THE BEER SERIES: Part Three | Good times on the Gulf

Houston before the invention of air conditioning? Sounds like a place where a cold (or even cool) beer is a necessity. The book “Houston Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Bayou City” points out that by 1838, there was a count of 47 saloons … two years before the first church was built.
 
Plenty to discuss, right? Let’s get the minor leagues out of the way first:
 
* You might recall from the introduction that Houston’s American Brewing Association (established by Adolphus Busch) brewed Dixie Pale from 1893 until 1918. “Houston Beer” describes pint bottles selling for $1.05 a dozen.
* Southern Brewing Co. only existed for six years after Prohibition, giving us 2X Beer, Tex Beer, Alamo Beer, Monte Carlo and Southern beers.
 
That said, there are really two stories to come out of this region. The first is Galveston-Houston Breweries, which was created when Galveston Brewing Co. (1895-1918, also partly funded by Adolphus Busch) merged with Houston Ice & Brewing (1893-1918) after Prohibition.
 
Prior to the drouth of self-righteousness, Galveston Brewing produced High Grade (“the beer that’s liquid food”) and Houston Ice & Brewing produced Hiawatha (a near-beer), Richelieu (a dark Belgian), Magnolia and Southern Select.
 
Southern Select has a pretty interesting story. In 1912, Houston Ice & Brewing hired the Belgian-born Frantz Hector Brogniez as brewmaster, Brogniez brewed his first batch of Southern Select and shipped it off to compete in the World's Fair in Ghent, Belgium, in 1913. The judges apparently didn’t know Texas was a heathen backwater, because the Texas beer won the Diplome de Grand Prix ... Southern Select was No. 1 of a world’s worth of beer (beating more than 4,000 competitors).
 
Houston may have been somewhere still between mud and money, but Brogniez was as worldly as they made ‘em. He was a student of biology and a composer of classical music – which he once performed for Kaiser Wilhelm. He stood toe-to-toe with Louis Pasteur and Henry Ford. He helped establish the Houston Symphony. His family had been making beer since 1752 and … just for good measure … he was fluent in multiple languages. En route to Texas, he started the Tivoli brewery in Detroit.
 
I’m unclear how Galveston Brewing and Houston Ice & Brewing joined forces, post-Prohibition, but when they did, they operated out of Galveston and brewed the Houston beers. Magnolia was brewed until the 1940s and Southern Select was brewed until the company went out of business in 1955 or 1956.
 
(As a last gasp, a half-million dollars was poured into marketing Southern Select in the early 1950s, along with two new variations: Southern Select Superlite and Southern Select Special. But Southern Select was hard to kill: Even after Galveston-Houston went out of business, Southern Select was purchased by Pearl and brewed for awhile in San Antonio before finally succumbing to history.)
 
The Galveston brewery was then purchased by Falstaff and operated until 1981.
 
The other major story here? Gulf Brewing Co., which was established post-Prohibition by some fellow you might have heard of: Howard Hughes.
 
Gulf Brewing (built on one end of the Hughes Tool Co. lot) produced such beers as Charro, Buccaneer and Kol … but the real star was Grand Prize, which would become the state’s best-selling beer.
 
Hughes didn’t mess around. In 1932, Houston Ice & Brewing had rehired Frantz Brogniez (who had spent Prohibition in El Paso, where he brewed beer in Juarez). Hughes had no intention of trying to compete with the celebrated brewmaster in his own hometown – so he just hired him away.
 
Brogniez died in 1935, but not before he created Grand Prize and the ultra-modern Gulf Brewing Co. facility. The eldest son, Frantz P. Brogniez — with a chemical engineering degree from Rice — took over as brewmaster and quickly made Grand Prize the best-selling beer in Texas.
 
By 1949 was established as the newest brewmaster and he introduced a product called Pale Dry Grand Prize. Even with the San Antonio breweries on the rise, Gulf Brewing was putting out a quarter-million barrels a year in the early 1950s, selling across Texas and the neighboring states.
 
By the late 1950s, though, the shrinking beer industry began to take its toll. The brewery hung on until 1963, when Hughes cut his losses and sold to the Theo. Hamm Brewery.
 
Hamm’s was only brewed in Texas from 1963-1967, not long enough to make it a naturalized Texas beer.
 
You had no idea: Gulf Brewing didn’t just steal Houston Ice & Brewing’s brewmaster. Grand Prize beer was named after the Grand Prix award earned by Southern Select in 1913. And why not? Frantz Brogniez used the same recipe for both beers.

Up next: Beware the Giant Armadillo

Alamo and 2x Beer from way back in the day.

Charro Beer, by Gulf Brewing.

Southern Select label from 1942. Taverntrove.com

An old-school Southern Select can.

How Southern Select looked post-Prohibition

A Grand Prize label from 1943. Taverntrove.com

A Pale Dry Grand Prize label from 1952. Taverntrove.com

And a Grand Prize label from 1952. Taverntrove.com

If you look closely, ZZ Top was enjoying a Southern Select with their tasty Mexican food. Or, at least they liked how the bottle looked.

THE BEER SERIES: Part Four | Home with the armadillo

Quick, why does the label on today’s bottle of Lone Star Beer say “Since 1845”?
 
The beer is not that old. The (former) brewery is not that old. There’s no tangible connection between Lone Star Beer and 1845.
 
It’s more likely that the “1845” refers to when Texas joined the Union. But if you’re going to put that on the label, then why in the holy hell would you not put “Since 1836” on “The National Beer of Texas”?
 
I’ll tell you why. Because Lone Star beer has not been Texas-owned (except for a brief span at the turn of the millennium) since Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic was a bad-tempered toddler.
 
