Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tales from the Underground

This past Sunday several of us gathered for the 3rd annual Misfits With Cameras Brewery Tour.  The tour, which in my opinion one of the coolest things you can do in Cincinnati, takes you deep into the history of Cincinnati’s beer brewing heritage, as well as deep under the the streets of Over-The-Rhine.  Beginning in 2006 as an event associated with the annual Bockfest event that takes place in early March, they have grown in popularity since then, and have lead to tours that are now offered on weekends throughout the summer.  Our tour guide, Steve Hampton is the Executive Director of the Over The Rhine Brewery District Community Urban Redevelopment Corp, and as he discusses the old breweries and their lagering tunnels during the tour you really feel his passion for preserving this rich heritage, equally impressive is his knowledge of the history of the breweries and of Cincinnati.

Our tour began at the Moerlein Brewing facility on Moore Street, which took us through the Bockfest Hall and into the basement of the building till we reached a skinny wooden staircase that took us underneath the building into the lagering tunnels. The lagering tunnels were often massive storage areas where fresh brewed beer was stored and refrigerated after it was brewed in the brewery.  The arched tunnels were constructed during the mid to late 1800’s, using field stone, and hanging from the ceiling were pipes that cold water flowed through to keep the beer cold.  When artificial refrigeration was introduced near the turn of the century it made the tunnels obsolete.  Over the years many of the tunnels were sealed off or used as a dump and then forgotten.  Our first tunnels under the Morelein Brewery were all of the above; dumped, sealed off, and forgotten.  Featuring 3 large tunnels, corridors, and some adjacent tunnels that are off limits, we really had a hard time believing our eyes that something this cool is in the city of Cincinnati.  We were standing in what was once an important part of the Kauffman Brewing Company.

Some old workings of the facility still remain in the cellars.

A corridor at the back of the cellars that connects the three rooms.

The middle cellar from the corridor in the previous picture.  You can see the massive debris pile near the front of the room.  Above you can see what remains of the pipes that were used to bring in the water.

A shot of the Left Tunnel from the back.  So much debris was thrown into the middle tunnel that it spilled into the ajoining tunnels.

From there we left the Kauffman Brewery and walked around the block to McMicken Ave to the Schmidt Brothers Brewery.  This is another building that the lagering tunnels are located below the basement, but the journey down is much shorter and the tunnels are much more intimate.  This is a shot of the entrance to the cellar.

Once you get to the bottom of the stairs you have to duck and you enter into this small room.  When the room was first discovered it was ceiling high with discarded toilets.  Though physical labor by volunteers enough of the debris was moved so you could at least walk across it, so they placed down some plywood and you get to walk across a three foot thick pile of porcelain.

Above the old elevator shaft is open and you can see 2 stories up.  All the toilets and debris found their way to here though this opening.

I didn’t take any photos of the lagering tunnels. They are quite small, one is completely full of debris the other is movable in, but space is limited because of groundwater seeping onto the dirt floor making it very muddy.  To the back of the tunnel is a smaller tunnel that leads beneath the street to another old brewery.  The lights in it were not on, so I didn’t get a shot, but it’s really cool when you can go down it.

Afterwards we headed to our cars and drove several blocks to W. Court Street just outside downtown.  There we learned of a brewery called Gerke.  As we stood outside and Steve described its history and showed us pictures of the brewery, we learned that where we were entering wasn’t actually the location of the brewery itself but is was where the lagering tunnels were.  By looking at the front of the building you would have never guessed what lay beneath it, and better yet, we had no idea either. When we entered the building through the alley we went into a room that had an 8 foot by 8 foot opening in the floor and in that opening was a scaffolding staircase that was two stories in height.  Behind the opening sat a 1 ton generator that was removed from the shaft, at the time the area had been first scouted out, it was hanging by a wire.  So below we went, into the depths, it was one shaky ride.

Below it seemed to be the biggest we’ve been to and it was an awesome end to a fantastic tour.  The owners that had recently bought the property found the cellars and contacted the Brewery Commitee wondering what they had and after investigation it was decided it would be on this year’s Bockfest Brewery Tour.

The bottom of the stairs.

A zoom shot of the tunnel.

Anyone who’s interested in taking a tour this Summer can follow the link provided.  That tour goes to the Clyffside and Jackson Breweries which are not featured on this tour.  I’ve been to Clyffside and it’s really cool although you can’t get into the lagering tunnels, and I’ve heard Jackson is awesome, and it has lagering tunnels.

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