March First To Cincinnati's March First, Then Middletown's FigLeaf
Updated: May 20
March First is a Cincinnati Brewery somewhat unlike many of the others around town. While their profile so far has been somewhat lower than some of their peers (at least in terms of hype) they have quietly been building quite a brand for themselves while buying up another brewery (FigLeaf), opening a Distillery, and from what I hear they may be working on deals to open new facilities and maybe even partner with additional breweries. Good for them, the quality of their beer shows the success is well deserved… and they’re doing it the admirable way: building based on their quality and reputation, rather than just a massive promotional budget with the quality of the beer as an afterthought.
The March First Taproom & Brewing facility seems rather enormous when you first walk in. You're greeted at the door by a sculpture of a horse, and as you walk into the main room their high ceilings and plethora of banners and flags are captivating and festive. In addition to the main taproom there is also a sizable patio, and several other rooms for corporate events, private parties, games, etc. The beer menu is huge due to the fact they have all of their beers from both breweries on tap here, as well as the liquor selections from their distillery.
March First Brewing - Cincinnati, OH
Beers for both brands (MarchFirst and FigLeaf) are available to go at both breweries canned and in growlers, as well as retailers and drinking establishments throughout the region.
I visited the brewery on a Tuesday which is an unusual day to be playing music in a brewery for a few reasons: first, many breweries are actually closed on Tuesdays, also because many breweries don't seem to have music on Tuesdays, as they seem to save it for the weekends and have things like trivia or karaoke or some other games earlier in the week. Much to my surprise the Tuesday crowd was substantial throughout the night and we had a real good time... so let March First be an example for breweries everywhere.... Tuesday is a great night for live music, too!
I have played a couple of times at March First’s sister brewery, FigLeaf which is a little bit up the road in Middletown Ohio… but again this was my first time at March First, and don't I think I had ever sampled their beers before. On this night I stuck more or less to the IPAs, of which they had a nice selection of various styles, and they were all done quite well.
My first drink of the night was the Juicy IPA, which is an American style IPA (6.5% ABV). I assumed from the name that it was probably an IPA based primarily on the Citra variant of hops, and would carry a rather citrusy flavor... and boy was that an understatement. For this one they also used healthy portions of grapefruit puree, which brought the juicy to the next level and made it quite refreshing and really hit the spot in a satisfying way. The comparison I'd make here is perhaps to Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin, and not the one that just has the hint of grapefruit but the one that actually has the real grapefruit added. For about a year that Grapefruit Sculpin was perhaps my favorite beer, and this one is every bit as delicious but probably a little more so because a) it's fresh off the tap and b) it didn't cost $15 for a six pack.
Another impressive brew was their Hazy IPA… perhaps not the most originally named of the brews, but it tells you what it is… a New England (hazy) style IPA (6.2% ABV). Compared to the Juicy this one was a much more straightforward hoppy hazy IPA, not nearly as fruity as some that are out there...and really hit all the marks for a great New England-style…. Nicely balanced between slight floral and spicy hoppiness, a little touch of bitter but with a clean finish.
Another treat of the night was the Swiss Chocolate Stout… a medium to heavy bodied milk stout weighing in at 7.5% ABV. This one was quite delicious, with the dark coffee notes and chocolate overtones, perhaps a little creamier, which I suppose is what the ”Swiss” chocolate part was contributing. Packing a little bit more of a punch than you would normally expect in your Guinness-type stouts (which are often in the 4.5% range) but without seeming boozy. Smooth, rich and creamy, with a clean finish... this one was a joy to drink.
Between March First and FigLeaf I recently discovered two new favorite breweries in the greater Cincinnati area. Judging by the size of the Tuesday night crowd at March First I guess they're not as much of a secret as perhaps I thought they were, as the parking lot, the tables in the taproom, and the patio were all completely full... I can't imagine what their weekend crowd will look like now that covid restrictions are being lifted... BIG party!
I saw a national magazine today claim to name Cincinnati's four best breweries, and I have to say I thought that three of the four were completely off the mark. One in particular definitely has the area's largest marketing budget and that obviously gets them pretty far... but I don't think the quality of the beers are in the league with some of the other local breweries that I’m familiar with... and I would definitely put March First and FigLeaf both on my short list.
If you find yourself north of Cincinnati, about halfway to Dayton, I'd encourage you to seek out FigLeaf… and if you're a little closer to Cincinnati right on the beltway in the Blue Ash/Symmes Township area March First is also definitely worth the stop, With this sort of selection of quality pours (plus a kitchen!) you could enjoy your whole day here.
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