By the mid-1840s, the Germans were coming ashore at Indianola and finding room for themselves throughout Texas. As soon as they settled, they started brewing beer, of course. The Czechs did the same — with the added bonus of kolaches. Whatever Texans thought about immigration then or whatever your views are now, there’s no doubt it was a damn fine thing for Texas beer.
Home brewing slaked the immediate thirst, but as individual brewers began to prove their talent, larger operations began taking shape in towns such as New Braunfels and La Grange. True commercial brewing in Texas, however, first emerged in the state’s oldest urban center, San Antonio.
Things got started by (German immigrant) William Menger who started his Western Brewery in 1855 even as raids by Comanches were still winding down. You might have heard of Menger’s hotel, which he built a few years later. Fellow German Charles Degen was his brewmaster and when Menger shut down his brewery in 1878, Degen operated his own brewery until 1915. Indeed, San Antonio was the early beer capital of Texas, boasting at least 8 breweries before Prohibition that lasted a decade or more.
I can recall the bit of beer memorabilia (a Pearl beer calendar, give to me by my wife who probably regrets the move) that sparked me to first dive into the history of Texas beer. Given the lack of definitive information I had then, I decided to limit my investigation to post-Prohibition Texas beers — easily traceable from the 1930s boom down to the remaining trio of Lone Star, Pearl and Shiner.
I do not recall what inspired me, these five years later, to study the pre-Prohibition beers. I’m sure it was something very attractive on eBay that my heart desired and my wallet rejected. Once the desire to learn about them was sparked, though, all it took was to find Mike Hennech’s book “The Encyclopedia of Texas Breweries” to give me a base of knowledge to operate from.
The goal for this series was to narrow the field and come up with a list of the top pre-Prohibition Texas breweries. It was easy enough to eliminate the startup breweries that only lasted a year or two, or perhaps never opened at all. Then I came up with two rules: The brewery had to have lasted 10 years and it had to exist into the 1900s when rail lines and growing technology allowed brewing on a scale we would today consider to be commercial.
The second rule eliminated the Kreische Brewery near La Grange which for a short time was one of the largest in Texas. Heinrich Kreische opened his brewery in the 1860s, not long after the Western Brewery, which I have also eliminated. The rule likewise rules out the William Esser Brewery in San Antonio, which was absorbed into Adolphus Busch’s Lone Star Brewery in 1884, and Alamo Brewing Co., also swallowed up by Lone Star.
With 11 breweries on my list, it was time for some judgment calls. Because of their continuing service to Texas, I bent the 10-year rule to let Shiner in (it was open for 9 years before Prohibition). Then I had to take a trio of San Antonio breweries off the list: The Degen Brewery, the Ochs & Aschbacher Brewery and Schober Ice & Brewing. All three simply did not match the remaining nine’s level of success and recognition (though Schober did produce some really nice promotional items which you could buy for me if you ever see any).
So here are the Texas pre-pro nine: Dallas Brewery, El Paso Brewing Association, Texas Brewing Co., Galveston Brewing Co., American Brewing Association, Houston Ice & Brewing, San Antonio Brewing Association, Lone Star Brewing Co. and Shiner Brewing Association.