Let’s look back a little further:
 
The Lone Star Brewing Co. was started in 1884 by … Adolphus Busch (this fellow has his hands all over Texas brewing history). Until Prohibition struck in 1918, this brewery would emerge from a crowded field to compete with the San Antonio Brewing Association (Pearl) for control of the city.
 
But they didn’t make Lone Star Beer. Instead (and this is kind of obvious), they brewed Alamo Beer.
 
Lone Star Brewing Co. didn’t survive Prohibition, but the seeds were sown for a rebirth when the Sabinas Brewing Co. (with roots in the Sabinas Brewery in Monterrey, Mexico) built a new brewery in San Antonio in 1934. It produced Sabinas and Travis beer until 1939, when the brewery briefly became known as the Champion Brewing Co.
 
In 1940, the brewery was acquired by the Muehlebach Brewing Co. of Kansas City, Mo. Muehlebach brought back the Lone Star name for the brewery and developed a new “Munich-style lager beer” that would become today’s Lone Star Beer.
 
The Golden Age of Lone Star began in 1949, when Muehlebach bailed out and the Lone Star Brewing Co. became a publicly traded company. For the next quarter-century, Lone Star grew into the “National Beer of Texas,” culminating in the 1970s when the Lone Star shield was all but ubiquitous and the Giant Armadillo was prowling the highways.
 
At various times during this era, Lone Star also made Brut beer and the low-calorie Lime Lager (take that, Bud Lime) as well as Lone Star Light.
 
Unfortunately, in the midst of all this fun, Lone Star was sold to Washington state’s Olympia Brewing Co. in 1976. In a weird bit of foreshadowing, Olympia was acquired by Pabst in 1983, but Lone Star was split off and sold to Wisconsin-based G. Heileman.
 
This was aggravating, but not catastrophic. The Lone Star brewery was still in full operation in the Alamo city, making wonderful beer (my opinion) out of San Antonio’s “Pure Artesian Spring Water.”
 
The trouble came when G. Heileman went out of business in 1996. The historic Lone Star brewery was shuttered and Lone Star was picked up by Stroh Brewing Co. of Detroit and brewed at the Schlitz plant in Longview until Stroh went out of business just three years later.
 
Pabst, which was actually Pearl, bought Stroh and Lone Star came home to San Antonio in 1999, though it was brewed at the Pearl Brewery.
 
But … Texas, right? San Antonio, right? Well, not for long. For those of you who believe that San Antonio's water and Lone Star beer are inseparable, this was the last gasp. Pabst shut down the Pearl Brewery in 2001. Lone Star is now brewed by contract (along with Pearl) at the Miller brewery in Fort Worth.

Pabst has spent some effort at keeping up the Lone Star tradition of self-promotion. The National Beer of Texas slogan is still used on billboards, there's a website and limited advertising. Recently Lone Star Bock was reintroduced (it was available for a brief time in the mid-1990s as Natural Bock along with Lone Star Ice and Lone Star Dry -- remember the "dry" beer thing?)

But the most interesting thing lately has been the packaging. In 2005, Lone Star switched from the terribly ugly packaging they'd been using for quite some time to a "65th anniversary" look that was beautifully retro, bringing back the Lone Star shield as the primary visual element (think of the cans and bottles of the 1960s). The anniversary passed, but they kept a revised version of the design for a few years. I guess if Lone Star didn't taste like it used to, it could look like it used to.

Not too long ago the retro design got a makeover. It now has a distinctly "cerveza" look to it.

When you think of Texas beers, Lone Star is the one that comes to mind. But all that shouting and chest-thumping can't hide the fact that's a little brother to Pearl and not nearly so Texan as its quiet cousin, Shiner.

You had no idea: Eddie Wilson (past owner of the Armadillo World Headquarters, current owner of Threadgill's in Austin) was part of the group that re-invented the marketing of Lone Star Beer in the 1970s. You might recall the iconic series of "Long Live Longnecks" posters that AWHQ artist Jim Franklin did as part of that effort.

Coming Monday: Pearl, part one.

Lone Star, shortly after it was born in 1940. Taverntrove.com

A late-1940s can. Lone Star hadn't yet seized upon its red-and-white colors or shield motif.

A Lone Star can from 1953. Taverntrove.com

By 1960, Lone Star's shield was beginning to take a familiar shape. Taverntrove.com

If you want tot talk about purty beer cans, this 1967 one has my vote.

1970s-era Lone Star and Lone Star Light.

Lime Lager was one of the Lone Star Brewery's few auxiliary products.

Along with Buckhorn beer.

And the short-lived Brut beer.

The 150 Private Stock beer marked the Texas Sesquicentennial.

Lone Star Dry? It happened. But not for very long.

At least Lone Star Ice stuck around a little bit in the mid-90s.

The late-90s redesign of the label is probably what killed this armadillo.

How Lone Star looks today.

Travis beer was one of the forebears of Lone Star ...

... along with Sabinas beer.

Jim Franklin did a series of "Long Live Long Necks" posters. This is one of the most famous.

THE BEER SERIES: Part Five | The rise of Pearl

Sadly misunderstood by those of us who didn’t pick one up until the 1990s, Pearl is the mother of Texas beers. Old, bold, bought, sold, betrayed and all but forgotten, the brewery has a history that incorporates just about everything you could want in an epic beer story … except, sadly, a happy ending.
 
Born as the J.B. Behloradsky Brewery in 1881 and later known as the City Brewery, Pearl’s beginning comes when an investment group came together in 1883 and formed the San Antonio Brewing Company. Full operations commenced in 1886 once enough money was raised.
 
Keeping up the Texas tradition of musical names, the operation became the San Antonio Brewing Association in 1888, though the name City Brewery was also used.
 
