Article by Rachel Greenberg, originally written for NileGuide
Does it get much better than beer-themed urban exploring? We didn’t think so… You probably won’t be able to find any of the good stuff still lying around in these defunct breweries, but there are still tons of abandoned items to discover. Massive round holes left over from industrial vats are a mainstay, as are interesting machinery and tons of old labels.
These breweries can be found around the world, especially in the US Midwest and Belgium, where enthusiastic brewers revolutionized the art of beer making around the turn of the century. Although some of the beer brands are now defunct and others have moved on to more high-tech breweries, these massive factories still stand as a testament to a very special time in beer-making history.
Since these buildings are so popular, many have already been turned into modern housing or office buildings, so start exploring soon before the original architecture and machinery are all gone. NOTE: do so with caution! These breweries are private property and can be very dangerous if you enter without permission, get permission and proceed with extreme care.
1. The Dixie Brewery – New Orleans, Louisiana
Image: Baronplantagenet/Wikipedia Commons
This stunning turn-of-the century building was constructed in 1907 to brew Dixie Beer. Built for only $85,000, the plant stayed open during prohibition by producing non-alcoholic beer. When alcohol became legal again, they switched back to brewing the hard stuff, and were still producing Dixie Beer when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.
Like so many other wonderful buildings in that area, the brewery became irreparably flooded during the hurricane, and much of its machinery was looted in the aftermath of the storm.
Today it stands ravaged and crumbling, with not much promise of a revival. Since the brewery is situated in the footprint of the yet-to-be-constructed VA Hospital, its future looks grim. Although the brewery hasn’t been torn down yet, there’s real concern over its survival, and a push to grant the building rights as a historical landmark is in the works.
Image: Blake Zenfolio
2. Stella Artois Brewery – Leuven, Belgium
The tax records of Stella Artois date back incredibly to 1366, although it only became an international sensation in the 1920s. The beer was first brewed in Leuven, Belgium, where the now abandoned factory sits today. Although we’re not sure when it was built, this particular brewery seems to have been vacated in the mid ’90s.
Unlike many urban exploration sites, this factory is rumored to be in pretty amazing shape. All the industrial machines were left intact when production ended, and respectful visitors have resisted tagging and looting. From what we hear, the best place to view the town of Leuven is from the factory’s roof, accessible from a starway near the back of the largest silo.
3. Brasserie Eylenbosch – Schepdaal, Belgium
Although we know the Brasserie Eylenbosch in Schepdaal, Belgium was built in 1851 and closed in 1989, there aren’t too many other details floating around about the specifics of this building. Its clear from what’s left of the brewery that it had an incredibly beautiful interior tasting area, left almost completely undamaged.
We also know the factory produced an artisan beer called Eylenbosch which has a thick and almost sticky texture and a lengthy fermenting process. Since the beer took so long it make, it was expensive to produce, ultimately causing the brewery’s demise.
Although it wasn’t financially viable at the time, we hear there’s a small but cut-throat market for any remaining bottles of the brewery’s beer, especially the 1979 Druivenlambic, which is considered a real delicacy by beer connoisseurs.
4. Barenquell-Brauerei – Berlin, Germany
Like many things post Wall, the Bärenquell Brauerei never quite made it out of East Germany. The brewery was built in 1888, made some pretty popular beer and did well for years – that is, until it was reclaimed by communist Germany as property of the state and renamed VEB Bärenquell with ‘VEB’ standing for Volkseigener Betrieb, or ‘owned by the people’ . Although it kept up production until after the wall fell, the brewery was finally shut down in 1994.
Since Barenquell is still a well-selling beer all over the world, it’s not totally clear why this production site was shut down. Some urban explorers have hypothesized that since the brewery was under Communist ownership for so many years, it was so out of date by the time Berlin reunited, and wasn’t worth fixing up.
Unlike many breweries on this list, Barenquell-Brauerei isn’t under lock and key, lacking (reportedly) any “No Tresspassing” signs. Although this may be a good thing for risk-adverse explorers, this also means the area is a safe-haven for drug-users and vagrants, so be careful at night.
5. Hamm’s Brewery – St. Paul, Minnesota
The history of Hamm’s is a bittersweet one. First, owner Andrew F. Keller defaulted on his loan, thus making German immigrants and early beer investors Theodore and Louise Hamm the owners of a brewery. Although the Hamms may not have been prepared for it, they built a beer empire over the next 100 years, going from 500 barrels a year in production in 1865 to 3.8 million in 1964. By the time the Hamm family decided they were ready to leave their beer empire, the term “Hamm’s” had become interchangeable for “beer” in the Midwest.
The Hamm’s may have left the business on a high note, but their success would never been recreated. They sold their production plant in St. Paul for $65 million, but a few years of bad sales forced the new owner to take a huge loss and sell the factory for $10.4 million. The brewery changed hands more times over the next years, and was finally fully abandoned in 1997.
Locals report that city plans for the Hamm’s Brewery are constantly changing. There have been reports that a demolition is imminent for the last ten years. Although it hasn’t been razed yet, we would suggest getting in to see Hamm’s as soon as possible.
6. Pfeiffer Brewery – Detroit, Michigan
Image: Pfeiffer Beer
The Pfeiffer Brewing empire was the brainchild of Conrad Pfeiffer, a German emigrant who started brewing his own beer in 1889. For the next 10 years Pfeiffer’s business flourished: Detroit was a hot-spot for breweries, and brewing innovation was on the rise. In addition, the beer business was tax-free, and Pfeiffer used the money he was raking in to build a stunning construction plant (which is now gone). The brewery shut down during prohibition, but survived the siege on alcohol and was able to start back up once alcohol was declared legal. The company was even able to make it through WWII unscathed.
Image: Pfeiffer Beer
While many beer companies suffered during war time (it was difficult to get factory parts, many workers had to leave for the war), Pfeiffer was actually chosen by the US government to produce beer for the troops. Even though Pfeiffer was able to make it through prohibition, two world wars, and huge expansion, they saw a decline in sales starting in the ’50s. Many poor business decisions later, the brewery was shut down in 1966, and the brand was sold in 1972.
Today it’s hard to imagine the shabby exterior and totally stripped interior could have ever been owned by the same company that built such a stunning brewery in the early 1900s.
Image: Detroit Breweries
7. Iron City Brewery – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
After brewing Iron City beers in the same factory for almost 150 years, the beer brand had become a home-town favorite of Pittsburgh natives. The brewery was built in the 1860s, and many factory workers were multiple-generation brewers when Iron City left their factory and moved production of Iron City to Latrobe, 40 miles outside of Pittsburgh. As you can imagine, the locals were none too happy about this move. Workers lost their jobs, and the “locals beer” wasn’t really local anymore.
Since the site was abandoned only recently, the city is still deciding what is to be done with the huge factory. There was some fear it would be torn down, but the brewery was given historic status in February 2010, saving it from destruction. Since receiving its new status, there have been bids to turn it into a movie studio or condos.
Know of any abandoned breweries we left off the list?