Friday, March 29, 2013

The Casanova Caves - Maddening Questions!

My visit to the Casanova caves has me asking all sorts of questions.

I had thought that an arrangement of three doors might indicate a central tunnel for ice that would cool side tunnels full of beer kegs. the Casanova caves there is no connection at all between the center and right hand caves.  Were they dug at different times?

The Casanova caves had a round hole in the ceiling.  My photo of it was spoiled by a fluorescent light fixture but I have seen several similar structures and this photo from the Chippewa Falls cave is pretty much identical.  Now, you hear stories that these round holes were used to lower kegs down from above.  But in this case the brewery was clearly on a level with the cave...and the top of the bluff appears to be vacant in the old photos. The owner said that he had heard this was a vent hole.  I guess it makes sense, you want caves to keep cool and warm air rises. Besides, breweries back in the day were pretty much all using kegs too big to fit through a hole this size.  Vents it shall be.  If these are indeed as common as they appear to be they would seem to be great clues in future hunts.

By the way, what exactly were the Casanova brothers doing in these caves?  By the time they bought the place in 1896 caves were obsolete.  Mechanical refrigeration was cheap and probably more sanitary.  Were they a "low budget" outfit that could not afford the machinery? Or did they use the caves for purposes other than ageing lager?  There are interesting hints to be seen in a series of historic photos inside the Casanova liquor store. I apologize for the quality, things under glass just will not photograph cleanly.

This is one of the Casanova brothers, clearly standing in the cave.  But what is he standing in? As best I can tell this is a big pile of hops! (seems to be stuff too big to be barley grains, but see below)   The wall on the right hand side of the photo does not have a clear analog in the visible cave system so it should be in the abandoned branch.  But really, storing hops on a cave floor? Seems damp and a good place for rolly polly bugs!

Another wretched quality photo with a fluorescent light bar across the middle.  But it appears to show a worker actually kegging beer in the cave.  I had always assumed that beer was kegged elsewhere, and with as little transfer as possible.  This is a very sanitation sensitive step in making good beer.  Piping it into a cavern for a guy to hand keg seems pretty crude. The floor looks dark and sticky.  There is some smudge of white powder on his sleeve.  In this instance we can pick out the exact spot the photo was taken.  This mechanism is supported by a big square post projecting out of the wall. That spot today:

I have never heard of anyone kegging or bottling beer inside the cave before.  Here is another picture, probably in the cave but perhaps inside the basement of the brewery:

Why do you need a furnace/boiler inside a cave?  You want it to stay cool!  I am leaning towards a location in the caves because the wall adjacent to the boiler looks to me to be a little bit curved.  Was it at this spot?

If so the boiler has been removed and the archway widened.  That would seem like a lot of work.

Note the smooth floors by the way.  In the category of a lot of work, someone presumably has poured flat cement floors here.

One final mystery.  Across the road is the brew master's house.

Very nice.  Italianate architecture.  Late 1860s to circa 1870.  And it has its own cave down in the basement!


Addendum:  I have happened across a fire map of the brewery and the associated caves. It appears to show the now sealed cave as a cruder excavation labeled as "malt cellar". This fits the above picture and explains why there is not a connection to the two later(?) tunnels.  The tunnels have been altered since this Yoerg era map, with two cross passages and the brick room near the back...

I may have hinted at potential quality issues regarding the beer made by the Casanova brothers.  Gents, my apologies.  I see on the far right of the map that your predecessor Mr. Yoerg kept hogs right next to the ice house!

1 comment:

Edwin Boyd said...

You cleared up a misconception I had about this brewery. An online post I read a while back stated that this brewery was built by the same Yoerg that built the more famous brewery in St Paul. Thank you for your research. It's one less piece of misinformation rattling around in my head. Your posts are fascinating and well written. Keep up the good work