Antebellum Eggnog in Cincinnati


Joseph Mersman, writer of the journal that would become The Whiskey Merchant Diary.

One great local pre-Civil War diary we have is that of German immigrant Joseph Mersman. He had immigrated to Cinicnnati with thousands of other immigrants from his town in 1830. His diary gives us one of the few, and very detailed pictures of daily life in urban Cincinnati before the Civil War, from working and playing, and – most interesting to me- eating and drinking as an early 20-something hipster in Cincinnati.  In 1847, he decided to write his daily follies in a book that  fit into his coat pocket. His diary was turned into a great book called The Whisky Merchant’s Diary, which was annotated and enhanced with maps and actual photos.

Although Joseph had a sister who lived very well in Cinicnnati, Joseph rented a room in the 3rd Street boardinghouse of Mrs. Jenkins. He shared his room and one double bed with Charles Brown for $3 a week, which included meals. But he supplemented the meals at home with special treats like oysters, cakes, and beverages at bars and taverns around town.

As a whiskey merchant, Mersman bought distilled spirits, and redistilled or reprocessed them to remove impurities, increase the alcohol content, or flavor them before selling to liquor retailers. So, being in the world of distilled spirits, Joseph certainly knew where to go to get a good drink.   The world around his boarding house and office was surrounded by theatres, bars, and houses that boarded ‘ladies of a certain type.’

In December of 1847, he made several notations about stopping at several hangouts for an eggnog:

Dec 20 – Went to Billy Tell’s and partook in a glass of Egg Nog or sort of a milk punch
Dec 21 – Stopped at Hunkum’s to take a glass of Egg Nogg
Dec 22 – Went with Delmar to Billy Tell’s –  he treated to glass of Egg Nogg

Billy Tell’s was William Tells Coffeehouse on 5th Street between Main and Walnut. A Coffee house at that time, was more of a place to have a drink – spirit, wine, or beer and a small bite.  Hunkums was Fredrick Honkomp’s 2nd Ward House.

Before the Civil War an eggnog was not as we know it today, mostly the heavy cream and spice drink, spiked with a small amount of liquor like bourbon or rum.   It was completely the opposite – an alcohol fortified with egg cream and spices.  Egg nogg was started with a base of liquor, cider, or beer, and was then fortified with milk, whipped eggs, and stirred-in spices.   It was served warm and popular in the cold weather months.   Think of it as the pre-Civil War Pumpkin Spice Latte in its popularity.  It was  sort of like a winter shandy. Originally it was designed to give some flavor to what at the time in England were badly brewed sour ales, cider made with rank apples, and adulterated rums and whiskeys. In Europe eggnogg was considered a drink of the wealthy, as spices, eggs and milk were expensive and available only to those with money. When the drink came to America with immigrants, it became a drink of the working class, as eggs, milk and spices were much more readily available.

Many men, especially of German descent in Cinicnnati had their own Eggnogg secret recipes and many parties thrown during the holidays had these ‘home-spun’ eggnogs as the star. My grandfather’s long lost boozy eggnog recipe was the star of the family’s holiday parties. It was known to be very thick, almost custardy, like the eierlikors or egg liquors of northern Germany, where his grandfather had immigrated. Now, with the scare of raw egg-born pathogens, these eggnogs are hard to come by.

So be thankful this holiday season, as you sip your boozy eggnog  that yours wasn’t designed to cover up the taste of bad alcohol!

A Goetta Ancestor in the Dusseldorf Studio of Emanuel Leutze


In 1849 German refugees from the 1848 revolution were sailing across the Atlantic in droves to our land of freedom. Oddly enough, a number of Americans were going the opposite way to Germany. They were artists, who were flocking to the Westphalian city of Dusseldorf for the art school that was gaining fame there. For the twenty-something Cincinnati painter, Thomas Worthington Whittredge, the studio of famed painter Emanuel Leutze in Dusseldorf was where he wanted to be. He left Cincinnati and landed as a pupil in Leutze’s studio.
Leutze was painting his epic scene of Washington Crossing the Delaware, and he needed American models to pose for him. The German men were apparently too small. So, Whittredge posed for the figures of George Washington, and the front oarsman. The image would become one of the most iconic of American images. It would also contain a total of three Cincinnatians, who modeled for Leutze. The Dusseldorf school painters were known to use political scenes to inspire. Leutze was helping to inspire the Germans who staged the 1848 uprisings against the Germanic nobility with his painting.


