Wanted: One vintage grandfather, rough edges OK

There was an old man, long since leather and gray. There was an old pickup, ashtray spilling over and girlie magazines stuffed behind the seats. There was that South Texas clammy sweat, the kind you had when outside was only a different kind of hot than inside. The very air smelled of oil and smoke and dirt. You can keep your digital filters, hell, I can close my eyes and I'm right back there in 1970s Wharton, Texas.

Grandpa asked me if I wanted to go turtle hunting. To a 4-year-old raised on Little Golden Books and Saturday morning cartoons, this didn't sound like fun and I said so. And that was it. Next time I heard of Grandpa, I was in the dim light of the den listening to dad talk on the phone about funeral arrangements and travel plans.

My maternal grandfather had died before I was born, so that left me bereft of old men in my young life. It was a significant loss — but I didn't realize the impact that it had until recently. Turns out, I've been adopting grandfathers ever since.

Two years later when "Star Wars" came out, little boys everywhere were the next Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. But this 6-year-old's favorite character was Obi-Wan Kenobi. And why not? Wise, patient, kind and bad-ass in a bar fight — I had the metal lunch box and the school folder and every line of dialogue memorized.

Twelve years after that came Uncle Woody (don't sweat the details, you'd need a flow chart to figure how we were related). A giant of a 78-year-old, Woody told me he'd worked and smoked cigars "every goddamn day" since he was 13. Think of a meaner, bigger Woodrow Call stuffed into an XL pair of coveralls and you're getting a real good idea who he was, less a run of cussing that you ain't never heard and I ain't heard since.

Woody resented the hell outta being forced to hire me to work on a ranch not far from Normangee, owned by another "uncle" whose connection is a little easier to reckon (my aunt's ex-brother-in-law). He'd a worked me stupid if he'd been a decade younger or I any less stubborn. 

But I listened, I asked the right questions, I didn't ask the wrong ones. And by the end of the summer ... no, he didn't shed a tear or cease to swear, but he shook my hand and asked me to stay ... or maybe, sometime, come back and do a little goddamn work.

In between Obi-Wan and Uncle Woody came Tuke, who taught me everything I never wanted to know about horses and a whole lot about not underestimating little old ladies. You might think she'd be missing a key part of being a stand-in grandfather, but she could carry on about old tools and trucks and carry a bale of hay under each arm and a ton of philosophy under her hat.

Even my musical tastes ran quickly away from long-haired metal bands of my teen years and toward the gray-haired pickers I've long since followed. Greatest and chief among them is Willie Nelson. Everybody's grandfather now, he's the teller of deep truths and dirty jokes. A little funny smoke can't obscure the wisdom I'm still seeking.

I have to admit I've always fetishized wisdom, to the point where I convinced my younger self I was prematurely wise. I now know I'll sooner be prematurely bald. Not much I can do about my run as a philosophy major or my cringe-worthy pronouncements than try to look to the future and hope nobody was paying attention in the past. I should've paid attention to Socrates, who said that his wisdom was only that he knew he knew nothing.

In this digital era, do kids still seek the wisdom of age? Can a grandfather compete with Google? I watch my oldest boy with his grandfathers and realize analog isn't obsolete yet, but how long will that last? What wisdom will I be able to share? My future tales of a life before the Web -- when unplugged meant not just wireless, but unentangled altogether -- will certainly generate wonder, but very little of the type of awe inspired by the old men of my youth. 

Of course, the Greatest Generation was easy to admire. Jalapeño Sam Lewis was a tail gunner during World War II, but never spoke of it to me and I didn't ask. It seems like a monumental oversight on my part now, but it was hard then to connect the ugly business of war to this bundle of positive energy for whom the word "spry" might have been invented.

I wandered into his office one afternoon in San Angelo and he adopted me on the spot. Soon I was learning the finer points of armadillos and chili cookoffs. Days off would find me in a van hurtling toward Terlingua. Or in the Luckenbach dancehall watching him dance all night with every girl. He lived on coffee and celebrated with root beer. He gave because he enjoyed the giving. Sam was a saint to balance out the old devils and demons I've known.

After many years of making friends with weathered barflies straight out of a Guy Clark song and listening to advice from old barbers and bartenders, Sam was probably the closest I got to what I missed. We grew close, had time to wander apart and grow close again. I grew up and moved to the big city, but managed to visit just before the end.

Sam will be teaching me lessons on kindness and giving for years to come. But that ain't to say I'm gonna be much like him — I've long since been aiming at the grumpy old man with the secret (don't tell nobody!) heart of gold. 

Somewhere between that weathered old man in Wharton and that spry old guy in San Angelo.

43 years and 10 books

 Twenty years after my first effort, I’m re-reading Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” It’s terribly interesting to note which bits of wisdom earned an asterisk from my early-20s self.

