Me and my family in the tunnels and lager cellars two stories below Vine Street at the Kaufmann Brewery.
Cincinnati is not unique in having a legacy of German breweries. We were part of what was called the German triangle – the cities of Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Cincinnati – cities where concentrations of Germanic immigrants settled. As a result, these cities had a prevalence of German breweries. Cincinnati is, however, unique in the number of breweries we had, and that many of their pre Prohibition remnants are still in tact. The recently opened interactive Cincinnati Brewing Heritage Trail highlights this.
My first beerlunking excursion in the Kaufmann tunnels in 2010.
Probably the coolest factor of our brewing heritage is that Cincinnati is the ONLY city in the United States that allows the public to tour the lager tunnels dug in some cases two stories under the street, and some over 150 years ago by these German breweries.
Beerlunking in the old Kotte Brewery lager cellars on McMicken Avenue.
I call this type of touring Beerlunking and I am a seasoned Cincinnati Beerlunker. It’s like spelunking in caves, only the participants explore the man-made lager cellars and tunnels of our city’s pre-Prohibition breweries. It can be perilous, with narrow passage ways and steep climbs, wet, muddy, and claustrophobic. But it’s some of the coolest exploration I’ve done.
Me as Cincinnati brewer Frank Linck in the Schmidt Brothers lager cellars two stories below McMicken Avenue.
I’ve had the opportunity to explore four of these tunnels in the last 10 years. My first was in the Kaufmann Brewery tunnels below Vine Street underneath what was once their brewery. I spoke during Bockfest in 2017 in the beer tunnels below what’s now the Moerlein taproom and was once the Kaufmann Malthouse. This year I’ve explored the Kotte lager tunnels behind the Hudepohl Bottling Plant, and just recently descended two stories below McMicken into the old Schmidt Brothers Crown Brewery lager cellars.
Bockfest’s 2017 Heritage Program in the Kaufmann lagering cellars below Moerlein’s Tap Room.
We can thank a lot of these tunnels for a weird pre Prohibition Ohio law that prevented brewing and bottling at the same facility. So many tunnels connected the bottling plant to the brewery, as well as being storage for lagering brewed beer. In the early days while Over-the-Rhine was being built, breweries would offer to dig foundations for new houses if the owner would allow them to build lager cellars with access to the brewer.
As a result, there continue to be new lager cellars discovered as old properties in Over-the-Rhine are restored. There are hundreds of miles of tunnels and cellars in Cincinnati left to be discovered. Because carbon dioxide is a byproduct of beer fermentation and needs to be vented, street side vents in old buildings are clues that a lager cellar exists below its foundation.
Hopefully there will be a map created of the Cincinnati lager cellars known to exist. Maybe there will even be a Certified Cincinnati Beerlunker designation created by one of the tour companies or the Brewery District with special beer benefits to the cardholder. I of course, will continue to beerlunk the tunnels and cellars as they are discovered and revel in Cincinnati’s unique beer underground.