Portrait of Thomas Whittredge
The scene depicted the covert crossing on Christmas Eve when the American forces surprised the Hessians at Trenton, New Jersey, on Christmas Day.  Like good Germans, they were drunk and hungover after partying  Christmas Eve. It was reported by one of the Cincinnati painters, Eastman Johnson, that Leutze’s studio was the same way – jolly good fun, filled with beer drinking (of the native Altbier style) and other “animations.” When Johnson arrived, like Whittredge, he was enlisted to model. A bandage was wrapped around his head, and he also became one of the oarsmen.


Portrait of Eastman Johnson.
Johnson would return to America in the early 1850s, spending some time painting in Cincinnati. Our fair city was known to be friendly to artists looking for rich patrons like Nicholas Longworth. Eastman Johnson became one of the most popular genre painters of the Civil War, painting Negro Life in the South, and his most famous painting, A Ride for LIberty –  Fugitive Slaves.

A third Cincinnatian, the wealthy John Groesbeck, made his way to Leutze’s studio in his post-graduation Grande Tour of Europe. No doubt this was because of the reputation of frivolity surrounding the studio. Leutze also used the young Groesbeck as a model for one of the oarsman, most likely the middle oarsman in the red coat. That’s a pretty cool immortalization for a vacation visit.


A young John Groesbeck during the Civil War.
So what food probably accompanied the altbier in the jolly studio of Leutze? As it happens, a goetta ancestor was a popular peasant food in the state of Westphalia and in Dusseldorf. It is called Westfalische Rinderwurst. And, like goetta, it’s a gruetzwurst or grain sausage, designed to extend a small amount of meat. It consists of beef sausage, vegetables like onions and carrots, and a grain, either pearl barley or oat groats. It’s looser than goetta, but cooked the same way – pan fried – but not as crispy as most of us like goetta in Cincinnati. It’s served along with potatoes and fried red cabbage, and never dressed with ketchup, syrup or jam, as we do with goetta.


Westfalische rinderwurst
It’s possible that Whittredge and certainly, Groesbeck, would have had goetta in Cincinnati in 1849, which probably more resembled the Westfalische Rinderwurst than it does the goetta we get at Tucker’s or any German meat market in Cincinnati today. But they also would have had the rare opportunity to taste it in Dusseldorf, and experience the rare intersection of ancestor and newly arrived food progeny.

Squirrel Pot Pie – The Featured Dish of Cincinnati’s First Christmas Dinner of 1788


The First Christmas dinner in Cincinnati, or as it was known in 1788 – Columbia – was a sparse one. There were about 50 poor souls, all badly needing a good bath with soap. But, it would be at least five more decades before Proctor and Gamble invents soap that floats.

All fifty families were crammed into four chinked-log blockhouses near what is now Lunken Airport, later called Turkey Bottoms, to protect themselves from the local Shawnee tribe natives, who were known to attack the new white Northeasterners settling on their hunting grounds. The group had arrived the week before Thanksgiving on flatboats on the Ohio River in 1788. Most of the families at Columbia were from New Jersey. And, they were all part of the Baptist Church that was fleeing persecution in the Northeast, now facing attack from another group – the Shawnees.

The family names of those first Cincinnati settlers were Stites, Gano, Bailey, Buxton, Cox, Woodruff and the Dunn family of Hugh and Mercy and their five children, who had just arrived in December. The good thing was that a party of the Columbia settlers had made a truce with the local Shawnees, after being run up into trees on a hunting expedition shortly after their arrival. So, in the spirit of good neighbors, they invited the natives to their Christmas dinner.