(Note: The fact that the asterisks are in a copy editor’s blue pen is a bit poignant. Perhaps when I re-read again in another 20 years, the idea of copy editors will be as far gone as the days of newspaper paste-up is now.)

Next on my list of short books for re-reading Rainier Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet.”

When I was nominated on Facebook to share the 10 books that most affected me, I was tempted to list these, as well as some tomes of political philosophy, classics of literature and maybe an impenetrable Russian novel, too. I couldn’t. Sun Tzu has been useful. Rilke is worth a deeper look. But I am not moved. Not yet.

But here’s where the real truth must be told: I’m not terribly well-versed in the classics. You’d be shocked by what I haven’t read (“On the Road” is a preposterous omission. You can add Vonnegut and Updike and others too numerous to list here). And most of what I have read, I don’t recall all that well.

This is not some boast — “Whooooo! I drank a lot in my 20s!” — but a lament. I’ve read “Walden” and Whitman, how can there not be civil disobedience or a barbaric yawp stamped in my consciousness? I’ve read Shakespeare and Chaucer and Melville and … yeah. I don’t remember. It’s a bit embarrassing.

It’d be easier to list the 10 movies that affected me. “Yes. These are them. Fuck you and your arthouse. I like stuff that bleeds and blows up.” But books tug at what pretense I have left. I am an educated man. I should have better taste. I should tell the world that my life was changed by Plato’s “Republic” (never could get into that one).

 I could have used my youth better. When I was in high school and teachers were dismissing Edgar Allen Poe as tasteless pulp, I was diving in. When I was in college and my colleagues were devouring classics of political thought, I was ass-deep in philosophy essays. When I was in my early 20s … well, reading was on the list behind work, beer and music. It wasn’t close.

(There’s been a couple of poetry victories: I recited the Poe poem “The Conqueror Worm” before a group of very stoned folks playing bongos around a campfire somewheres between Sisterdale and Luckenbach and just blew everyone away. And I chose “Ozymandias” as my classic poem to recite in high school, which totally gave me a leg up on that “Breaking Bad” episode.)

I have read a lot. If I can’t recall it all, surely it is somewhere within me. Transcendental education. Sometimes things bubble up at the right time.

But not today. Here is my list, shaped to fit my own rules.

Five books that shaped me:

 1. “Desert Solitaire,” Edward Abbey. My most constant literary companion.

2. “The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock,” Jan Reid. The book that introduced me to the 1970s music scene that now exists only in my garage.

3. “Blood Meridian,” Cormac McCarthy. I’ve read it twice. I bought a study guide to accompany my next journey. I want to know how and why and what. Never has such a hard road been so joyfully suffered.

4. “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Douglas Adams. The book that changed my understanding of language and writing in high school. You can break all the rules and still be smart and funny.

5. “Blue Highways,” William Least Heat Moon. Killeen High School’s gift to me. My first taste of the road and solitary adventure. Picked this over “Travels with Charley” because fuck a poodle.

Two music books that are really cool:

6. “Willie Nelson: An Epic Life,” Joe Nick Patoski. I think I may have levitated through the chapters detailing the 1970s. Certainly I was enthralled enough to forget about gravity.

7. “Cash: A Life,” Robert Hilburn. There’s a whole discussion to be had about flawed men and whether age and suffering merits forgiveness.

Three books I haven’t thought about for a long time:

8. “Uncle Shelby’s ABZ’s,” Shel Silverstein. Could have gone with any of his children’s books (kind of partial to “Lafcadio” rather than the obvious “The Giving Tree”). But I love going with the moment that I found out Shel had a wicked, wicked sense of humor.

9. “Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line,” Ben Hamper. Ignore the foreword from Michael Moore, this is not politics. It is pure blue-collar poetry. The Billy Joe Shaver of building cars.

10. “Death in the Long Grass,” Peter Hathaway Capstick. I haven’t read it in a quarter-century. But at one point he tells the readers that the elephant would not hesitate to “stomp you into guava jelly.” And I’ve used that phrase ever since. Sadly, it doesn’t come up as often as I would like, but I never miss a chance.

There. And you probably know me. If you have a suggestion for a classic book I need to read, or re-read, please let me know. It might happen.

Owed to Mrs. Warner

Toward the end of my sophomore English class -- we're talking high school -- the teacher sidled up to my desk one day and made the sort of demand that I've been ignoring all my life.

"You are going to be on the newspaper staff next year."

That's all she said.

She was trying to steer my life. And I liked her well enough as an English teacher. But not well enough to take any orders. Funny thing was that she knew. She knew I wasn't going to walk away. I was on the staff the next year. The next year, too. Hell, now it's near three decades later and I'm still a newspaper man.

Truth is -- and I'm big on truth -- that I could bless or blame her for that.