According to a nicely written history on Wikipedia, Pearl beer was “formulated and first brewed in Bremen, Germany, by the Kaiser-Beck Brewery” (from which we get Beck’s beer). The brewmaster apparently thought the “foamy bubbles in a freshly poured glass of the brew resembled sparkling pearls.” Texans got their first taste of Pearl beer in 1886.
 
Otto Koehler took the helm of the brewery in 1902. When he died in 1914, his wife, Emma, took over as chief executive. By 1916, the San Antonio Brewing Association was larger than their top rival: the Lone Star Brewing Co. During this time, the brewery not only made Pearl, but also Texas Pride Beer. Later, Pearl Bock would be intermittently brewed.
 
Emma Koehler held on through Prohibition, changing the company’s name to Alamo Industries and, later, Alamo Foods Co. while brewing a near beer called “La Perla” and doing things ranging from auto repair to dry cleaning to bottling soft drinks and operating as a creamery.
 
Every account of a former brewery trying to survive Prohibition includes the obligatory reference to the rumors that the brewery still made small amount of beer. In this case, though, it’s telling that (again, according to Wikipedia) when Prohibition ended at midnight on Sept. 15, 1933, “within minutes, 100 trucks and 25 railroad boxcars loaded with beer rolled out of the brewery grounds.
 
The San Antonio Brewing Association survived the Depression and grew in the runup to and aftermath of World War II. In 1952 it changed its name to the Pearl Brewing Co. Later Pearl would seriously consider, but ultimately reject, a buyout offer by Pabst.
 
But the stage was now set for the coming flood of brewery consolidations. Pearl preferred to be a buyer rather than a buyee and growth meant acquiring another brewery. Ultimately, the M. K. Goetz Brewing Company in St. Joseph, Mo., would be considered the best option for giving Pearl a larger national profile. The deal was done in 1961. Goetz would brew the Pearl beers for the Midwest market and Pearl would brew Country Club malt liquor in Texas.
 
There’s not a lot of historical documentation of Pearl in the 1950s and ‘60s. It wasn’t as aggressively marketed as Lone Star, but it held its own and produced a lot of what would become wonderful memorabilia.
 
The beginning of the end would come in 1970, when Pearl was purchased by the Houston conglomerate Southdown Corp. It would remain Texas-owned for a few more years, but the brewery was now just a money-maker for a money-maker.

Up next: Pearl, part two

Pearl, as it looked in 1935. Taverntrove.com

And its brother, Texas Pride beer, in 1935. Taverntrove.com

Pearl, as it looked in 1945. Taverntrove.com

Pearl, as it looked in 1956. Taverntrove.com

Pearl Bock in 1956. Taverntrove.com

Pearl in 1958. Taverntrove.com

And a 1958 Pearl Bock, too. Taverntrove.com

Texas Pride looked pretty cool in 1951. Taverntrove.com

A Pearl tray from, I would guess, the 1960s.

Pearl Draft from 1963.

And Pearl Dark Draft, likely from the same timeframe.

Country Club beer and malt liquor from after its acquisition by Pearl.

This Judge Roy Bean scene was a famous calling card for Pearl. A framed painting of this scene (there were several variations) could once be found in honky-tonks all over Texas.


THE BEER SERIES: Part Six | The fall of Pearl

The fan site falstaffbrewing.com has a history page, which is as awesomely informative as it is design-challenged. One of the entries is as follows:

1926 Polish immigrant Paul Kalmanovitz arrives penniless in America....(uh-oh)

They’re speaking for Falstaff, but it rings true for all of us.
 
Paul Kalmanovitz would work his way up from penniless in short order. By the early 1970s, he had purchased Lucky Lager in California and formed the General Brewing Co. under the parent S&P Corp. By 1975, Kalmanovitz had gained control of Falstaff. He bought Pearl Brewing Co. in 1977.
 
What did that mean for Pearl? Here’s a line from his Wikipedia page: "Kalmanovitz acquired an ailing brewery, fired the corporate personnel, reduced budgets, sold off equipment, stopped plant maintenance, and eliminated product quality control. Kalmanovitz established a standard with Falstaff that was repeated as he purchased Stroh's, National Bohemian, Olympia, Pearl, and Pabst."
 
(He wasn’t completely miserly: It’s known that he offered to put up $15 million for a “Statue of Justice” – meant to be a companion piece to the “Statue of Liberty” – off the coast of San Francisco.)
 
In a bit of good news, Pearl was brewing Jax Beer at this time. They had purchased the brew and the label in 1974 and the Southern favorite would enjoy a decade-long run as an actual Texas beer.
 
At this point, information becomes very scarce: Pearl Brewing Co. continues as a subsidiary of S&P Corp., though exactly how Pearl was changed by the new owner is not known. One thing we know for sure is that in 1985, Pearl (as part of S&P Corp.) purchased Pabst, which had fallen on hard times. Some sites report it was a hostile takeover.
 
Now do you remember how in the newspaper wars of the 1990s, the San Antonio Light’s parent company actually bought out the rival San Antonio Express-News … and then closed the Light?
 
Well, that’s how the Pearl/Pabst thing played out. Pearl bought Pabst, then kept the Pabst name. We still had Pearl beer (or what it had become), but we didn’t have a Pearl Brewing Company. (Sadly, this move also meant the end of the line for Jax Beer. Its run was over.)
 
Kalmanovitz died 2 years later, but his company operated under the precedent he set: Over the next dozen years or so, Pabst would close breweries, end production of historic beers and generally piss all over history. In one bitter example, Pabst contracted out production to Stroh’s in 1996 and closed down the Pabst brewery, ending a 152-year run in Milwaukee.
 
But the San Antonio brewery was still operational, and when Pabst bought out Stroh’s in 1999, Lone Star was included in the deal. There was great excitement that it would be brewed in San Antonio again, albeit at the Pearl Brewery.
 