Only having a month to get settled, there were no cornfields to harvest or any other crops to eat. The party had brought provisions in the form of flour and probably salt cured meats to get them through the winter. That was supplemented by the local free range meat they could hunt – squirrel, possum, bear, raccoon, turkey, pheasant, and fish from the Ohio and Little Miami Rivers nearby.

In 1857, one of the Columbia settlers, Isaac Dunn, recalled that first Christmas dinner with the Indians. He would have been six years old at that time, but was in 1857, a prominent judge living in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.

Dunn said that it was an unseasonably warm that first Christmas Day, kind of like the warm December we’ve had this year. And so, the Columbia settlers put up a big table near the shore of the river, and , in addition to the Shawnee, also invited a party of officers from nearby Ft. Washington, closer to what is now downtown Cincinnati. The site of the uniformed, musketed officers scared the Indians at first, but their fears were eventually quieted and all sat down for a big dinner of what ?

Isaac Dunn said in his recollection, “The principal dish in the feast was potpie, which were made in two ten gallon kettles. My mother (Mercy Dunn), being a Jersey woman, with the other ladies assisting, superintended the making of the potpies.” The fact that Mercy was the head chef makes us think that potpie was a familiar dish to New Jersians. The potpies were probably made of squirrel, which Dunn said was the most prominent meat they had available, and the crust made of flour they brought and lard. Crisco wouldn’t be invented by P & G until about 140 years.

These Jersey meatpies were probably very interesting to the Shawnee guests. The whiskey accompaniment from the Ft. Washington soldiers, who received that as part of their monthly ration, would have also been something new to the Shawnee. Everything passed off fine and the Indians departed, bellies full and in good spirits.

Unfortunately that spring there was a huge flood in the Columbia settlement, and the Shawnee decided to run off with all the horses of the Columbia settlers. Isaac Dunn’s family had enough and moved to higher ground, forming the settlement of Elizabethtown, Ohio. Many other Columbia settlers moved out of the original settlement to higher ground to areas like what would become the village of Mariemont. It was kinda like the story of the original Roanoke Colony, but we know where they went. Many of the early settlers are buried at the Columbia cemetery across from Lunken Airport, including the majority of the Stites family. Others are buried at the community church yard in Mariemont.

After the family moved out of Columbia, Isaac’s brother Micajah Dunn built a log home that is now on the site of the Shawnee Lookout Park. And the Dunn family continued to eat their New Jersey potpies as they prospered and proliferated.

Artisan Marshmallows in Cincinnati



What childhood memory could be sweeter than the first time you tasted a s’more -the delightfulness of that ooey-gooey, campfire-charred marshmallow, melted chocolate and graham cracker crunch.   Well, that’s the experience Cincinnati’s newest confectioner is trying to recreate.     Meet Maggie Kraus, owner of Quaintrelle Confections.   She’s chosen Main Street in Over-the-Rhine as the location of her new ‘campfire.’      Her location is stacked alongside Allez Bakery and Macaroon Bar, in what’s becoming another artisan food mecca in downtown.


Maggie Kraus, owner of Quaintrelle Confections.

Maggie is a former archeologist turned confectioner, with a passion for history.    She makes artisan marshmallows, and also serves up combinations for gourmet s’mores at her store.       She is one of only five artisan marshmallow makers in the U.S.

The difference between Maggie’s handcrafted marshmallows and the bagged, commercially made kind, is night and day!     Hers don’t have the gummy bite back, and the artificial polymeric texture.     She uses no high fructose corn syrup or preservatives – only cane sugar.   The result is a creamier, lighter, and more velvety mallow.   When I visited this past weekend, I tasted her peanut butter and bourbon flavors.   They are definitely creamier and delightful.  The flavors don’t overpower and make you forget you’re eating a marshmallow.


She had just sold out her bulk supply the night before at her grand opening.   And, it takes 10 hours to make a batch of marshmallows, so it would be this week before I could get my gift supply.   She makes a whole line of more flavors including, s’mores, peanut butter and jelly, champagne, snickerdoodle, rocky road, chocolate chip, and classic vanilla.   There will probably be more flavors as she gets going, experiments more, and customers request new flavors – perhaps an eggnog flavor for next year.

