Craft beer cruising: BB Riverboats launches special beerfest tour – WCPO

CINCINNATI — All aboard! A special cruise is about to leave the dock as the Belle of Cincinnati celebrates Queen City craft brewers.

BB Riverboats is hosting a craft beerfest cruise on Oct. 24 that will float up and down the Ohio River.

The event will including 15 local and regional breweries. They are: Christian Moerlein, Wiedemann’s, Rhinegeist, Goodwood, Country Boy, Ei8ht Ball, MadTree, Great Lakes, West 6th, Braxton, Kentucky Ale, Bell’s, Mt. Carmel, Rivertown and Carson’s.

Each of the brewers will have up to four different beers for guests to sample and organizers expect to have up to 60 beers on tap. Each guest will get 20 sampling tickets.

INSIDER DEAL: Click here to learn how WCPO Insiders can get a special discount on the Beerfest cruise .


Josh Mehling | BB Riverboats

Launching a beerfest has long been a goal of the riverboat operators. BB Riverboats started hosting craft beer and BBQ cruises in 2012.

Until this season, the tour group only featured Christian Moerlein during the cruises.

“We do not have any draft beer, so at that time there were not a lot of packaged options in the area. Now we feature a different brewer each month. For this year we were partnered with MadTree, Christian Moerlein, Rhinegeist and Rivertown,” BB Riverboats Director of Operations Josh Mehling said. 

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After getting positive feedback from guests and brewers, BB Riverboats decided to commemorate the event with a special beerfest cruise.

The company is also planning a winter series of dinner cruises called “Brew Ho Ho.” Those will run every Saturday in December starting at 6 p.m.

“The format is similar to our summer series, each passenger tastes four beers from a local brewer, receives a souvenir tasting glass and seasonal buffet dinner,” Mehling said.

As for the beerfest cruise, Mehling said they hope to make it an annual event.

Mehling got the idea for the cruises after an industry conference in 2006.


Josh Mehling | BB Riverboats

At the time, a Sam Adams employee said craft beer was the next big thing and that if a company’s marketing revolved around macro beer, they would be wasting their money as almost all other business already carried those beers.

“Although what he said made sense, a lot of people thought he was crazy. The Midwest is also typically a few years behind in food and beverage trends so it took a few years for that to ring true in Cincinnati,” Mehling said.

Despite those issues, the idea resonated with Mehling and he watched as Christian Moerlein owner Greg Hardman revitalized the brand.

When the Moerlein Lager House got ready to open, he knew the time had come.

“We contacted the folks and Moerlein and partnered up on the craft beer and BBQ cruises. Fast forward to 2015 and the market has exploded,” Mehling said. “Now you see these great breweries popping up almost monthly it seems.”

Mehling said he wanted to showcase some of the other local breweries in our region this year. Once we found those brewers and set that schedule, he realized he needed something to cap off the season.

He said the response from the breweries has been phenomenal.

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“We’ve had several other breweries approach us about partnering for future cruises or events…We are happy to be a part of this community in that way,” Mehling said.

The collaboration has also spurred Mehling’s interest in the city’s brewing history. As Cincinnati was the home port to many steamboat builders and boats, the city naturally would have seen a lot of beer making its way up and down the Ohio River.

The company plans to investigate that aspect of riverboat culture and more hopefully provide more content to their historical sightseeing cruises.

In the meantime, business has been so good that BB Riverboats expanded the tours. The tours traditionally run from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but have been extended to run through the end of September.

“This has gone over very well and I think it is safe to say we will repeat that schedule for next season,” Mehling said.

The group plans on making the beerfest an annual event and hopes to include more local and regional brewers in the regular tours in 2016.

Event details

The big event will also feature live music from the Big Whiskey band, as well as vendors from the beer industry such as Paradise Brewing Supplies, American Legacy Tours and The Brewery Collectors Club of America.

Boarding on Oct. 24 will start at 7:30 p.m. for VIP ticket holders. General admission boarding starts at 8 p.m.

The tour will set sail at 9 p.m. and return to