19th-Century Brewing in Cincinnati, Ohio

​As a local district heritage chair, it just doesn’t get any better than this!

I recently experienced total immersion into brewing history.…right in my own backyard. The weekend of September 22, my wife and I drove the two hours to Cincinnati, Ohio, from our home city of Columbus. This trip was made for the sole purpose of touring some of the unique, 19th-century, still-standing breweries, their turn-of-the-century lagering cellars, and connecting tunnels!  

Our tour was organized by the Over-the-Rhine Brewery District Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation, a nonprofit Cincinnati organization committed to preserving this 360-acre, 19th-century neighborhood. In the mid-19th century, 18 of the 36 existing breweries in Greater Cincinnati were located in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. During the mid-1800s, the Miami & Erie Canal snaked its way through the center of the neighborhood, reminding the overwhelmingly German immigrant population who located there of their hilly homeland and its Rhine River. It was they who dubbed the neighborhood “Over-the-Rhine” (OTR). Most of the buildings in OTR date from the mid-1850s to about 1900 and still reflect everyday life in this German community. Its Brewery District was the very epicenter of Cincinnati’s rich beer-brewing history. As the OTR Brewery District website says:
“Today, the large number of Romanesque brewery and industrial structures sits amid the largest collection of Italianate architecture anywhere, befitting one of the most unique urban neighborhoods in the country.” (www.otrbrewerydistrict.org)
The newly discovered fermentation cellars of the Gerke Brewery.
Our tour was called the Marzen Tour. It included visits to the Gerke, Jackson, and Hudepohl Breweries. At the Gerke Brewery, we descended a steep stairway, down 40 feet under the street, into Gerke’s recently discovered fermentation cellars and connecting tunnels. There, and at each location, volunteers introduced the background of the brewery and shared insights as to what the heritage tourists were experiencing.
The mosaic floor at the entry to the Hudepohl Brewing Company.
The Marzen Tour appeared to be a huge success, with multiple tours leaving every half-hour. It was no accident that it was timed to coincide with the fabulous Cincinnati Oktoberfest celebration! From the vantage point of a district heritage chair, it was great fun! And, it was especially wonderful to see, first hand, the efforts of the OTR Brewery District working diligently to save these historic brewing structures and to repopulate their neighborhood with heritage tourism visitors, full-time residents, businesses, and even festivals.
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