Maggie is a product of an incubator kitchen in Newport, Kentucky, and is already off to a great start.   She’s  supplying Maverick Chocolates at Findlay Market for their hot chocolate.   They’ve asked her to make mini versions of her credit card sized mallows.  Maverick’s bean-to-bar chocolate is what she uses in her gourmet s’mores.

I am sold on this unique new adder to Cincinnati’s food scene.

Ethical Chocolate


As a kid, I had a pen pal, from Korofidua, Ghana. We exchanged letters for over a year and discussed things important to 9 year olds – what sports and games we liked to play, what foods we liked. We both liked ping-pong, or as he called it, table tennis. But the Atari 2600 hadn’t made it to Ghana in 1983 yet, so he hadn’t heard of Pong, or other early video games. We exchanged small currencies of each of our countries and other small things that could fit in an envelope. We talked about dreams and what we wanted to do when we grew up.

Little did I know that at age 9, how important it was for him to do well in school and progress to high school. Being in Ghana, the second largest exporter of cacao in the world, he was in grave danger of being trafficked for child labor. He was lucky enough to have made it to a good school. But there was a resistance going on against the military government at that time. A few months after we started writing, he told me his name was changing because his father died and his mother quickly remarried. I wonder now if his father had been part of the resistance. Being without a father would have made him even more vulnerable.

I didn’t know that the Kit Kat bars I loved at the time, were made by Nestle with cacao beans harvested by child slave labor. Luckily my pal Seth made it through and is now managing a hotel in Ghana’s largest city, Accra, and has a lovely wife and cute little daughter. But approximately 1.8 million children in West Africa, in countries like Ghana and the Ivory Coast, are not so lucky and are exposed to the worst forms of labor on cacao farms.

The American Candy industry is a $25 billion industry – pretty huge if you think about it. The industry is largely dominated by two players – Mars and Hershey – or in other words – Big Chocolate. Together they share 60% of the US market. Their lobbyists have spent decades preventing the story of child labor in their industry from being news, and the companies have only recently paid lip service to the issue.

If you’ve eaten an M & M or Snicker or any of these Big Chocolate products, you’ve contributed to trafficked child slave labor on cacao plantations on the Ivory Coast of Africa. You’ve also contributed to the destruction of rainforests, and questionable government practices like grease payments going to government officials and not to the welfare of the people working.

In the 2010 documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate,” it was reported that 140 kids in 2007, and 156 in 2008 and 2009, were rescued from trafficking in Ivory Coast’s cacao industry. Some of these children were as young as 9, and were trafficked from neighboring countries of Mali and Niger. A statistic was also given in the documentary that a child can be bought in Africa for cacao slavery for 230 euros for indefinite labor. These children are submitted to dangerous working conditions, using sharp machetes to remove cacao pods, lifting heavy loads, and beatings when their productivity is not judged good enough.

The cacao farms get the least profit from the industry –which drives their use of trafficked child labor. An intermediary buys from a cacao farm in the Ivory Coast for 1 Euro a kilo. They sell to a national exporter like Saf-Cacao in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, the world’s third largest exporter, for 2 and a half Euros after washing and packing the beans. The beans are then sold on a stock exchange to Big Chocolate companies, and 1 kilo of beans become 40 chocolate bars for them. Saf-Cacao makes a profit of 135 Million Euros per year selling cacao beans.

Reporting on the abuses of the cacao industry is dangerous for journalists. In 2004, French Canadian journalist Guy-Andre Kieffer was kidnapped while working on a story about bribery and money laundering of cocoa money in the Ivory Coast, and has not been seen since. In 2001, two American senators authored a bill to create a system of grading and labelling chocolates to eradicate use of child slave labor. Big Chocolate companies lobbied against this, and the bill was shut down. However, this became what is now known as the Harkin-Engel Protocol, whose goal in 2004 was to eradicate the use of child labor in cacao by 2008. It was extended to 2010 and the goal still not met. The accord has no legal recourse and is just lip service by the big chocolate companies like Hershey, Nestle, ADM, Cargill and Barre-Carebaugh who signed it.

