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Brews and 'Ques Deluxe: Weekend in Butler County (Pt. 2)

(As noted in my previous post, our trip to Butler County was sponsored by the Butler County Visitors Bureau. Our immense thanks go to them for hosting us; all opinions on the places we visited are ours alone.)

A statue of Alexander Hamilton straddles High Street in downtown Hamilton
We are already fans of the Marriott hotel chain from our previous travel experiences: we have found their service to be solid and their beds uniformly comfortable across all brands. The Butler County Visitors Bureau put us up in their Courtyard location in downtown Hamilton for the weekend, and this experience turned out to be as good as any others we've had with them.

Added bonuses include this hotel's central location for all things Butler County as well as its location right across the street from Municipal Brew Works, a place we detailed in this previous blogpost. We took our trip one week before their first anniversary celebration, but if our down moment visits during our stay are any indication (lots of foot traffic and solid brews across the board), they'll have plenty more anniversaries to celebrate.

Returning to our Butler County travels, the town of Monroe (named after this country's fifth president) may have been best known to us as home of Traders World, whose kitschy giant animal statues can be seen from the nearby interstate. More shopping has been added in the form of the Cincinnati Premium Outlets, but now craft beer seekers have a reason to pull into town with the addition of Rivertown Brewery & Barrel House.

Rivertown initially setup in the operations in Lockland, a suburb just north of Cincinnati. With operations maxed out there, the brewery announced plans for an expanded facility in Monroe that would increase their production tenfold and add in a barbecue-oriented restaurant operation. Opened up in 2017, there's not too much fancy about the new facility's exterior, but its size makes it almost impossible to miss as you're driving down Highway 63.

The high ceilings make the interior feel more vast than it probably is; even the numerous television screens scattered throughout look a bit dwarfed. The inside contains all the trappings you expect out of a brewery/restaurant combo of this size, with a long bar around the tap area, arcade machines, a gift shop, and plenty of space for a large gathering (as was the case this night with what looked to be a wedding rehearsal dinner.) Glass windows allow you to peek in to this brewery's ten barrel fermenters, which give Rivertown a capacity of up to 150,000 barrels of beer per year.

Rivertown features a from-scratch menu oriented toward barbecue dishes along with a 30-tap system of guest beers and their own brews. As far as the beer, we were fans of their Old Sour Cherry Porter previously, and the draft version didn't disappoint. One of their guest taps also impressed us in the gypsy brewer Nowhere In Particular Strawberry Creampie - strawberry beers we've tried before often have a bitter aftertaste, but the added vanilla seemed to dampen that out, leaving only the sweetness behind.

After kicking things off with a unique starter (a two part tasty affair with sweet cornbread and some tangy dill pickles), we ordered a couple of their barbecue-oriented dishes and had an overall positive experience. Our service was spot on, our sides (including the Cole Slaw and Town Fries) were fine, and the meats themselves (my spouse's Smoked Turkey and my Double Whammy featuring a quarter pound each of pulled pork and smoked brisket) were nicely juicy. The turkey we thought could have benefited from just a touch more smoky flavor, and my brisket had a couple of overly salty bits here and there, but taken as a whole, Rivertown is a place we would be glad to visit again.

When it comes down to size, Fairfield's Ohio Valley Antique Mall compares favorably to the largest around the state like Springfield's Heart of Ohio and Jeffrey's Antiques in Findlay, sporting 550 dealers of antiques and vintage memorabilia within its strip mall space along the Dixie Highway.

What Ohio Valley gives you that the others don't is a more traditional department store feel, most likely the result of the building's former life as a Van Leunens. This Cincinnati-based retail chain, which was similar to a place like Target or even the former The Andersons stores, closed down its operations in 1997; the property changed hands to the mall owners shortly afterward in 1998.

Perhaps more than the other its larger antique mall cousins in the state, Ohio Valley seemed to have a much more random feel from booth to booth, a good thing in our minds. As a vinyl record seeker, there were plenty of random vinyl record stashes to be had, and it probably may be the first time I could recall seeing genuine airplane parts dominating a particular booth.

The "Deluxe" in the title turned out to be an event I would never have found were I planning this trip myself: the Wine and Craft Beer festival in Oxford, the home of Miami University.

Held in the brick-laden Uptown area of town in side-by-side park spaces, Oxford's wine festival is now into its 11th year of existence. True to the event's name, there was plenty of wine to be had: while most of the booths had selections from both within Ohio and across the country, there were a couple of individual Ohio winery booths from Eaton's Olde Schoolhouse Vineyard & Winery and Hamilton's own Hanover Winery (we both enjoyed our wine choices from both booths.)

The craft beer aspect is relatively new for the festival, no doubt in response to the growth within the region and the state as a whole. After a dalliance with macro beer in 2016, the festival focused on local craft beers the next year, with offerings from Hamilton's Municipal Brewing as well as Rhinegeist, FigLeaf, 50 West and Dogberry Brewing. Municipal and Rhinegeist made repeat visits to the event this year, along with newcomer festival brewery participants Northern Row, Quarter Barrel, Christian Moerlein, Lock 27, as well as a contingent from the Cincy Brew Bus.

Other booths were stationed with numerous craft vendors as as well as some select food vendors. We weren't expecting to find anything too extravagant, but were pleased to find something out of the norm in Colombian food with the Cincinnati-based The Arepa Place. Their Arepona (a stuffed arepa filled with plantains, black beans, cheese, beef and chicken) and Empanadas (very similar to the version you can find at Columbus's El Arepazo locations) really hit the spot for dinner.

Throw in a pleasant night of weather, some lovely live jazz- and folk-music acts, kids enjoying the little playground and fountain area on the east side, and lots of smiles all around, and you have an event that we enjoyed immensely. Evidently, we are not alone in that assessment: Ohio Magazine listed the Oxford Wine Festival as "Best State Wine Festival" from 2014 through 2016.

Courtyard Marriott - Hamilton
1 Riverfront Plaza (Google Maps)
Hamilton, OH 45011
(513) 896-6200
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Rivertown Brewery & Barrel House
6550 Hamilton Lebanon Rd (Highway 63) (Google Maps)
Monroe, OH 45044
(513) 360-7839
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Ohio Valley Antique Mall
7285 Dixie Hwy (Google Maps)
Fairfield, OH 45014
(513) 874-7855
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Oxford Wine & Craft Beer Festival
(Sponsored by the Oxford Chamber of Commerce)
Uptown Parks (Google Maps)
Oxford, OH 45056
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