That didn’t last long. Losing the battle to Bud and Miller and Coors, Pabst decided to shutter all of their breweries and become a “virtual brewer” – brewing by contract with other brewers. Pearl and Pearl Light would be brewed at the Miller brewery in Fort Worth.
 
The historic Pearl Brewery was shut down in 2001. San Antonio residents were not happy, though the complex was not torn down. It was rehabilitated into an upscale mix of shops and residences.
 
Pearl is in the same leaky boat as Lone Star – a once-proud regional beer kept afloat at the whim of a company now based in Chicago. But where Lone Star is standing on the prow, doing its best to look bold, Pearl is all but forgotten. Next time things get hard, I’d expect Pearl to be bobbing with the jetsam in the wake.
 
It’s a sad end for Texas’ most historic beer.

Up next: The happy story of Shiner

Pearl as it looked in 1967, before the beginning of the end.

And in 1973.

Pearl Cream Ale? Sure, in 1970.

This is how Jax looked when Pearl revived it.

Generic beer was one of the touches of the Kalmanovitz empire.

Yes, Pearl brewed Billy Beer.

And a Texas Pride knockoff called Country Tavern.

And a German beer knockoff.

And, sigh, even JR Ewing beer.

Here's Texas Pride as you might remember it, if you were very broke in the 1990s and wanted something more Texas than Natural Light.

Pearl, as it looked in 1984.

THE BEER SERIES: Part Seven | The little brewery in Shiner

The very nice coffee table book “Shine On: 100 Years of Shiner Beer” weaves a tale that is straight out of an old black-and-white movie:
 
The portly Kosmos Spoetzl is born in Bavaria and trained in the ways of beer. He was a soldier and a world traveler. A would-be Renaissance man like Southern Select’s Frantz Hector Brogniez, but on the other end of the spectrum. If Brogniez fit in with Houston’s high society, Spoetzl in Shiner was given to wearing his hat jauntily, passing out nickels to children and leaving cold beers on fenceposts for farmers.
 
Kosmos (who came to Shiner after stops in Cairo, Canada and San Francisco) drove a Model T through the countryside, talking up his beer with the common folk. At the brewery, which he cobbled into existence and somehow weathered 15 years of Prohibition, he would tell employees to “drink all the beer you want, just don’t get yourself drunk.”
 
When the beloved brewmaster’s big heart finally gave out, it was his feisty daughter who saw the brewery through the 1950s and 60s, carrying on her father’s work.
 
It all seems too scripted, but it apparently happened just that way.
 
As a Historic Texas Beer, Shiner never had the bombast of Lone Star or the flair of Pearl, but … Shiner is still here, still Texas-owned (the San Antonio-based Gambrinus Co.), still produced in its historic brewery and still quietly doing its thing.
 
(And that thing would be brewing multiple specialty beers to please the connoisseur, Shiner Premium to please the traditionalists and Shiner Bock to be that one beer that everyone can compromise on.)
 
Getting a relatively late start as the Shiner Brewing Association in 1909, the young brewery struggled until Kosmos Spoetzl came along in 1915 and co-leased the operation along with Oswald Petzold.
 
Kosmos had attended brewmaster school in Germany (where they apparently have such things) and had worked at the Pyramid Brewery in Egypt. He bought the operation outright not too long before Prohibition made things hard on him. Sources say he got along selling near-beer and ice – but just like every other Texas brewery that didn’t just give up in 1918, the rumors were that he kept on quietly producing beer, too.
 
Shiner Bock was introduced in 1913, but was a seasonal beer for the next 60 years. Post-Prohibition, Texas Export was the flagship beer, becoming Texas Special by the 1940s.
 
Mrs. Celie — the feisty Spoetzl daughter who took over in 1950 — finally decided to sell in 1966. It took only two years for former Lone Star brewmaster Bill Bigler to sell it again to a New Braunfels dynamite maker.
 
In the early 1970s, with the future of the little brewery very much in doubt, the flagship beer was changed from Special Export (I know that doesn’t jive with Texas Special – perhaps the terms were interchangeable? My sources are not clear. We need an expert to weigh in) to Shiner Premium. The change in formula and name didn’t sit well with old-timers and traditionalists who didn’t care for the lighter beer.
 
A couple of photos in “Shine On” show the Armadillo World Headquarters beer garden with a sign advertising Shiner at 35 cents a cup or $1.50 a pitcher (the cheapest option), as well as another shot of Doug Sahm and Jerry Garcia with most of a six-pack of Shiner cans (empty, I presume) between them.
 
In a move that probably kept the brewery afloat, Spoetzl started brewing Shiner Bock full-time in 1978. It was Austin’s thirst for the darker beer that prompted the move. How grim were things? The little brewery had plenty of leftover capacity to brew Gilley’s beer by contract for a short time after “Urban Cowboy” made the country Texas-crazy.
 
Carlos Alvarez and his Gambrinus Co. purchased the brewery in 1989 and made two moves: Shifted production from 75% Premium and 25% Bock to the other way around. And he raised prices. Substantially.
 
(If you ever wandered into a Texas bar in the early ‘90s and wondered why in the hell Shiner was priced as an “import” – now you know.)
 
Carlos had a knack for promotion, as well. In the first few years, sales nearly doubled. That’s not a bad turnaround. It was 1993 when the specialty beers started emerging from the overhauled brewery: Kosmos Reserve was first.

Perhaps the surest sign of success came in 1995 when Budweiser decided to invent Ziegenbock — a not-too-subtle stab at Shiner Bock’s market share.

There's no mystery as to Shiner's health today. Walk into any H-E-B or Spec's and you can choose from an impressive array of styles, from the newly relabeled Shiner Premium (which spent the last decade or so as Shiner Blonde) to the brand new Shiner White Wing.