Every time you take a bite into a Mounds or Almond Joy, you’re essentially eating ‘blood chocolate,’ just like a blood diamond. Even if you’ve had the higher end brands like Toblerone or Godiva or Haagen Daaz or Breyer’s Ice Cream chocolate flavors, you’ve eaten blood chocolate You’d think something so innocent and delightful as chocolate could not be such an industry, but it is. Hershey as part of their Hershey Learn to Grow Program built a school – that’s one school – in the Ivory Coast of Africa that touched less than 150 kids. With the profits they make on chocolate they source from the Ivory Coast, Hershey could open hundreds, maybe thousands of schools. But they act blithely unaware and continue their practices of sourcing from cacao plantations that use child labor. So the program, in effect, only quells their conscience or is used as a diverter to what’s really going on behind the scenes.


The ethically sourced bean-to-bar chocolates of Maverick in Over-the-Rhine.
So how do you avoid eating blood chocolate and find sustainable makers? Locally, we have one bean to bar chocolate maker in Over-the-Rhine – Paul Picton, owner of Maverick Chocolates – who visits the plantations and ethically sources from farms only in Latin America, not West Africa, who do not employ child labor. Maverick uses the Direct Trade model, purchasing beans so farmers and co-ops receive $500 per metric ton over market price. Maverick sources beans from Belize, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Peru.

Other local chocolatiers like Velveteen, Fawn, and Latour Chocolates also ethically source the chocolate they use to make their confections. There are several labels for ethical chocolates. There is slave free, fair trade, and organic labels. Organic doesn’t always guarantee ethical or slave free. But at least there are ways to identify and attempt to track the problem. And even since the 2010 documentary, the problem has still not been solved. The worldwide industry now commits to eliminating child slavery in cacao production by 2020. I hope that they are motivated and able to make that work. We think slavery is a thing of the past, but in the case of chocolate, it’s really staring us in the face every day, at every grocery or gas station counter. And, it’s important we understand the issue and where our chocolate is coming from. I can’t eat another product of Hershey or Mars now, knowing what’s behind it.



The Magic Behind Cincy’s Bread Baron


This past weekend I had the opportunity to meet the Bread Baron of Cincinnati, Ken Klosterman. Little did I know that a trip to Georgetown, Ohio, about 50 minutes east of Cincinnati along the Ohio River would connect me to Cincinnati’s bread making history. Ken’s four generation family-owned business has an interesting story, not widely known in Cincinnati. Operating out of a small, discreet, pink- bricked art deco building in St. Bernard, off of the Norwood Lateral, they have grown under Ken’s leadership, into a commercial bread powerhouse, and one of the largest family owned bakeries in the country. The growth has been largely fueled by the hamburger bun. The bakery is known for many firsts – including making the first square loaf of bread and the first hamburger bun in Cincinnati.

Ken’s Grandfather, Benjamin Klosterman arrived in Cincinnati in the 1880s from the State of Brandenburg, Germany, and started the French Baking Company, with his brother Frank Klosterman, The business passed to Bernard, Ken’s father. Ken’s aunt Blanche and Uncle Frank operated a retail bakery and tearoom from the 1920s to the 1970s at the old Dixie Terminal in downtown Cincinnati.

Today, Klosterman own baking plants in Morristown, Indiana, and Springfield, Ohio. In 1996 Klosterman joined two other bakeries to build a facility in Dickson, Tennessee, to supply hamburger buns exclusively to McDonald’s. Ken has since built facilities in Puerto Rico, in 1998, and Springboro, Ohio, in 2006. They are this year looking at building another baking facility in Hebron, Kentucky.
Klosterman dropped out of home delivery service in 1970 and went exclusively wholesale. They supply buns to national fast food chains like McDonald’s and Arby’s, local chains like Frisch’s for their rye fish buns, Gold Star’s coney buns, and small one-locations like, Zip’s in Mt. Lookout. In the 1970s they supplied buns to local upscale restaurants like the Maisonette and the Beverly Hills Supper Club. Today, the company offers 400 different bread products.
But that’s not the most interesting part of the story. Ken had no intention to go into the bakery business of his father. It was his father’s heart attack that made him get a leave from the service in 1959, to run with the business while he recovered. But Ken’s passion was not baking – it was magic.


