Digging for a cold one: Brewery returns St. Louis lagering tradition to Cherokee Street
St. Louis beer drinkers will soon be able to toast the return of a cherished brewery tradition.
Earthbound Brewery is moving into a 150-year-old building that once housed a brewery built above a natural cave system along Cherokee Street. Recently, workers hauled 600 tons of debris from one cellar beneath the old building. It took 20 people and $40,000 to complete the job, said Stuart Keating, the owner of the microbrewery.
Earthbound Brewery's new taproom is scheduled to open this month.
“We spent a month digging out the clay and limestone and rock,” Keating said. “[We used] shovels and wheelbarrows and pickaxes and a conveyer belt that we just beat the absolute crap out of.”
Natural cold storage
The brewhouse between Iowa and Ohio avenues spanned several buildings erected above a series of caves.
Underground areas provided a natural site for cold storage, said Andrew Weil, executive director of St. Louis’ Landmarks preservation association.
“The caves functioned as refrigeration,” Weil said. “They would fill the caves with ice from the river in the wintertime and it would keep the temperature suitable for brewing lager-style beer.”
The cave-cellar method was common among St. Louis’ pre-Prohibition breweries. Anheuser-Busch and Lemp Brewery still use their original, but updated,underground facilities. But this type of storage will be unique among St. Louis’ dozens of craft breweries and microbreweries.
“It’s the only one I know of,” Weil said.
‘Expedient waste disposal’
The cellar that Earthbound will use — 25 feet below the street — is one of several spaces beneath the building on that same level. Beneath that layer, are more caverns that plunge 40 feet below street level.
But how did the former beer-storage areas wind up with all that debris?
“It was just expedient waste disposal,” Weil said.
The waste came from renovations that took place in the 20th century.
“If you want to knock over the other buildings ... you just dump it all into the holes so you don’t have to dispose of it somewhere else,” Weil said.
The collection of excavated debris includes glass, brick and pieces of animal bones, Keating said.
When open, Earthbound will offer beer, wine and several varieties of hot dogs. The establishment doesn’t have far to go from its original Cherokee Street tap room and brewery — only three doors down.
Keating is excited about returning the space to its historic use.
“From my perspective, it’s really cool,” Keating said.
The brewery leases the building from local real estate developer Will Liebermann.
If all goes well, Keating has plans beyond the beer and brats.
“We’d like to turn the sub-basement into an arthouse movie theater,” Keating said.
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