Minneapolis / Saint Paul / Twin Cities urban exploration
Heinrich Brewery Caves

Members: Max Action, Fuck, Cap

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Members: Max Action, Urban Waste,
                 Noodles, Peter, and Professor V

It was steaming hot. For those of you who don't live in Minnesota, let me explain. Yes, we have very long, frigid winters here. But our summers, short though they may be, are hot and incredibly humid. The heat makes you sweat, and the humidity prevents it from evaporating. To make matters worse, my car (now deceased) was prone to overheating. To keep it from doing so, you had to run the heat full blast.

So, yes, we were steaming hot when we arrived at the riverbank. We were searching for an entrance to the Heinrich Brewery Caves. As far as we knew, no one had been in them since they had been uncovered by archeologists doing research in the early 1980's. All references to them we were able to find indicated that they had been sealed. Given their proximity to the University of MN and the lack of awareness of a brewery cave system there, we assumed that even if we discovered an entrance, it would be sealed off, likely with a brick wall. But I'd had the place sitting there on my Action Squad To-Do list for over a year, and figured it was high time I went and gave it the ol' college try.It was early afternoon when I picked up Fuck & Cap, and the day was just hitting its peak temperature. I'd been hoping to do this mission in the spring, after the snow was gone but before the foliage came back. The rationale for this failed plan was that it was be easier to spot an entrance. As we started our search, however, it became obvious that lack of visibility was only one of a host of reasons that we should not have put it off until summer has come. Bugs, thorns, and the afore-mentioned oppressive heat threatened to take all the fun out of the hunt for a cave entrance. However, we gave Mother Nature the finger and had fun anyway, as we searched without luck for what must have been a couple of hours.We scaled cliff faces, surfed loose rocks down minor avalanches, stuck our heads in holes in the ground, and found a backpack full of crickets. As time went on and nothing resembling a cave or cave entrance revealed itself, I could tell that my companions' spirits were flagging. I couldn't blame them. It was a miserable day and we weren't finding squat. However, I'm driven a little more than your average bear when it comes to these things, so I ranged ahead, hoping to find something before my companions became mutineers and killed me and stole my car. Finally, we found something.It was a large hex lid; these are hexagonal shaped iron lids, split down the middle. They're big and heavy and usually lead to large drains. Hoping this would somehow get us into the caves, we slid half the lid to the side, revealing a ladder descending down into the darkness. Since this mission was supposed to be a mere "find an entrance" trip, we'd stupidly (pessimistically?) forgot to bring any flashlights. I descended with my camera and groped a few yards into the tunnel at the shaft's bottom. Deciding that this was unlikely to connect to the cave and to include it in our planned return that night, I climbed back up to the surface and we replaced the lid, just about taking Cap's foot off in the process. This minor discovery seemed like a good note to surrender on, and Cap and Fuck beat their way through the underbrush back out to the road.

Being quite pigheaded and hating to give up on the brewery caves, I decided to go along the bluff for "just another few yard" before cutting back out to the road myself. A few yards turned into a few dozen yards and then, just as even I was about to give up, I saw it. A small, insignificant-looking hole, leading downward and inward at the base of the cliff. Any doubts I had regarding its identity were dispelled as soon as I stuck my head down there and saw the rusted metal DNR sign, which identified the Heinrich Caves by name, and talked about the bats that now hibernate there. A few feet inside the crawl-height entrance was a heavy iron "bat-gate," which allow bats to come and go as they please, while keeping humans out. It was mysteriously unlocked, and swung open easily. The Urban Exploration Gods were smiling on us: the hunt for the caves of Heinrich Brewery was over. Before heading back to the car, we sat just inside the entrance for a few minutes, basking in the cool cave air.




























That night, I returned with a whole new crew: Urban Waste and Noodles (steam tunnel veterans), Professor V (Action Squad virgin), and Peter Sand (of MN Sewering fame). Fuck and Cap both had to work, and were sadly unable to come along for the exploration of a site they'd helped locate.

