Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Breweries Beneath the City Streets


There's no doubt that the city of Cincinnati has a rich and colorful history. The Federal government almost moved the capital here once, we're home to the first professional baseball team, Jerry Springer was once our mayor and the list could go on and on. One aspect of local culture and history that most seem to overlook though is beer!

Yes, beer. Good beer too! Not that watered down nonsense from St. Louis. I'm talking good, dark, rich beer. Beer worth shelling out a couple of extra bucks for. While Prohibition killed off the majority of Cincinnati breweries, local beers have made a comeback in recent years. The steady return of "Hudy," "Little Kings" and "Christian Moerlin" has gone from obscure selections on local shelves to a reborn local icon. Since 1992, Cincinnatians have gathered to celebrate the beginning of Spring and their brewing history. They do it in the heart of the city: Over-The-Rhine. They do it at Bockfest.

Along with Bockfest comes the OTR Brewery District's Prohibition Resistance Tours. It's a chance to see what remains of the many breweries that dominated the cities core. The adventure begins at Bockfest Hall before heading underground.


Beneath Cincinnati's streets, there's a lot of history: cobblestones, streetcar tracks, foundations of old houses and even our abandoned subway tunnels. Add to that list: the many lagering cellars of breweries that needed to keep their beer cool in the days before modern refrigeration. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to preview and check out a few of the stops that would be on the tour (the Crown and Kauffman breweries). This past weekend, I attended it with my Dad and some of his friends as part of our yearly tradition of going to Bockfest.

- The tour group lines up in the cellars of the former Crown Brewery.

Like any good weekend that revolves around celebrating beer, it should begin with beer, and indeed it did - with some shots of bourbon too. Not only did this spring mark 20 years of Bockfest, but the Moerlin Lager House opened up - a new brewpup on the Cincinnati riverfront centered around the local (and wonderful) Moerlin brand. On Friday night Ryan Texas Ranger, Lester, The Bear and myself joined the crowd at the Lager House. It's not a cheap place, but it's certainly reasonable. The service, view and architecture are beautiful while the beer on tap is great too. The next morning, still reeling a little bit from our night at the Lager House, I met up with my dad and friends at Bockfest Hall to await the start of our tour. We were lucky to have an excellent tour guide: Julie from The Betts House! Julie has been kind enough to feature some of my work at her gallery in the past and you should hear some news about a new exhibition soon.

We walked from Bockfest Hall to the former Crown Brewery first. Entering through the garage, you descend stairs into the stone tunnels below and can see the lagering cellars before traversing through a tunnel beneath the street to another building.

Note: While I did bring a tripod for the camera, the crowd and pace of the tour made it impractical to use. The photos are somewhat low quality, but it is what it is.








From The Crown, we then boarded a bus for the trek to Court St.


This brewery was a new stop on the tour. I had photographed the other tour stops before, but wasn't sure what to expect from this one. To be honest, I can't for the life of me remember what the name of this brewery originally was (if you know, leave a comment below so I can add the proper info). We walked in through a door off the alleyway.


Inside we were greeted by Mr. Kauffman himself, we'd be checking out his brewery later. While the impersonator was good, the real treat was behind the curtain.


A 40 ft. scaffolding staircase descended into the depths below.



The temporary metal stairs were retrofitted into an elevator shaft, the mechanical remains of which could be found on the floor.


The first photo of this article and the one below show the extravagance of this underground structure.


- One of the friendly guides poses for a photo.

Honestly, this one underground structure could've been a tour in itself. Just when you think you've seen it all - some good folks show you hidden tunnels forty feet beneath the streets.

We hopped back on the tour bus and back to OTR to see the final stop: the Kauffman Brewery.






Ascending back up the stairs from the Kauffman, we were lead through another tunnel, different from where we had entered. July bid the group a goodbye and received a very deserving round of applause.


Exiting the tunnel, you find yourself back where you started: Bockfest Hall.


With beers in hand, live music echoes throughout and good times are had.


For us, the adventure didn't end there. We decided to grab dinner at Washington Platform. I'm not sure if the Bockfest Shuttle actually exists, but after walking to the Platform in the cold, we didn't mind waiting for a table.


WP's food alone is worth waiting for, but what makes that wait even better?

The server offering your free tours of the restaurant's underground lagering cellars.


Yep, Washington Platform featured underground history as well. Once again, just when you think you've seen it all...




- Looking up one of the tunnel shafts you can see old bottles buried in the ground.


Nothing like celebrating Cincinnati history with the camera, good beer and adventure.


  1. The brewery tunnels and history under Cincinnati are phenomenal. I had no idea that Washington Platform had cellaring tunnels as well!

    If only Hudy, Little Kings and Moerlein were actually local beers. Too bad they are brewed in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, so they are really only Cincinnati beers by name. Even so, it would help if the owner cared about the quality and flavor of the beer, but once again the brand falls short there too...

  2. The lagering cellars under the building on Court Street belonged to the Gerke Brewery, which sat formerly on the corner of Plum & Central Pkwy, where the Turner building is today. Apparently, they used to roll the barrels down the alley to the back on the Court St building and the elevator took them down to the cellars.

  3. Great photos! Really wish we could have gone on the tour this year.

  4. I think I was in one of these tunnels under a place I worked at in the seventies called Cincinnati Metal Blast. I think we went down about two or three levels to the tunnels. Metal Blast was supposedly a Winery in the past. The building still stands at the south end of Mohawk street one block east of McMiken steet.

    1. My father work for Cincinnati metal blast for over twenty years,he use to tell stories of those tunnels. His name was Robert thomas meyer

    2. are you kidding me Tom was the greatest guy I think I ever met. he worked with me and a guy named judd who had a stroke and I help him till this day.Tom taught me a lot of my machining skills but I moved on to GE then Aerobraze and now Bodycote. I remember him talking about a son but never met you. by the way my name is Tom LaMott and they gave me a nick name at Metalblast it was Pete because Bill Steinman couldn't have two guys working for him named tom which is what your dad went by at work. call me if you want to talk 235-5162

    3. The name of the brewery you went to later on with the scaffolding stairs is called the Gerke Brewery, although the beer wasn't actually brewed at that location, in fact, the beer was brewed across the street then transported for storage to that sub-basement to stay cool and ferment.