Up next: What does it all mean for the thirsty Texan?

An assortment of historical Shiner bottles.

A Shiner "Texas Special" label from 1951. Taverntrove.com

A Texas Tap label from 1968. Taverntrove.com

Shiner also brewed Gilley's beer after the "Urban Cowboy" craze took hold.

A "Texas Special" stubbie bottle.

Vintage Shiner memorabilia like this is hard to find and expensive. In part, because Shiner just floods the market with all manner of new stuff available at the brewery and online.

A Shiner Premium can.

And an old-school Shiner Bock can.

Here's how Premium is looking these days.

And Bock, too.

THE BEER SERIES: Part Eight | Time for a cold one

Two weeks of beer blogs and the few of you who have made it this far deserve a drink.
 
I hesitate to offer any sort of ranking of importance of Texas’ historic beers, because that lends itself to too many nerdy questions over what counts and qualifies. But I’m going to anyway, just because I can’t resist a list.
 
Your Top 9 Historic Texas Beers
 
9. Honorary Texas beer Falstaff, brewed for decades in El Paso and Galveston.
8. Honorary Texas beer Jax, brewed in nearby New Orleans and later for a bit over a decade in San Antonio.
7. Mitchell’s. Even if the pride of El Paso couldn’t settle on a name.
6. Bluebonnet. Only lasted 11 years, but has no real historic competitors in the Metroplex area.
5. Grand Prize. Howard Hughes did it right: Start with a ton of money and a stolen brewmaster, make yours the biggest beer in Texas, then shut it down when the end comes.
4. Southern Select. The Sam Houston of Texas beers.
3. Lone Star. It had a great run, but that was decades ago. Now it’s sliding down the list.
2. Shiner. I took the liberty of considering Shiner Premium and Shiner Bock to be one entry. Twenty years ago, Shiner would have been on the bottom half of the list. Now it has just about overtaken …
1. Pearl. Sheer history keeps it at the top for a bit longer, probably until they quit making it.

But they are still making Pearl and Pearl Light. It's only available in 12-packs of cans. Of course I went and bought a 12-pack a few months ago.

It was disappointing. Not bad, just without any real taste at all. I can't imagine that it's the same beer created by Germans in the 1880s — I don't believe they would have washed their children with something this watery. I'd love to have someone at the Miller plant in Fort Worth defend its honor, but until then I'm going to bet that Pearl is now just Miller's cut-rate beer in different packaging.

Maybe, maybe each 12-pack gets a hard stare from a portrait of Tommy Lee Jones as it heads for distribution, but that's as much Texas flavor as it gets, I'm sure.

(Wikipedia says that Country Club Malt Liquor — Pearl's half-brother from the marriage with Goetz — is also still available, but only in 40-ounce bottles. Sadly, the convenience stores that I frequent don't have much of a selection of 40s, but I will keep looking.)

Also, a word of warning to would-be hipsters drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon or Lone Star or any of a dozen regional brands in hopes that it's ironic or that you're sticking it to the man. In truth, you're backing a northern corporate giant that has bought up (sometimes in hostile takeovers) all these once-proud beers, is brewing them as cheaply as possible and is mining your ignorance to line their pockets.

Disappointing, hunh? I didn't know either.

If you want to stick it to the man, support your local craft brewer or the craft brewer in the locality you'd like to be (BIg Bend Brewing, I've got my eye on you).

And if you want to show your Texas pride (sadly, not literally, since that longtime Pearl beer is history), then buy a six-pack of Shiner. History, of course, shows us there's no guarantee on the future. But right now, Shiner is doing it right.

 There, that's it. It's a good thing, too. All this has made me very thirsty.

The beer garden at the Armadillo World Headquarters.


Bonus reading:

Check out http://magnoliaballroom.com/louis-aulbach-history.html for an expansive look at the history of Houston Ice & Brewing and an interesting discussion of how the advent of artificial ice technology in the 1870s made cold beer possible in Houston – and pause for a minute, as this site suggests, to think about how good a cold beer must have been in Houston prior to the invention of air conditioning.

Shine On: 100 Years of Shiner Beer is a coffee table book, long on prose and short on precision — but if you’re not on a research mission, it’s a fine and attractive diversion. I bought mine online from the Goodwill in San Antonio for $7, so it's totally worth a look.

In Houston Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Bayou City, Ronnie Crocker gives a pretty nice history of the Southern Select and Grand Prize era of Houston and Galveston brewing before an obligatory nod to Budweiser and then diving into where his real interests obviously lie: the rise of the craft brewing industry and its aficionados. Much of the second half of the book is all but a love letter to the Saint Arnold Brewing Co.

10 things I learned at Willie's Picnic: 2013

Let's take it chronologically:

1. The Hotel Texas is probably the worst-reviewed hotel I've ever stayed at 6 times. But they pretty much outdid themselves this year when they told me their credit card machine was broken and demanded cash rightthefucknow (I'm guessing they were mad I made my reservation before they upped the prices for the Picnic and wanted to get out of the Visa fees). Also charming: The sole remaining key to the room was broken, so they had to let me in and out of the room with the master key every time I showed up at the front desk.

2. The Twitter experiment was a bust except for a single tweet from 11 p.m. on July 3: "Longhorn Salion. I yes I Jesus. I the walrus." If I knew what I had meant to say at that point, it would probably open up some deep universal secret. This also provides a little insight into how successful I was at getting lit up, pre-Picnic. Offering my services as a Flaming Dr Pepper adviser during dinner at Cattleman's was probably a mistake.

3. I'd been in the "Will Call" line to pick up my media credentials for almost half an hour when I decided to cheat just a little bit. I called up the Billy Bob's Texas official that I've been in contact with over most of the past decade and said "Heyyyyyy ... I've been standing in this line for a loooooong time. And that's OK. I just wanted to be sure I was in the right spot to pick up my media pass."