The hex lid turned out to lead to a tunnel ending in a blank concrete wall about 75 feet back, with a hole in the floor inviting us to take a one-way 20 foot fall into an active sewage tunnel. We politely declined, climbed right back up the ladder rungs, and headed straight for the cave.

Now, we'd come equipped with a map of the system drawn up by archeologists in the early 1980's. Upon entering the cave, there was a bit of confusion at first as to where on the map we could possibly be. Eventually we realized that 150 feet is actually not very far at all (I know, this is obvious, but somehow we had pictured everything being quite a bit bigger anyway), and yes, this really was the entry tunnel on the map.

Further confusing us were historical reports we'd relied on that indicated that the caves, when active, had ceilings from 10 to 20 feet high. The ceilings we encountered ranged from 10 feet to 3 feet; the majority of the system required us to stoop in various degrees. I'm still not sure if our intel was to blame, or if the caves really just filled in to that extent over time.

One passageway was only passable by wiggling on one's belly: fortunately, there was another, faster way around. (in reterospect, this is clearly marked as a crawlway on the map; however, it was unreadable on the printout we had.)

In addition to being much smaller than we'd envisioned, the caves was also lacking somewhat in unique features: mostly we saw simple rooms and tunnels made of sand and rock. In many respects, the system seemed more like natural caves than manmade ones, as even the brickwork was so aged as to seem to be natural stone.

Making up for this was the lack of any sign at all of human presence: we saw not a single beer can, candy wrapper, or footprint. Oh yeah, there were also bones scattered throughout the cave, apparently from cat-sized mammals (probably raccoons?). A couple of other factors also made the trip more interesting than the largely plain, smallish caves seemingly warranted.

One was that these caves are the only surviving remnant of the once thriving Bohemian Brewery Flats of the late 1800's. All the buildings are long gone, and their foundations are buried under the River Road. So, as poor condition as the caves are in, they're the best that's left, and that's pretty neat from a historical/archeological perspective. Also fascinating (at least to me) was that these caves existed so near a massive student population which clearly was entirely ignorant of their existence.

Anyway, we finished our exploration of the caves pretty quickly, then once more spent some time just resting in the cool silence of the area just inside the gates before heading back out into the humid, buggy night.

It was still early, so Peter, Professor V, and I headed over to Peter's old stomping grounds of the Canoe Drain and the NMT sewage rapids, which is a trip for another section of this website.


Note: In the time since our exploration of the Heinrich Brewery Caves, the "bat gate" has been relocked to protect hibernating bats.

History of the Minneapolis/Heinrich Brewery (1866-1903)

The Minneapolis Brewery was built by J.G. Kranzlein and J.B. Mueller in 1866. It was at the foot of 4th Street South built into the bluff. The original structure was built of stone and was 40 feet x 60 feet. It had a storage capacity of 2,800 barrels. In 1869 Kranzlein took over sole ownership, but he sold the brewery to Mueller and J. Heinrich in 1873. In 1875 a stone, 30 foot x 40 foot, two and one-half story brewing house was added and in 1876 a brick 30 foot x 40 foot three-story boiler house was built along with a malt house, a malt kiln, and three ice houses. A boiler house was added in 1880.

Heinrich became the sole owner of the Minneapolis Brewery in 1884 and proceeded to rebuild much of the complex. The original brewery and several of the additions were torn down in 1885 and a large, four-story, stone brewing and malting house was built. By 1885 the complex contained numerous outbuildings on the lower terrace including warehouses, barns, and a brick dwelling for the head brewer. Several more sheds were built by 1890 and an extensive system of caves for cooling beer were excavated into the bluff.

In 1891 Heinrich formed a partnership with Frederick Noerenberg and John Orth to start the Minneapolis Brewing and Malting Company. The firm built the Grain Belt Brewery in 1892 and the operations of the Minneapolis Brewery were soon suspended, although the malthouse continued to be used until the turn of the century. The complex was known as Minneapolis Brewery and Malting Branch 2. It was torn down in December of 1903.