Travelers passing through CVG are taking note that it's not just like every other airport.
This week, USA TODAY and its 10Best Readers’ Choice travel awards honored the new Cork ‘N Bottle outlet at CVG as the No. 3 choice nationally in its “Best Airport Shop for Local Merchandise” category.
The local merchandise in question, in this particular case, is bourbon, which is available for traveler tastings at the new location.
One month ago, CVG also saw the addition of the new Christian Moerlein Malt House Taproom, a full-service restaurant and bar highlighting one of Cincinnati’s most revered handcrafted beer traditions.
The additions have given CVG more local flavor, with bourbon booming in popularity as perhaps Kentucky’s signature export — an identity that Northern Kentucky is increasingly tapping into. Christian Moerlein is the name most closely tied to Cincinnati’s rich history as a German beer town.
Cork ‘N Bottle is, in particular, an interesting story, and a name that may surprise a number of Greater Cincinnatians who remember it historically but did not know it was still in business.
The business originally opened in 1964 with a store in west Covington, at the bottom of the first exit ramp off of I-75 after crossing the Brent Spence Bridge going south. For years, it catered to customers — many from Ohio — who were lured by cheaper prices on liquor in Kentucky. Cork ‘N Bottle bolstered that reputation with a heavy advertising presence to go along with the high visibility of their location just off the highway.
Facing financial problems, the original ownership sold in 2014. The Covington store closed, although a second location on Buttermilk Pike in Crescent Springs remained open. Prominent Cincinnati developer and investor Tom Neyer, Jr., also a serious wine enthusiast, became the new owner.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of breathing new life into (the Cork ‘N Bottle brand),” says Laine Discepoli, the company’s marketing director. “We’ve got a really strong foothold in the bourbon market, and then when we had this opportunity at CVG, we decided to see what would happen if we stuck our toe in the water there.”
The Cork ‘N Bottle space at CVG is modest at just 200 square feet in Concourse A (which is also where the new Christian Moerlein operation is located), but it is obviously drawing some attention.
The opportunity for Kentucky bourbon tastings was specifically cited in the USA TODAY description of why Cork ‘N Bottle rated as highly as it did. Tastings have also been a mainstay of the Crescent Springs site, with both wine and bourbon.
If the old image of Cork ‘N Bottle was of a high-volume, low-cost retailer, the new vision that has emerged is of an enterprise where quality is valued and enthusiasts can come and explore all the options that are available now, as well as those from the past that are treasured.
“Now that CVG keeps increasing the number of passengers each year, they were excited to have a retailer for something that is kind of a shoo-in at airports: alcohol,” Discepoli says. “So for anyone who is traveling, it’s almost thematic — you’re landing in Kentucky because you’re coming into Cincinnati for maybe a business meeting, and what is Kentucky known for? Bourbon. And it’s right there, so it really resonates.”
That point is echoed by the airport’s leadership. “We’re thrilled that both local and out-of-town travelers can experience a taste of our region when starting or ending their travels at CVG,” says Candace McGraw, chief executive officer, CVG.
The CVG location has only been open for three months, but has drawn attention with a tasting station that offers opportunities for tasting both new and antique bourbon, in addition to offering multi-sized bottles of bourbon and other spirits for sale.
While not directly affiliated with the Crescent Springs store, the Neyer family has also extended its alcohol and spirits expertise into downtown Cincinnati in the form of Corkopolis, the wine market and bar on Main Street that opened in 2016.