Thank God for beer.
It’s my way of keeping,
my mind fresh and clear —
These are the words to a song my cousin Vance wrote and produced in the 80’s for Cincinnati radio’s WEBN song contest. He was one of the winners, not surprisingly. Because if there’s one thing Cincinnatians love (besides pigs), it’s beer.
We are a town built on German heritage and a large part of that heritage revolves around lager. German lager. Hearty, substantial, Deutsch-born lager. In addition to the pork industry, Cincinnati was a brewing giant in America, with 32 breweries in the city, employing 30-40,000 people in what’s known as Over-the-Rhine. Even the name Over-the-Rhine (which yes-inspired the name of the band) was named so because of beer. The area got its name because some local residents said that crossing over the area canals into the brewery district was like crossing the Rhine River into Germany.
I knew some of this from growing up in Cincinnati, but learned even more when I took American Legacy Tours’ Underground Cincinnati tour. I had no idea that there were approximately 100 beer tunnels beneath the streets I’d walked on all my life. I was dying to go down and see one for myself.
They looked much like the bomb shelter I explored in Manchester, England; the same shape and atmosphere. But the tunnels beneath Cincinnati weren’t used to save lives. They were used to make and store beer. Or maybe they were used to save lives — a German beer city needed its beer. We thrived on it and eventually suffered as the breweries came under attack during Prohibition. That terrible time in history nearly brought Cincinnati to its knees.
We weren’t just beer brewers; we were beer drinkers! An estimated 40-gallons-per-man-woman-and-child-kind-of-drinkers. Making that illegal had to hurt.
And it did.
Long established breweries such as Christian Moerlein, Muhlhauser, and Burger Beer suffered. Others switched to root beer to stay afloat. Some, like Hudepohl and Little Kings, did eventually survive. Cincinnatians are as hearty as their beer.
Now there’s a resurgence in Cincinnati brews. Christian Moerlein just opened again in downtown Cincinnati. Other breweries plan to come back. We’re celebrating our heritage and resurrecting it again. If you’re in Cincinnati and you take the Underground Tour, I’d definitely plan to make a stop afterward to taste the beer. According to my cousin, it keeps the “mind fresh and clear.” And keeps Cincinnati breweries in business. 🙂