Ken and Judy Klosterman performing their magic act in Cincinnati in the 1950s.
Ken and his wife, Judy, performed a magic act around Greater Cincinnati in the 1950s at hospitals. One of his signature tricks was an act called the Chef’s Nightmare, where Ken stirred an ‘empty pot’ on top of a stove, and then takes his hand off the stirring spoon, which keeps stirring by itself. After acting stunned he returns to the pot and conjures up his daughter Karen, who now along with her brother, Chip, run the baking empire.
After becoming involved in the business, Ken retired he and his wife’s act, but he kept up his love for magic by amassing one of the world’s most extensive collections of antique magic items and over 5000 books on magic.


Ken Klosterman’s  Chef’s Nightmare trick, demonstrated by magician Steve Faris.

His collection, called the “Salon de Magie” was mostly housed in an underground vault below his Loveland, Ohio, home. Now, Ken has extended the collection into his 1852 Georgian Revival mansion, which sits majestically on a hill overlooking the White Oak Creek valley, in Georgetown, Ohio, which is where I met him. After a seven year extensive renovation, Whitehall, as this house is named, now houses his extensive collection of German magic items. His collection is regularly visited by David Copperfield, Pen and Teller, and other world famous magicians.


Ken’s 1852 Whitehall mansion in Georgetown, Ohio, overlooking the White Oak Creek Valley.
Fittingly to his baking profession, Ken recently bought and restored the 1843 Thompson buckwheat mill, down the hill from his Whitehall mansion. In its time, before closing in 1907, the mill was one of the most productive mills in the country. This now houses even more of his magic collection, as well as being a great restoration of one of Ohio’s historic industries. The mill once employed General Grant’s father Jesse. And, U.S. Grant as a teenager worked as a teamster, transporting corn to the mill.

Now in his mid eighties, Ken is retired from running the bakery business, and loves to share his magic collection with other enthusiasts. He even pays homage in his kitchen with a bread box from the competing bakery that his family put out of business, the Langdon Bakery. But it may be the magic behind the man that made his wild ideas turn into such a successful business marching strong into the fourth generation.


Cincinnati’s Holiday Craft Beers 2017



It’s that time of year again for all our wonderful craft breweries to release their holiday beers. The brews vary widely by style and flavor, amongst the breweries, but the majority of these seasonal brews are called “Winter Warmers.”

The American Craft Brewer’s Association states the Winter Warmer category starts with a foundation of either the spiced Wassail style or the Strong English Ale. The only difference, between the two is in the spicing. The Wassail style features cloves, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, or other cooking spices, while the English ale features hops as the main ‘spice.’ It’s hard to nail these down much more than this. Sometimes they include added sugars like maple syrup, plums, figs, raisins or even cranberries. All are meant to be strong in malt and are good with the hearty roasted meats eaten in the Winter.

The oldest local Christmas brew is crafted by Moerlein. They call it the Christkindlmarkt, named after the German outdoor holiday markets in towns like Nurenburg and Munich. It is very chocolate malty and has hints of brown sugar. They are also releasing the ’77 Winter Warmer, brewed for the 40th anniversary of the Blizzard of 1977, which many of us still remember.

Over-the-Rhine’s Taft Ale House has Santa’s Bribe, which is described as a Christmas cookie Winter Warmer ale with flavors of cinnamon, ginger, and vanilla. A few years ago over the holidays, they did a Cherry Sour that was amazing and I thought felt very much in the holiday spirit. Thankfully I had an inside connection for a growler, because it was so limited they only made it available in the tap room.

Braxton Brewery in Covington, has released their Snow Shovel, a Winter Warmer, that they say is malt-forward, with ginger, cinnamon, and honey. They are bringing back Claus, a peppermint candy cane milk stout, which was a collaboration with Doscher Candy, named after their founder.