Of course, I joke that I could've been an engineering major and a wealthy man today. I wonder what would've happened if I'd joined the Army. I suspect that if I stuck with my 18-year-old plan of being a forest ranger, that I would've been the next Edward Abbey -- at least in my own mind.

I could blame her for turning me on to newspapers. I mean, hell, look where I'm at today. Look where newspapers are at today. Neither one is very pretty. (If you're not keeping track, I had to make the switch to the website after my copy editing career of 19 years was consolidated and shipped off to Florida. The other day I got a letter from my employer. It was mailed from Ohio.)

But let's be honest here. I wasn't going to be an engineer. I wasn't going to be a soldier. I wasn't going to be a forest ranger. I was going to be a journalist because I was fucking good at it. No other career would've tolerated the wildness that emerged in my 20s and the wild attitude that followed. Being good at what I did was my free ticket to be as bad as I could. That teacher wouldn't have believed it. I was one of her good kids.

After I won my first Charles Murphy Award -- what amounts to the copy editor of the year in the state of Texas -- I sent that teacher a nice letter. I told her where I was, how I was doing and how much I appreciated her. I never heard back. Don't know if it reached her or if it struck her the wrong way.

No matter. Truth is truth. She knew. I know. She looked at me as a 15-year-old and she saw -- despite my irreverence, despite my struggles -- that I was the sort of fellow who could make a job out of working with words.

So I'll bless her for her benediction. It's been a hell of a ride. Folks that know me at work today wouldn't have believed that passion I had. And if I've held on to Act 1 of my career a few years too long, that's my own damn fault.

Connie Warner died this week after a battle of cancer. I didn't know about it until it was nearly over. My classmates have come together and stepped forward in a way that leaders do and I'm thankful for them, too. High school seems very long ago. There are whole stretches that I don't remember that clearly -- recall what said about my 20s?

But I haven't forgotten what I owe Mrs. Warner.

And I'm just one of many. God bless her.

Hey, Mrs. Warner. You weren't the first or the last to tell me that I had to learn the rules before I could break them. But you told me more than anyone else.

I learned the rules. I learned the rules.

10 things I learned at Willie's Picnic: 2014

ONE: I joked on Twitter about a Waylon “hologram,” but if I were in charge of the 2014 Picnic, I totally would have screened 10 minutes or so of Waylon’s performance at the 1974 Picnic. Where do you get that? Easy, they released a movie of it: "Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Celebration." I have a copy of it on DVD, includes a jaw-dropping look at Waylon back in the day and a shitload of Leon Russell hogging the spotlight.

Here's what I would've done: Set up a giant bedsheet, for lack of a more descriptive term, over the front of the South stage. After Dierks Bentley drives ‘em nuts, wait a minute or so and turn that giant projector on, maybe with an introduction, but probably with just some overlay type on the film: “40 years ago tonight.” Then run about 10 minutes of Waylon’s performance (you have to include “This Time”). Then the giant screen falls to the ground and there’s Willie and band, ready to hit the opening chords of “Whiskey River.”

PEOPLE WOULD GO BATSHIT. It would be the most awesome thing I have ever seen. And that’s because of the nod to Waylon, that’s because of the surprise (don’t advertise it), but it’s mostly out of respect of the history – which is a huge part of the Picnic experience. I can’t imagine that Jessi Colter wouldn’t agree to it – it would only add to the value of Waylon’s estate. And, sure, you’d have to hunt down whoever has the rights to the film and pay them, but I’m sure Billy Bob’s has lawyers for that kind of thing.

TWO: My traditional night-on-the-town on July 3 was pretty tame. I bar-hopped, but without any real joy. I tweeted to zero effect. I did end up finding an interesting new bar, tucked away off the street real close to the Hotel Texas (Sam's Saloon) that I would've probably thoroughly enjoyed if I had started the evening there. It had a very San Angelo sort of feel to it, right down to the semi-wasted fellow in the Affliction T-shirt doing "Proud Mary" on Karaoke.

At one point, I was looking around the Longhorn Saloon and their awesome Texas beer artifacts, and decided that it was fine to be honky-tonkin' that night, but I'd much rather spend an afternoon discussing these treasures with the owner. I'm not saying I won't continue to give it the Ol' Army try, but it's possible that I'm not as in love with bars as I used to be.

(For the record: The Hotel Texas, which I roundly criticized in this blog last year, was very satisfactory this year. No problems at all until the morning I was checking out and Mrs. Grumpy showed up and tried to cheat me out of my $2 deposit for my room key. I gave her the Bullworker treatment, not because I wanted the $2 that much, but because I enjoy reminding her that I can match her attitude.)

