preceded it but it lacks nothing in flavor and character. Even with the lower IBUs, Happy Amber still carries a nice bitterness and hoppy quality. It could be that the cascade hops give it a mild citrus tilt and grapefruit aroma often associated with classic ales. Each sip ended with a slight bite that added to the appeal. This one caught me off guard because I expected a smoother, milder drink but I really enjoyed it. Only later did I find out it is a 2018 Great American Beer Festival Gold Medal winner in the Extra Special Bitter category. An ESB! Aha, that does explain the bitter and fruity qualities.
Name: Approachable Blonde
Style: Blonde Ale
Brewery: Municipal Brew Works
Notes: My meal of quinoa and spinach salad arrived as I tried Approachable Blonde. It was good combination. The blonde was on the lighter side in every way – 15 IBUs/4.7% ABV – but not lacking in flavor. The slightly yeasty quality presented just enough to provide a nice accompaniment to the food.
Name: Picket Fence
Brewery: Grainworks Brewing
Notes: This 15 IBU/5.2% ABV witbier is what you want to serve your friends who reach for Blue Moon when they want to try something crafty. Once they try this they will taste the difference between mass produced beer and one where the ingredients are selected carefully and the production is monitored by people whose customers are their neighbors. Picket Fence has a hint of orange to it without the use of that added orange slice you often see served with this style. The hops are subtle but present enough to add some bitterness. The result is light with enough variety of flavor to keep it interesting.
Given it was a week night of a business trip, I chose not to order a full pour of any beer, but I did allow myself the indulgence of a follow-up taster since my only commute was the elevator back to my room. All the beers were good, and it was a tough choice to pick the one to be the repeater. Punch You In The EyePA was the most surprising with its powerful mix of high bitterness, sweet taste and thick mouthfeel and I selected it for a parting shot. While it made for a perfect dessert beer it is certainly one that is suitable with a meal, too. It probably pairs well with grilled foods that can compete with its strong flavors.
The number of times when seeking good beer at suburban hotel bars has led to disappointment is high enough that I tend to shy away from even checking what’s available. Usually, if I want to be assured a quality beer experience in a new location, I use Untappd to find nearby breweries and venues. If given the choice, the preference is to go to an actual brewery or taproom. Drinking new beer on its home turf is always a bonus. It provides context and an insight into the vibe and attitude of the brewers. Reality, however, steps in sometimes and forces one to be flexible if they want to beersplore. My experience at the Cincinnati Marriott North has opened my eyes to the possibility that there may be options literally right under my nose.