Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Mystery and Danger Part One !

Well, a little of each.

Today some small town brewery caves that I explored with one of my Mole Buddies, Dodge.  I am afraid I shall have to invoke the "no locations" rule for reasons that will become evident. These caves appear to be on public land and there is nothing stopping the careless from getting themselves into trouble...

Our first cave is a curiosity.  It is a two level cave.  Some of the really big breweries had multi-level caves of necessity.  They just had an awful lot of beer to store.  A few smaller establishments seemed to favor a design where three caves would be dug in parallel, with the central one being a bit higher up. My theory is that the central cave would be filled with ice, and since cold air goes down cross channels would keep the beer in the laterals cold.  It would avoid the awkwardness of manhandling two distinct and difficult classes of objects - kegs and block ice - in the same cramped space.

But my theory did not apply to our first caves.  They were up on a cliff face.  The lower entrance was sealed, but a second one about 8 feet higher up and 10 feet over was accessible. This gave us entry to a very small cave.  Too small for beer storage really.  It had some odd features;

A partial brick wall that only went half way across the space.  No use I could see.

This does not show it well, but at the back of the cave was a place where some crude stonework had been broken into, exposing a shaft going down to a lower level cave.  And when you looked up:

A vent in the roof with a large ceramic pipe hanging rather precariously.  The pipe looks to be original equipment, why would anybody replace it after the brewery went out of business in the 1880s?  The site of the vent can still be seen in a dimple further up the hillside, but the channel is choked with roots and dirt that have washed in over the years.

Dodge volunteered to chimney climb down the shaft into the lower cave.  Taking a picture upwards you can see the vent pipe.

The lower cave was clearly where the beer was stored.  A nice space with some attractive limestone coloration.  Also some unfortunate graffiti and a lot of beer bottles.

Dodge shinnied back up the connecting passage with a little difficulty, it is about a six foot drop and a 10 foot climb.  I was sorely tempted to go down myself, so I did a little quick math on his age and mine.

"Hey, do you see yourself doing that kind of climb 32 years from now?"


So I decided to stay up top.  Thanks for the photos and the advice, Dodge.

The mystery here is what the upper cave was for.  Somebody went to some trouble to excavate a space that really had no storage usefulness.  My thoughts are that these caves were probably natural ones that were expanded.  The lower one was closer to the brewery and was enlarged and squared off for storage.  The connecting passage was probably natural, it shows signs of being expanded here and there but was not heavily tooled.  The upper cave may have been dug, or more likely expanded, simply to allow access for putting in that vent pipe.

Beer needs to be cold.  Looking at that passage between upper and lower caves I can tell you for sure, kegs did not traverse it.  Nor did workers with any regularity.  Nope, air flow and nothing more.

Our adventures for the day were not done, but that can wait until next time.

Happily enjoying a beer with my intact ankles propped up.....

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