Cincinnati’s Old Brewery Tunnels

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Welcome to the Queen of Beers – Cincinnati! In the 1800s, Ohio was part of the Northwest Territory, and Cincinnati was called the Queen of the West. By the end of the Nineteenth Century, the bustling river town was considered by many as the Beer Capital because of the high ratio of beer manufactured to the number of citizens. Most of which were clustered in the Over-The-Rhine neighborhood.

Over-The-Rhine was heavily populated by German immigrants. They drew a comparison from the Miami and Erie Canal to the River Rhine back in the old country. Breweries galore popped up in the area, rivaling the production anywhere in the country before Prohibition. It was a time before mechanical refrigeration chilled the industry at large. So, to keep brew cool, tunnels and caverns were dug deep enough beneath the city streets that an underworld mushroomed. These were the original beer caves!

When modernization rendered the elaborate labyrinth obsolete, there was no practical use for the tunnel system. It was buried and largely forgotten. As old streets were torn up and old buildings were torn down, the crushed brick and concrete pieces were brushed into the vent and drainage systems to fall into the idle caverns below.

Many decades later, like archaeologists excavating a lost city, these tunnels and caverns were slowly chiseled out and cleared. And then, tours took people into the depths to rediscover Cincinnati’s drunk history. In one cavern with a ceiling height of 20 or more feet, a pyramid of rubble starts at a point near street level by a tiny drain hole and expands to a base nearly the width of the room.

Tours today offer a fantastic look at the massive subterranean cellars lost to time. Along the way, a guide will share the tales of the beer barons, brew masters, and the workers who made it all happen. Above-ground stops feature the architecture of some of the historic brewery facades sitting like time capsules. These include Christian Moerlein sites, Rhinegeist Brewery, the Sohn/Mohawk Brewery, Lafayette Hudepohl and Kaufman structures, and Jackson Brewery.

Tourgoers should bring comfortable walking shoes, expectations of tight steep staircases, and a light jacket for the chillier depths. Admission usually includes a pint of local beer or a soft drink at a neighborhood taproom.

Plan your subterranean adventure through Cincinnati Brewing Heritage Trail at brewingheritagetrail.org/tours.

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun

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