Monday, August 15, 2016

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Mineral Point Wisconsin

Long post today with lots of pictures.  It is rare to get an opportunity to study a brewery cave complex in this detail.  But at Mineral Point we had a very well preserved historic brewery and a very gracious hostess.

This is "The Brewery Pottery" run by Tom and Diana Johnston.  They have done a fabulous job renovating a brewery built in 1850.  It is now their home, shop and pottery studio.  I am a bit biased but consider their artistic handiwork to be very nice stuff, well suited for gifts on any occasion when your spousal account might be drifting into the debit range.

This picture was taken while standing on top of a (covered) cistern.  It is continuously filled by natural springs on the site.  When a previous owner was curious about how much water it held he had the Mineral Point Fire Department come and hook up a pumper truck.  After an hour of continuous pumping the water level had gone down by two inches.

The springs in fact allow for streams of cold water to run right through the basement and associated storage caves.  We visited on a blistering hot July day but the inside of the brewery was nice and cool with only the assistance of a single window mounted air conditioner.  Great engineering from before the Civil War.

This is where the brew kettles once stood.  Now it is the main display gallery.

Their kiln is now set up in what was the boiler room back in the day.  Only very small and very early breweries could do things all by hand and horse power.  Most would have some sort of steam powered pumps.

Before we start exploring below ground a bit of history.

The brewery was built in 1850 at a cost of $4,000.  Until the end of the 19th Century it was run by a family called Gillman and was called The Wisconsin Brewery.  In 1878 after being damaged by a tornado the brewery was extensively repaired and also renamed: The Tornado Brewery.

It changed hands a couple of times near the turn of the century and suffered severe damage again in a 1902 fire.  Fortunately the beer stored down below was saved.  

The business was rebuilt and continued to be run competently, surviving Prohibition and finally brewing its last batch in 1961.

Later uses have been eclectic. It was a weaver's studio and weaving museum for a time.  A winery leased it for a while.  The Johnstons have been there since 1991.

Ok, now for the cellars.  Here's the doorway from the world of Art to the catacombs below.

Various calamaties aside the basic structure of the brewery is unchanged by time.  Here in the basement is the door to the Racking Room.  My photos of the inside were defeated by stark flourescent lighting.  But this was simply a large brick room where beer was put into kegs after it finished fermenting on the floor above.

From the back of the Racking Room you go into the aging cellars.  Here is the first one.  It has cool water running through it.  Another chamber lies beyond but there was no light back there.  

Here is a side passage leading to a smaller Cellar.  The sign is left over from when the Johnstons did Haunted House events in the caves!

This side cellar is designated "B".  It has another entrance outside the Racking Room door.

Oddly the Stock Cellar, or "E" is on the same floor as the brewing area.  This is still sort of underground as it is partially built into the hillside. So it is not as cold as down below but is just right for secondary fermentation, the stage between initial brewing and the long term "lagering" or aging.

The great thing about this brewery is that so much of the original design is still there.  In the Stock Cellar there is thick cork insulation on the walls to help control the temperature.

One last stop in the area once used for bottling.  This "Bottling Cellar" only held a keg or two at a time.  This was the beer that had been pulled out of the cellars to get it ready for bottling. The area is not accessable now.  Something about bats if I recall correctly.

A fascinating visit.  Kudos to the Johnstons for keeping this historic building in such great shape.  As always I forget to ask enough questions and never take quite enough pictures.  I am for instance trying to puzzle out the lettering system for the Cellars.  It does not quite follow the route of the beer from vat to bottle.

Let's see.  Racking Room is A.  The side cellar is B.  That should make the main cellar C.  Is the area beyond and out of sight D?  The Stock Cellar is E.  The Bottling Cellar I guess does not get a letter.

More things to learn.  Always more things to learn.

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