This past Friday evening I was lucky enough to be part of a group that was able to tour the Iowa City beer caves. Need to give special thanks to Chad Young of Big Grove for giving me the opportunity to go and also Nate Kaeding for setting up the tour.
The tour started in the Brewery Square building right across the street from High Grounds Coffee shop in Iowa City, which is now a La James hair salon. Now, you can’t just head to the building and expect to give yourself you’re own tour, so don’t show up unless you want your hair done or nice little massage.
I don’t want to try to attempt a history lesson like Marlin Ingalls gave us about the history of the caves, but a little background on these caves that I gathered from our tour guide, Mr. Ingalls, says that there were 3 breweries between East Market and Linn Streets with the Union Brewery, now Brewery Square, is still there. According to Mr. Ingalls, the tunnels were constructed using limestone slabs in a stone box method.
As we made our way to caves, our first obstacle was the 25 foot climb down a rickety-ass ladder. I’m not huge fan of heights and just the initial task of getting a strong foothold and grasping of old stone was a challenge for me. I may have been shaking just a tad but I finally made it down. As Mr. Ingalls said, it’s one thing to talk about these tunnels and to look at the 3D map of them, but to actually see them in person, and be down in spot where brewers were making their beer was just a terrific experience and seeing the history of brewing in Iowa City is something I’ll never forget.
There were a few spots where there was accumulating water and Mr. Ingalls believes this water was used to float the kegs/barrels down and made transferring of the heavy barrels a bit easier for the workers. After some questions about if the caves had exits, Mr. Ingalls did confirm they do not lead to the Iowa River but there are still a few parts of the caves that they are not sure what they were used for.
Read more on the caves at the links below and the next time you are down by Brewery Square in Iowa City think about the history that you’re walking above as you make your way to George’s for an Arms Race from Big Grove and a couple of cheeseburgers. Many thanks again to Chad Young, Nate Kaeding, and Marlin Ingalls for the great experience!