She said yes, but she would double-check. Five minutes later I get a call. "I"m sending a blonde in a golf cart to pick you up." From there, I got a free ride to backstage where the official was waiting with my media pass.

I kinda felt like a VIP. I guess that's the idea, but this doesn't usually happen to me. I could get used to it. Made it in just in time to catch Ray Wylie Hubbard do his "let's give them the four songs they want" set.

4. At a fairly inexplicable 2 p.m. show Kris Kristofferson sounded terrible, forgot words to his songs and tried to do the same song twice. It was a far piece from the evening show that was the highlight of the 2010 Picnic. Johnny Bush was alone in seeming ageless. Billy Joe Shaver seemed tired, but didn't hold back.

5. Ray Price had to cancel the day before, so I was left with a simple choice: Jamey Johnson and then Leon Russell outside or David Allan Coe inside Billy Bob's. Well, in my story for the paper I had urged everyone to show some love for Leon, who has always been underappreciated as a Picnic pioneer. Outside it was.

Jamey continued his Picnic tradition of setting his excellent 45 rpm songs at 33 1/3 rpm and letting the afternoon heat suck the life out of them. Leon? He was awesome. He limped to the stage in all white, like Santa Claus at a formal, sat down and blazed away for 25 minutes straight. He even said something! A small crack about how hot it was.

6. Never found out why Lukas Nelson canceled, but I heard just enough of Micah Nelson's latest band (Insects vs. Robots) to really, really miss Lukas. I'd been tromping in and out of the Billy Bob's offices, filing reports that nobody read. But they gave me free access to everywhere, let me leave the computer in the office (after 4 Picnics of carrying it in a backpack with me ... small progress). Once again, Billy Bob's was a first-class operation.

7. My first Ryan Bingham show. Was damn surprised to learn that other people love "Southside of Heaven" as much as I do. That album -- "Mescalito" -- has such as West Texas vibe to it. Terribly not used to watching and appreciating artists younger than I am. But I reckon I have to get there. Options will get limited quickly.

8. Because my other choices are asshats like Justin Moore. This guy has an elevated platform built on the stage so he can rise mysteriously into view -- cowboy hat visible from Dallas -- before a row of pulsing lights and thumping music. Then he goes on to tell us all what a real country musician he is. After opening with a song about how Obama can't take his guns, of course. To see Justin  juxtaposed with Bingham only serves to expose what a joke Justin is. All talk, all flash, all cliche, all hat and no badass jams.

9. After filing another report during the second half of Moore's disaster, I used Gary Allan's 75 minutes to take the computer back to the hotel (yes, they had to let me into my room) and then have a sit-down dinner at Riscky's before hoofing it back for Willie's closing set. This all felt very weird. But I wasn't going to suffer another $8 corndog just to listen to Gary Allan and make my feet hurt a little more.

10. Willie? He sounded rough before he got warmed up, but hit his groove and coasted to a sing-along gospel-heavy close. It was a fitting end to this Picnic and -- probably -- to all the Picnics. I know I wasn't there for the first 20 years of this tradition, but I've been around long enough to say it really lost something over the past decade when Willie could no longer come out and jam with his guests (and no blame here, of course – I understand he's 80).

What has kept the Picnic together over this past decade has been its core group: Ray Price, Leon Russell, Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Johnny Bush, Asleep at the Wheel. And, to a lesser extent, Kristofferson and Coe. Let's face it, though. The core group is geting old. The Picnic is getting old. And this year, it was awfully noticeable.

I was pleased that we had one more big, outdoor event. One more "Whiskey River." One more "Redneck Mother," "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Live Forever." I had a good time. But maybe we should say 40 is enough. I know it's not up to me, but I'd rather give it up than watch it morph into something else, with someone else.

I heard from a few sources that Willie feels the same. But you never know.

Only one thing is certain: My calendar will be clear for July 3-4 next year.

Just in case.

The 20 most bad-ass songs in my iTunes library

I'm a late-comer to the iTunes / iPod revolution — in spite of my buddy Bret telling me a decade ago how cool it was. What can I say? I been wrong before.

I totally get it now. I can think of a song, buy it in 20 seconds for $1, have it on my iPod in another 2 minutes and be driving down the road listening to it in my car 5 minutes after that. But I'm a slow-adopting, slow-moving technology outlaw. Most of my narrow, but deep, song library is still on CDs. I probably have more songs on vinyl than in my iTunes library.

But in the spirit of a totally unnecessary writing exercise, I got to thinking the other day (sparked by listening to "Copperhead Road," of course): "What are the most bad-ass songs in my iTunes collection?" Not the best, mind you. Not even my favorites. But the most bad-ass.

Here goes.

20.  "Ride Me Down Easy," Billy Joe Shaver, "Unshaven."
I'm a sucker for live albums, I guess. But I never understood why this album isn't worshipped by every music critic from El Paso to Atlanta.

19. "Casting my Lasso," Don Walser, "Texas Legend."
I always wanted to pair Don Walser with Monte Montgomery and have the big feller and the guitar wizard compete yodel-for-guitar solo. The goddamn ultimate call-and-response. It would have been awesome.

18. "The Ecstasy of the Gold," Ennio Morricone, "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly."
I loved the movie long before that Nike commercial — you know the one — but I'm not too proud to say the commercial moved me, too.

17. "The Randall Knife," Guy Clark, "Dublin Blues."
No, wait, I hate commercials. Fucking Taco Cabana commercials.

16. "We Can't Make it Here," James McMurtry, "Childish Things."
A protest song that absolutely should galvanize every American with truth that transcends politics … I mean if such a thing were possible for most people.

