Friday, March 20, 2015

Building a Beer Cave

 When you study beer caves you soon learn to detect various "types", various methods of construction.

The ideal set up of course would be a cliff with a natural cavern that you can simply expand and move into.  Next best would be an area of what is called "St. Peter sandstone", a type of stone that can be easily worked but which becomes quite solid once exposed to air for a while.

But what to do if you are starting a brewery where there is no handy cliff face?  My special fascination is with the smaller breweries, the "also rans" that sprang up in little towns across the Midwest.  Deep in a text regarding the history of one of them I found a discussion of how to build a beer cave, or cellar if you prefer, in uncongenial settings.

 Making Brew Cellars
 ...The earth in the selected location was usually excavated down several feet to where the dome of the cellar would start.
...Then the earth would be dug/scraped away in the form of a dome,over which carefully shaped limestone blocks would be fitted together, using the earthen dome as a form.
...At the top of the dome carefully fitted keystone blocks were put in place to form a self supporting structure.  
...Earth was then packed tightly on top of the limestone dome to the desired depth. 
...The earthen ‘form’ inside the limestone dome was then removed.
...End walls and doors were built.
...Limestone mortar was sometimes utilized but in general the limestone blocks of the cellars dome were shaped so accurately that they were self supporting and mortar not needed or used.
...Not only brew cellars were made in this fashion but merchant and home cold storage cellars were constructed by some settlers, as were bridges and culverts

This perfectly describes a number of "caves" I have seen in my wanderings.  Here are some examples:

Sometimes bricks, sometimes limestone blocks.  Sometimes it was the entire structure, other times just the entryway.  These "beer cellars" were not always the ideal solution for a small brewer, but did serve as the best available option in many places.  I suspect that most of them did not provide ideal temperature control even when stocked with ice from local lakes.

Since these were clearly less durable than solid rock caves they are harder to find and are easily destroyed by later building.  I think that in cases where a brewery existed and no traces at all of a cave are to be found, that this sort of thing is what was once present.

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