Thursday, June 4, 2015

Getting a 22% Taste of Cincinnati

I’ve lived in Cincinnati for about half my life, and finally attended my first Taste of Cincinnati Presented by Budweiser.

By: Christian Glass, Queen City Discovery intern.

- Vendors selling city inspired merchandise was a dominant theme at the 2015 Taste of Cincinnati. Local souvenirs have become more of a presence the past few years. 

I’ve always avoided downtown the best I can. In my experience, the driving is stressful, the pedestrians can be gruff, and I have no sense of direction. I explore downtown the way a toddler explores his playpen, and I look as dumbfounded. That was until my roommate, the biggest Cincinnati fan I know, dragged me out of my playpen and down to Fountain Square. He joined me for my first Taste of Cincinnati Presented by Budweiser.

The fountain was flooded with more bodies than water. Local rock cover group, The Naked Karate Girls, poured Nelly’s “Hot in Here” into the streets. A Sunday sun high in the sky kept everyone’s mood on the same level. Still, something felt off about the Taste of Cincinnati Presented by Budweiser, to me. 

- St. Louis based Anheuser-Busch's Shock Top brand was a strong presence at this year's Taste of Cincinnati.

I walked down the steps of the square, colored orange by all the Shock Top (owned by Anheuser-Busch) umbrellas, stands and booths into a Great Lakes Brewing Company (based out of Cleveland, OH) booth. The street took me to an extravagant party bus, on display courtesy of Budweiser (Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, MO). That uneasiness about Taste of Cincinnati Presented by Budweiser, is growing. By the time I get to the Kentucky Ale (based out of Lexington, KY) Beer Garden, I know why: In the twenty minutes I’ve been out and about, I haven’t seen a single Cincinnati representation at the Taste of Cincinnati.

- West Sixth Brewing and Kentucky Ale had strong presences at the 2015 festival and while based in nearby Lexington, KY, they aren't actually Cincinnati area companies.

There were 68 different crafts of beer available to purchase. Fifteen of those were local and offered by Christian Moerlein, Mad Tree, Hudepohl, Mt. Caramel and Rivertown. Of the five, I was only able to find two, and none were anywhere near the center of the action. What was left was an assortment of Anheuser-Busch brands, craft beers from outside the area and a small handful of local brands. One of the nation’s largest street festivals became the 22% Taste of Cincinnati, diluted by Budweiser.

- Maggie of locally based Tom And Chee takes an order.

The longest line I saw for food that day was the Larosa’s food truck, which I heard a disgruntled onlooker call “the Wal-Mart of Cincinnati food.” A shame, as the food I found was delicious, if you were willing to be a little adventurous. Locally founded and headquartered Tom & Chee’s grilled cheese doughnut changed my life, and the german influence on the menus down there was apparent - a plus for the host city of the second largest Oktoberfest in the world. All this, and I was still bothered.

The atmosphere and the people that made it was the most impressive thing about the whole event though. I saw a teenage boy front and center stage with a Guitar Hero controller, soloing with the band, who stopped, shook his hand, and asked for a round of applause, which he received. 

- This was easily the most impactful moment of the weekend for me.

I saw a woman petitioning for marijuana legalization in Ohio, who was kind enough to stop and smile when she noticed me trying to fight the crowd for a picture.

- Cincinnati's street festivals are often a canvasing ground for political campaigns and politicians. 

I saw musicians spreading positive vibes and a smile to passing guests. They didn’t have a contract, setlist or a hat out for tips. They just opened shop on a corner and played whatever instrument they brought.

- Everybody stopped at least a minute to watch Preston. I wish I had more than that, his energy was contagious.

Since I had announced to coworkers and friends my intentions to write this story, I’ve been given a laundry list of excuses, accusations and pardons defending the dominant out of city presence. The closest thing to a complete argument I’ve heard is the cost of renting a booth (allegedly as much as $10,000) and the revenue it brings to the city. 

- Lexington, KY based Kentucky Ale sponsored a beer garden. 

I can’t disagree that more money for the city is a good thing, and I certainly can’t tell those who run Taste of Cincinnati Presented by Budweiser, what to charge. However, I argue that organizing a festival which leaves behind a giant mess in the name of a sponsorship that sells cubicles to the highest bidder is done all the time. The issue is attaching the name of a city’s proud celebration to gain foot traffic, and then watching those who represent your city be strongarmed out of it. 

While I may not enjoy downtown and Over-The-Rhine as much as a seasoned Cincinnatian, I can respect what they can stand for, and what they mean to the inhabitants. I can also worry their namesake will become as much a taste of Cincinnati as New York’s Naked Cowboy is.  

- Born in Cincinnati, the Naked Cowboy is a regular street performer in New York City's Times Square.

Christian Glass is a Journalism major from Northern Kentucky University, interning with Queen City Discovery for the summer of 2015.


  1. So far, these have been kind of downer articles. :-/

    1. I didn't feel like his Rabbit Hash article was a downer.

    2. Hey Sarah, sorry for bringing you down, it was meant to be more thoughtful than depressing. The next one I have planned is a little more on the bright side. Thanks for taking the time to read either way.

  2. The Naked Cowboy is actually from the Cincinnati area so he counts as a local rep.

    1. I don't necessarily agree there. Russell Wilson is from Cincinnati, but he's tied to Seattle. More people associate the cowboy with NYC than with Cincinnati. He may be from here, but everything else screams somewhere else. Much like the beer selection at Taste. But I can see your point.

  3. You sound like someone who is miserable when entering a city.... The smells, tastes, and flavors of the crowd and food at the Taste have been there for years, and while I agree that there could be more local beer (although, I had no problem finding local beers) the food by in large is local (Larosas, Market Street Grill, Tom and Chee, Mecklenburg Gardens, Pompillios, etc....) are local favorites and should be celebrated. As some one who has driven in from the suburbs for years, I love to see how the event has grown from just a few booths... to a regional event is awesome!

    Also, do your research... get the cost of the booth (no it is not 10,000).... Seems like a quick email or little effort to get that right (or leave it out of the article). You are learning, keep it up, I do love reading the articles.

  4. I feel sorry that this was your first taste of Cincinnati. It didn't users to be dominated by Budweiser. It was my complaint as well this year. While I wouldn't do LaRosa at the taste, they're at least from Cincinnati. There were, however, a lot of really good local non-chain restaurants there, enough to do something different for lunch and dinner each of the days.