15. "My Cup Runneth Over," Johnny Bush, "Bush Country."
The other day on the radio I heard a Justin Trevino song where he apparently had invited his mentor, Johnny Bush, to sing backup. That's like asking Fred Astaire to be a backup dancer in your touring show. Like asking Daniel Day-Lewis to be an extra in your movie. Like asking Johnny Gimble to play second fiddle. This song is Johnny Bush at the height of his powers. But even all these years later, he still can't help but eclipse poor Justin.

14. Carmina Burana: "O Fortuna," London Philharmonic Orchestra
Seriously, listen to this. Then RIGHT after it's over, play ZZ Top's "I Gotsta Get Paid." It's meant to be.

13. "Wishing All These Old Things Were New," Merle Haggard, "If I Could Only Fly."
"Watching while some old friends do a line / Holding back the want to in my own addicted mind / Wishing it was a still a thing even I could do / Wishing all these old things were new."
Every would-be Nashville outlaw out there today might as well hand in their professionally battered cowboy hat right the fuck now. None of y'all can ever touch this level of bad-ass.

12. "For Whom The Bell Tolls," Metallica, "Ride The Lightning."
"Take a look to the sky / just before you die / it's the last time you will"
If you didn't do some air drums right after reading that line, you haven't heard the song. Or you're rolling your eyes at us stupid boys.

11. "The Messenger," Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Loco Gringo's Lament."
I bought a Rilke book. It hasn't changed my life yet. But I'm still holding out hope.

10. "King of Rock," Run-DMC, "King of Rock."
People my age, there's something: It surrounds us, flows through us, binds our galaxy together. No, not that "Star Wars" was the first significant movie we saw in the theater, but the fact that we grew up in the 1980s. You can take the most hard-core 1970s Cosmic Cowboy / Redneck Rock enthusiast (yours truly, for example) and play a scratchy cassette recording of "Rock Me Amadeus," and we CAN'T FUCKING TURN IT OFF. It's a sickness. The '80s are us. We are the '80s. It's incurable.

The other day I was walking through a hallway by the snack bar at work and I heard "Eye of the Tiger." I stopped. I looked. After awhile I found that somebody had left a small radio playing. But for a minute … for a minute I actually had to consider the idea that the "Eye of the Tiger" was playing in my head, completely unbidden, like some sort of "I Love the '80s Tourette's" or something. Jesus.

9. "Agua Dulce," Rusty Weir, "Don't It Make You Want to Dance."
Rusty Weir came out to Blaine's Picnic in San Angelo one year. He opened with an ambling verse of "Don't it Make You Wanna Dance" and stopped. He told us that was how he recorded the song originally. Then he said "this is how Jerry Jeff does it" and … we all learned a lot that day. San Angelo was a town on the rise with its own music scene, its own annual picnic and a growing sense of pride. But one old feller whom we hardly knew of could smile benignly at all that and then tell us, in so many words, "this is cute, but take a listen to how we invented this shit in Austin 30 years ago."

Rusty Weir blew us all away. Wish I could remember more of the show.

8. "Does my Ring Burn Your Finger," Solomon Burke, "Nashville."
For the No-Soul Simmons version of the song, take a listen to Charley Pride's "Does my Ring Hurt Your Finger." No, it's not the same song, just the same idea. Charley is beginning to suspect his sweetums isn't on the up-and-up. Solomon is beginning to feel guilty for burying that cheating bitch in a shallow grave.

7. "Copperhead Road," Steve Earle, "Just an American Boy."
I dig this version. Is it bad-ass in spite of the 2-minute mandolin intro? Or it it more bad-ass because of the mandolin? Remember what Ray Wylie Hubbard said about bluegrass: "In music, Ralph Stanley has killed more people than Ice-T."

6. "I Washed my Hands in Muddy Water," Stonewall Jackson, "Greatest Hits."
I'm always mystified by (and impressed by) the old-school country songs that stand the test of time. Ernest Tubb's "Waltz Across Texas" will be cool 1,000 years from now. "Too Old to Cut the Mustard" was cornball crap when he cut it. Did he know at the time? Stonewall cut "I Washed my Hands …" in 1965. Which is damn near a half-century ago. And it's still cooler than most anything you'll hear today.

5. "The Highland Street Incident," Todd Snider, "The Devil You Know."
So Todd Snider gets mugged outside a bar. He's having trouble writing a song about it … until he decides to write from the perspective of the hoodlums. I hate to compare eras. There's not going to be another Johnny Cash, not another Willie or Kris. But if he lives that long, I think Todd Snider is going to be one hell of an old man artist, with a catalog of impossibly original and significant songs. I worry about the guy, though. I hear success is hard to handle.

4. "Dead Flowers," Townes Van Zandt, "Abnormal."
OK, confession time. When I got to be friends with Bret, he set about improving my knowledge of classic rock, which was so pitiful that I can hardly admit to it. He was with me when I heard Townes do "Dead Flowers" the first time and I remarked that it was a hell of a Van Zandt song. He never stopped giving me shit over that. Of course it's a Rolling Stones original. And I've learned enough about the Stones to admit that they are one of the world's greatest rock and roll institutions (and if you listen to "Country Honk," you get the idea they could have been a great country band). And I was a fool for not knowing about them, even if I came of age in the '80s when they were pretty low-flying.

Still, Bret never understood properly, that when I said this was a great Townes song, I was paying the Stones the highest compliment I could, in terms of songwriting. Like Billy Joe Shaver doing an incredibly rare cover of Haggard's "Rambling Fever," I believe that Townes Van Zandt was a natural fit for "Dead Flowers."

3. Lonesome, On'ry and Mean," Waylon Jennings, "Greatest Hits"
This song swaggers through my iTunes library liked a coked-up West Texan on a three-bender. Balls like watermelons. '80s songs scatter like spooked deer. Shannon's songs get the vapors. Even the songs on this list, give or take one or two, still give this song a wary eye and a wide berth.

