Clyffside Brewing Company is a former brewery on West McMicken Avenue in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati, Ohio. It began in 1933 when Paul Esselborn, who was educated at the Royal Bavarian School of Brewing in Germany, organized the company in former Mohawk Brewery structures. The company’s signature selections included Felsenbrau beer and Old Hickory Ale that was “aged in the hills.” Sans Prohibition, beer was brewed on the site for 111 years, the longest of any brewery in the city.


History

Sohn Brewing Company

The first brewery on the site of Clyffside was Hamilton Brewery. Founded in 1845 by Johann Sohn and George Klotter, 2 4 it was known as the Klotter, Sohn & Company by 1853. In 1866, Sohn bought out Klotter. Klotter went on to establish his own brewery. 4 Sohn renamed the brewery the J.G. Sohn & Company Brewery which grew into the tenth largest brew house in the city. It reorganized in November 1900 as the William S. Sohn Brewing Company when Sohn sold out his interest to his brother. 5

Sohn was purchased by Mohawk Brewery in 1907, which was known then for its Zinzinnati Beer. 4 During Prohibition, Mohawk attempted to ride out the law by producing not only near-beer but true alcoholic beverages.

On August 3, 1925, federal agents waited from midnight until 6 a.m. the next morning for brewery employees to begin their shift. When the first truck was leaving the facility for delivery, the agents conducted a raid, shooting at the truck driver and arresting numerous brewery employees. Sixty barrels and 35 half-barrels of beer were confiscated. 4 No other beer was produced by Mohawk and it closed before the end of Prohibition. 6

Clyffside Brewery

Clyffside Brewery began in 1933 1 4 when Paul Esselborn, at the Royal Bavarian School of Brewing in Germany, organized the company in the former Mohawk Brewery complex. The company’s signature selections included Felsenbrau beer and Old Hickory Ale that was “aged in the hills.” 1 Felsenbrau loosely translated to beer “brewed in the rocks.”

In 1937, the former Sohn homestead was demolished and a brick addition was constructed along McMicken, with another structure built shortly after. 1 3 Underneath were lagering cellars 35-feet wide and 200-feet long, with walls that were 3-feet thick that allowed the cellar to stay at a constant 53º Fahrenheit.4 A tunnel went underneath Mohawk Street that connected the brewing building to a natural spring.

C. Howard Knapp became president of the company in 1940, assisted by Ivan Fischer and George Koenig. 1 It was around this time that Clyffside reached peak employment at 150. A bottling plant and fermentation tanks were constructed in 1946, and refrigeration units were installed in the below-ground tunnels to keep the air temperatures cooler. 1 7

Red Top Brewery

Clyffside was sold to the Red Top Brewing Company in 1945. 1 4 By the 1950’s, Red Top’s value was dragged down by expansion costs and dipping revenue. Red Top not only maintained the Clyffside location but its original complex along Dayton Street (originally the John Hauck Brewing Company).

On August 9, 1955, Red Top was sold to a group composed of Cincinnati and Chicago investors, headed by Frank Scolby, president of Chicago-based Better Brands Inc., for $1.5 million. Less than two months after the acquisition, Red Top began to combine its production facilities into the McMicken Avenue site with the goal of closing the Dayton Street plant. 8 The Dayton Street plant’s equipment, valued at $8.5 million, was auctioned on November 23 to November 26. A separate auction was held for the brewery property on December 6. Valued at $2.459 million, much of the site did not sell.

In January 1956, a 100,000 square-foot warehouse on York Street sold to Thiemann Brothers, a wholesale grocer, which was followed with the sale of 325,000 square-feet to local investors on January 16, 1957 who planned to renovate the structure and lease it out to industrial tenants. The Hauck brew house, however, did not sell and was razed in 1957. 8

The decline of Red Top continued after the plants merged operations. Nearly 150 Red Top employees went on strike on May 9, 1957 complaining that the company was not honoring their contract. 8 The losses at Red Top only worsened, leading the company to announce in August that it was merging with Muskegon Motor Specialties Company of Jackson, Michigan. Muskegon manufactured crankshafts for automobiles, a completely different and independent operation than that of a brewery. Red Top noted that it was to give the brew house more operating capital for investment, namely to continue with a modernization project that began in 1955. Muskegon replied that it was to bolster its own financial assets.

Muskegon was not interested in maintaining the brewing operations and the company sold all Red Top assets to the Terre Haute Brewing Company of Indiana. On September 27, 1957, the last batch of beer was produced from the Cincinnati facility. 8

Ownership
Buildings

Redevelopment

A $3 million Clyffside redevelopment project broke ground for Cliffyside on April 11, 2008. 2 The project consisted of renovating the complex into 17 two-story residential units and two one-story residential units. The units were priced between $124,900 and $229,900. The redevelopment project was never completed.

Sources