Rhinegeist has released their Dad, a Hoppy Holiday Ale, with what sounds like a lot going on. It’s described as medium body, with malty notes of toffee, chocolate, coffee, nuts and molasses; very hopped; with spices of ginger and nutmeg.


Listerman Brewery across from Xavier, has not yet released a holiday beer, but today, December 4, they released the first Cincinnati priestly beer collaboration – Fr. Kyle’s Cinnamon Roll Oatmeal Stout, in honor of Fr. Kyle Schnippel, pastor of Corpus Christi and St. John Neuman Catholic Churches, who will be competing this Thursday on NBC’s Great American Baking Show.

50 West has their Christmas Cookie ale, described as an oatmeal cookie left out for Santa.
Madtree in Oakley has their Thunder Snow, which is described as a spiced Scottish Ale with ginger, nutmeg, vanilla and hints of cinnamon with bready malts.





Probably the weirdest holiday ale and the most extensive list of holiday brews – they have 12, like the Days of Christmas – is from sour brewer Urban Artifact in Northside. Their weirdest is called Christmas Pickle Gose, which is a gose style sour with dill, cucumber, and spruce tips. They might be onto something. I just saw pickle flavored candy canes advertised for Christmas. And, I like that it speaks to the German Christmas tradition of the pickle Christmas tree ornament. Their other holiday brews are Tannenbaum, a bourbon barrel aged stock ale with spruce tips; Nitro Kicksled, a winter spiced stout; Spicecake, a spiced stout with orange, chocolate, star anise and cinnamon; Yule Log, an amber ale aged with cedar; Coffee Kodiak, a tart brown ale with coffee; Praline, a dark ale with cinnamon and pecans; Madeira, a dry Irish stout with chocolate; Tinderbox, a spiced stout with habaneros; Cherry cordial, a chocolate cherry gose (YUM!!); Christmas Pudding, an amber ale with holiday spice, and Orange Dream, a Berliner pale ale with orange and vanilla. They’ve really outdone themselves!

Municipal Brewworks in Hamilton just announced they will have an extremely limited release of Elf Juice Peppermint Porter in time for the holiday flea market Fleaz Navidad next weekend.

Wiedemann has their Praegerbrau, a strong barley malt Pilsner with Saaz and American hops, as well as their East Row Winter Lager.

Even though they’re not in Cincinnati, I have to give a shout out to one of my local faves – Warped Wing Brewery, in Dayton, which has Esther’s L’il Secret – a Winter Warmer style collaboration with them and Esther Price Chocolates.

So far no holiday styles have been announced by Nine Giant in Pleasant Ridge, Westside Brewery in Western Hills, Bad Tom or Streetside in Columbia Tusculum, 13 Below in Saylor Park, or Darkness Brewery in Bellevue, Kentucky. Rivertown Brewery in Lockland is closed, but their Monroe taproom is still open, and no holiday beers announced on their website. Brink Brewery in College Hill has not mentioned a holiday brew yet, but I am bucket listing a tasting of their barrel aged sours and other craft brews.
Fibonacci in Mt. Healthy has not announced a holiday brew yet, but they do have a Chocolate Mint Stout, described as tasting like a York Peppermint Patty, and a Pumpkin Porter flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, maple and bacon.

So it’s high time to get out there and do your holiday brew tasting and choose your Christmas six-pack. Oddly enough no one, to my knowledge has done an eggnog stout or even eggnog flavored ale. I also think the peppermint flavor is under-utilized in the holiday brews. In this homebrewer’s humble opinion a good holiday beer would be a German Rauchbier (smoked beer) with light notes of either coriander, ginger and maybe clove. I think that would have went well with the smoked turkey we had for Thanksgiving.