2. "Dagger Through The Heart," Sinead O'Connor, "Just Because I'm a Woman."
OK, this takes a little explanation. This song was on one of Shannon's CDs, a Dolly Parton tribute CD. I don't listen to Sinead O'Connor on a regular basis, but a good song is a good song. Dolly is a bit of a vamp for my taste, but you'd be a damn fool to confuse that with her songwriting skills, which are as sharp as a skinnin' knife.

Dolly's version, is of course, all Dolly. Full of warbling and hand-wringing. It's the song of a woman who is fixin' to pack up to go to mama's and will take some convincing to come back to her no-good husband. Sinead O'Connor's version feels completely different. There's a tinge of madness to her breathlessness. You can't tell whether it's going to be homicide or suicide, but there's a pretty fair chance that someone is getting their ass stabbed to death tonight.

1. "Hurt," Johnny Cash, "American IV: The Man Comes Around."
I hate to be laughed at. After that I hate to lose. After that, I hate to be predictable. But, yeah … Johnny Cash, "Hurt," that video ,,, what the hell are you going to say?


The gun owner's approach to gun control

Anheuser-Busch – the enormous beer company that gives us Budweiser – participates in all manner of social responsibility programs.

From fighting underage drinking to pushing for designated drivers and responsible drinking to helping alcoholics, the company sets aside some of its money to urge potential consumers to not buy its product yet, to consume less of its product now or, sometimes, to not give them any money at all.

The company might do this out of the goodness of their corporate heart, but I don’t think so. Anheuser-Busch, which survived Prohibition, knows full well it is in their best long-term financial interest to have fewer drunk teenagers, fewer drunk drivers and fewer full-on drunks.

When M.A.D.D. raises hell about the wide-mouth quart bottle (to use a mid-1990s example), Anheuser-Busch doesn’t remind us what a bunch of hard drinkers the founding fathers were and cry out “ … from our cold, dead fingers!” The wide-mouth quart bottle goes away quietly, but the beer keeps flowing.

You can see where I’m going with this, I hope: The NRA and gun rights supporters need to abandon the tired old clichés, the uselessly horseshit arguments and stop pretending that the world is not changing.

The NRA needs to lead the way on gun control. About the time of Columbine or Virginia Tech or Aurora or – for God’s sake, right fucking now – the NRA needs to say “Hell, yes, there is a problem and if you liberals would stop dragging your feet, we’re going to find a way to fix it.”

Let’s pause a moment here for some background, of course. I am politically independent, from a deeply conservative background, a gun owner and when I first heard someone had shot a bunch of children in an elementary school, my very first thought was “I hope they kill that motherfucker.”

Trust me, I am not writing from an imaginary wonderland of peace and flowers and rainbow butterflies.

But I also know damn well that ours is no longer a rural society at heart, lilly-white and peopled by hard-working, patriarchal types who ceaselessly instill safety and responsibility in their sons while using their guns as tools for honest tasks.

The world is changing. Kids today know much more of guns (through video games) and much less about guns – that is until their violent pixel-fueled fantasies meet up with the gun tucked back in grandpa’s closet.

It’s not that way with me, of course. Theoretically, I think I should have all the guns I want. I was raised right. My children will be educated firmly, thoroughly and I hope to hell beyond the reach of peer pressure. But you can’t legislate sense and there’s more than one fellow I know who has more guns than brains. The serious question: What the hell do you do about that?

I don’t have the answers.* But I do know the NRA is being plenty damn foolish to circle the wagons ever tighter, again, and say that more guns is the answer. That restrictions should never be imposed.

If the NRA wants to protect Americans’ rights to own guns, they should be at the forefront of the gun control discussion. And — just to let everyone know that they are serious — the first thing they should do is demand an end to civilian use of assault rifles.

Yes. The NRA should call for it. Jesus, talk about disarming (so to speak) your critics.

It’s a symbolic act, of course. Assault rifles won’t go away. They’ll still emerge in the hands of criminals and nutcases. But it has to be done. The line has been crossed – everybody pause here to imagine 20 kids gunned down in their elementary school – and America ain’t going back. This is reality. Don’t pretend the world isn’t changing.

Give up the assault rifles to keep your Glocks and your semi-automatic shotguns (which, shhhhh, are nearly as deadly). And if you really, really want to shoot an assault rifle, join the Army. If you are as bad-ass as you think you are, you’ll get to shoot things even bigger and badder.

(Yes, I have fired an assault rifle. It was fun. But I’m a far piece from having the kind of land or money where I could argue for owning one of my own, even without the, you know, dead-kid baggage. Also: let's dismiss the ridiculous stand that this is a political issue. If my father, who describes himself as somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun, can call for an end to assault rifle ownership, then, maybe just this once, we can rise above the right vs. left argument and work together on this.)

And don’t worry, NRA, about having already made your statement. A truly strong leader can admit he’s made a mistake, and drive on with confidence. Sure, the less-secure people who rely on volume and bombast might look at someone who re-thinks their position and call it flip-flopping. But I prefer to call it by its real name: Education.

Am I pissing in the wind? Almost certainly. I’ll bet you know somebody who works for a company that is cannibalizing itself from within, sacrificing its credibility, even its economic future to bring in a few extra nickels today. With that kind of attitude prevalent in the U.S., who would expect the NRA to embrace a short-term defeat in order to gain a longer-term win?

But there’s one thing I’m pretty sure of: There will come a time when the NRA wishes to hell they were driving the gun control bus, instead of getting run over by it.

-- Dave Thomas

* No, I don’t have answers, but I have opinions. Who wants to hear ‘em?