Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Clyffside and Kauffman Breweries

- The former Clyffside Brewery on West McMicken.

Steve had been kind enough to invite us along for more secret tunnels and forgotten breweries. A couple weeks ago he let me tag along while he and a group of volunteers worked on preparing the former Crown Brewery for this years Prohibition Resistance Tour. This week, Seicer and I were meeting up with him and his crew outside the former Clyffside Brewery in the heart of Over-The-Rhine.

We were joined by Steve Hampton, the guy working hard to organize the tour and a really cool group of volunteers whom he and his staff were training to give tours. Steve and his guys were kind enough to give us free roam of the building and show us around.

- One of the brewery's main rooms.

The Clyffside Brewery had originated as the Hamilton Brewery in 1846. It was established as the Clyffside in 1933 and was finally used as the headquarters for the Red Top Brewing Company from 1945 until they ceased operations in 1957. In the 1990's it served as "illegal housing," as in the owner had renovated part of the building into lofts and residential units, but didn't really have permits to do so. In 2008 it was announced that the building would undergo $3 million worth of renovations to be turned into a 19 unit residential building. The project has since stalled.

- One of the Clyffside's rooms modified with makeshift residential lofts and graffiti.

Despite the alterations made since the building ceased being a brewery, many hints and features can be found in the construction details. From the decorative brickwork outside, to the details on all the pillars and supports, even down to the barrels found in the railings:

- Barrels worked into the design of the hand rails.

Remains of belt fed machinery could still be found throughout the building as we crossed and climbed over it's wooden floors and ladders.

By far, the building's most impressive architectural feature though its its cupola on the top floor.

- Panoramic view of the top floor and cupola.

The top floor also features a beautiful view of the surrounding OTR neighborhood.

With the help of a guide, we ventured down into the brewery's basement where just like the Crown Brewery down the street, there were cellars for storing the products. These cellars though, had been graffitied over by former residents.

- The Clyffside Cellars.

If you attend this years Prohibition Resistance Tour, you'll get to see everything you just saw above, except the Jimi Hendrix/Yellow Submarine cellars. Don't worry though, because what you're about to see (and what you will get to see on the tour) more than makes up for it at the Kauffman Brewery.

Nearby, down Vine Street, the former Kauffman Brewery displays a banner bearing the building's new name: "The Guild Haus." While the upper floors of the building have been renovated into swanky, new apartments...

- Photograph of the renovated upper floors. Image courtesy of City Center Properties.

...while the lower floors contain a historical secret:

When the Kauffman Brewery switched from storing its beer in cold cellars beneath the ground to mechanized refrigeration, the basement floor was cemented over, sealing the cellars below. When the building was renovated, the floor again had to be raised and cemented over to accommodate the elevator. As seen in the above photo, a jack hammer had to be utilized to access the cellars and tunnels hidden below.

After navigating the narrow stairs into what seemed like an archeological excavation site we were beneath the city streets in one of three massive lagering cellars.

Over the years, trash and debris had fallen and been thrown through vents at the street level. As seen in the above photo, the debris has piled up like a mountain to the tiny hole in the ceiling.

- The tunnel running beneath Hamer St.

Beneath Hamer street, a tunnel running to more lagering cellars has also filled with debris from the street above. Over time, asphalt and bricks that had once been used to pave the road were just carelessly tossed down the old brewery vents, instead of being properly disposed of. The basement floor is littered with bricks that used to once dot the cobblestone streets of OTR.

The Kauffman Brewing company was founded in 1863, while the building seen here was constructed in 1886.

- Another lagering cellar beneath the Kauffman Brewery/Guildhaus Building.

The amount of history hidden beneath the city streets and behind the industrial facades of Over-The-Rhine is astounding. Through the work of people like Steve and the OTR Brewery District, this forgotten history is being preserved and shared with others. As Cincinnati works towards reclaiming a small portion of its brewing traditions through the re-launch of the Hudepohl and Burger brands, as well as the opening of the Moerlin Lager House, this proud brewing tradition can be celebrated at this years Bockfest.

For more abandoned breweries from Cincinnati's past, check out the Crown and Hudepohl Breweries.


  1. amazing how much dirt and debris will collect after 150 yrs or so.
    Great pictures.

  2. Niiiiice! Awesome coverage of the forgotten breweries. Steve Hampton and crew have been putting in a lot of sweat equity on those old buildings and tunnels.

    This is my second year volunteering at Bockfest, the best celebration around! I'll be leading tours this year, and we are all sold out so I am, sure I will see many of you there.

    Several volunteers are still needed, so I encourage anyone who is interested in getting involved take advantage of the opportunity to uphold and make new Cincinnati history.
    Happy Bockfest to all!


  3. We live in the Guildhaus and I had the pleasure of seeing the sub-basements about seven years ago, before they were open for tours and before any lighting/stairways were installed. It was a bit more mysterious and exciting then, involving all sorts of rickety ladders and headlamps.

    And please don't assume that the building has ANY "swanky" apartments. Ours used to be quite un-swanky, in fact. But, that's a whole different story...

    Oh! And!
    It's awesome that folks get to experience a bit of history by exploring the nether-regions of our building but folks might be interested to know that our landlord doesn't even have the decency to warn us that people will be in our building, let alone that dozens of strangers will be walking past the wall next to my napping son's crib. (We live on the first floor.) Two years ago, we were surprised one Saturday afternoon to find about 25 people wandering about outside our apartment door. It was a little weird.

    That said, we're happy to have ya'll and next time you're here, say "hi."


  4. Very interesting! I came across this site because I have an old Felsenbrau/Clyffside Brewing serving tray. Can't remember how I got it, might have been a gift, but really neat to know the history.