Cincinnati’s Connection to Little Debbie and Her Snack Cakes



Snack cake lovers know its Christmastime when Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes start to show up on store shelves after Halloween. The delectable Christmas Tree Cakes now come in three flavors – chocolate, red velvet and the original vanilla. McKee Foods, the creator of Little Debbie Brands, introduced the Christmas Tree cake in 1985, and has developed a super-loyal cult following since then. Over the years, the cake has been modified a bit to look more realistic with scalloped edges, red icing and sprinkles. Fans go nuts over this holiday limited time offering, and Little Debbie is always looking for new ideas to increase holiday sales.
The top three selling Little Debby Brands are the Oatmeal Cream Pie, the Nutty Bar and to my surprise, the Swiss Cake Rolls, which I don’t know if I have ever tasted. The three combined sell over 200 million cartons a year.  The oatmeal and raisin crème pie were the first small snack cake products invented by company founder, O. D. McKee, in 1933, as he was building the company. Originally the company made and distributed large pies and table layer cakes to bread bakeries as a lost leader. The bread bakers would buy the cakes and pies to bring in customers, who would then buy more profitable products made at the bakery. The larger goods were dropped and the company’s success would be based on the smaller snack cakes.
Now the company has a whole line of Christmas holiday treats that include Christmas tree and Santa brownies, a white chocolate-dipped North Pole Nutty Bar; an eggnog-flavored, white-iced version of their Swiss roll; the Cherry Cordial Cake, and Christmas Gingerbread Cookies. What kid doesn’t develop a taste for the polymerically-chewy, industrial icing of a snack cake, that only slightly resembles fondant?

The interesting tidbit is that the formation of the Little Debbie empire is closely tied to the Seventh Day Adventist Church, to which the founding McKee family belonged and to whom the company still donates a huge amount of money. The SDA church is widely known for its views on healthy eating, avoiding meat, eating a vegetarian based diet and other unclean foods mentioned in the Bible. I guess there’s no mention of little snack cakes in the Bible, so they’re good.
This year, on November 9, McKee Foods turned to social media for a little joke at their customers’ expense. Call it crowd-sourced Voice of Customer surveying. They posted a picture of four of their snack cakes – the Nutty Bar, the Christmas Tree Cake, the Oatmeal Cream Pie, and the Honey Bun – with the handle #OneGottaGo.” Customers took this to mean one of these snacks was on the Little Debbie chopping block. The post got immediate reaction from fans, voicing their opinion that if anything HAD to go, it should be the Honey Bun. I do agree amongst the four that the Honey Bun would be the least missed. But faith was restored when the company said it was just curious which one would be the least missed and that there were no plans for a snack cake culling.
And of course there’s a Cincinnati connection to Little Debbie . As it turns out, Little Debbie’s maternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. George W Sisson, lived in Cincinnati, in the 1950s, when their daughter Sharon Sisson married Ellsworth McKee, the son of the founder of McKee Foods and Little Debbie branded snack cakes. The two met as students at Southern Mission College in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Sissons were part of the family that owned the Raquette River Paper Company, which was bought by Mead Paper in 1998. There was a Raquette River Company sales office for the Western United States, headquartered in Cincinnati at the Union Trust Building, which Sharon’s cousin Lewis Hamilton Sisson ran in Cincinnati from the 1920s until his death in 1953. It’s not known whether McKee Foods every used products of the Raquette River Paper Company for any of their packaging.


It was the image of Susan Sisson and Ellsworth McKee’s daughter, now Debbie McKee-Fowler, in her straw hat and play clothes, that was used to introduce an innovative new packaging concept in the snack world, called the Family Pack in 1960. A company salesman and O.D. McKee devised the design and had the box printed before Little Debbie’s parents even knew about the scheme. It was a new concept to offer 12 individually wrapped snack cakes in a pretty package for lower than the cost of the cakes sold separately to generate higher volume sales.


The real Little Debbie – Debbie McKee-Fowler as a three and a half year old girl and today.

After some trial, the Family Pack became so successful that the images of other McKee family members were trialed for branding, but Little Debbie outlasted them all. And now that image of the grandchild of Cincinnati grandparents is as synonymous in America as the images of Aunt Jemima, Betty Crocker, and in Cincinnati, Dottie Dorsel.