THREE: Willie children scrutiny time. Just when I was ready to write off Folk Uke as a one-note act, they shined through this year with new songs and really impressed me with their empathy for the fan at the front of the stage who passed out and their comic skills once they figured out he was all right.

Micah's band, Insects vs. Robots, proved to be interesting for the pair of 12-minute songs they performed, ending the last with a fit of atonal wailin' -- which would be as close and as far that this Picnic would get to Waylon. (Yes, I know I used that line on twitter and in my review, but nobody fucking said anything about it, so I'm saying it again.)

Lukas didn't do the guitar gymnastics we saw a couple years ago, opting instead for a bluesier slow jam which proved impervious to any sort of criticism or analysis on my part. It was talent, no doubt, but it didn't stir me. I stood there, notebook in hand, forcing myself to watch until I came up with 3 things to say about Lukas. After 15 minutes, I went back to the shade and waited for Bingham.

FOUR: Crowd-watching is one of the better parts of any Picnic. Of course it is an endless sea, teeming with jiggle, but there are more PG moments. I liked the family of five who set down chairs near me at one point. A dad, three young boys and mom. Dad heaved the chairs off his shoulder, set them up, got the boys settled into them and then (and only then) mom interrupted -- pointing toward a nearby fellow with a cigarette and doing the pantomime "we are not sitting here, he is smoking" routine. The beleaguered dad quickly shot back: "OK, where do YOU want to sit?" I saw them a few hours later and they looked like they weren't on the verge of murder, so that's good.

Later came the best fashion moment of the day: Another family of five, each decked out in black T-shirts that said CASH and featured the famous photo of Johnny shooting the finger to the camera. That's family togetherness.

FIVE: Saw Ben Dorcy (the world's oldest roadie) at Stockyards Station before the Picnic started. Wanted to grab passers-by: "Hey, do you like John Wayne movies?! See that guy there!? He was John Wayne's valet! HISTORY PEOPLE! You're missing it!!!"

Later I saw him at the back of the stage during Johnny Bush's set, puffing on a pipe and wearing dark shades. Twenty minutes later, he was on the other side of the North Forty watching Charley Pride from the side of the stage.

It was Willie's show, but there was no doubt who owned the place. (I did approach him in '96 after a Keen show, and got a handshake before he figured out I was a journalist. Not that he was rude. He just didn't want to talk about himself.)

SIX: Am I the only one who really wished that Charley Pride would have followed David Allan Coe? Would've felt right. I had no expectations for Pride, but he was one of the highlights of the day for me, pacing the stage like it was 1965, mike in one hand and a white towel in the other to mop the sweat from his head. Pride started off sounding a little rough, but he worked through it. "Is Anybody Going to San Antone" sounded froggy, but "Kiss an Angel Good Morning" was straight out of history.

Coe, on the other hand, was terrible. I took it easy on him in my official review, but the man is not well. He skipped through a medley of hits like an impatient man searching through an iPod. I could've gone to get a corn dog or something.

SEVEN: No need to gush over Bingham, my favorite artist younger than I am, the real interesting headliner of the night was Dierks Bentley. Everyone knows that I spend my time watching geriatric and semi-geriatric singers do songs I've heard a thousand times before, but I could hardly have been less prepared for the human super-ball that was Bentley.

No, I still don't care for his brand of music, but it's hard not to find the guy likable -- he tweeted all day about watching the other arists -- or at least to be impressed by his skill at working a crowd. The fellow said "Fort Worth" more than everyone else the rest of the day, combined. 

EIGHT: I didn't tweet or write a word about the Josh Abbott Band. That's because I didn't see a second of their show. I went back to the hotel to charge my phone for more pointless twittering and to write the first third of my review. Last year, I spent the whole Gary Allan show having a steak and a beer at Riscky's. You can probably guess what I will do next year.

That's because I'm probably done with "covering" the Picnic. I'll still go as long as Willie is there. And I'll still take notes in case I ever write that book. But there's no sense in expending a live coverage kind of effort for a bit of writing that gets and has gotten so little notice.

Besides, after being treated so well by Billy Bob's for the past six years, they really left me kind of cold this year. I didn't dig it.

NINE: Willie? He was Willie. The crowd was huge, he sounded younger this year, he opened with the same stretch of eight songs, in the same order, that he has done the past four years. Shut up, he's 81 years old. If you're a fan, and I am, you take what you can get and are thankful for it.

TEN: Will the Picnic return? I really thought last year was it. Kris Kristofferson was struggling with his memory. Ray Price was on the way out. Leon Russell was obviously doing one more for the road. Coe was just returning from a serious car wreck and in bad shape. It looked like the Pichic had reached the end of its life expectancy.

But Bingham was a revelation. Johnny Bush and Ray Wylie Hubbard still do the heavy lifting for not much recognition. And where Billy Bob's wasn't quite sure what popular artists to augment the Picnic with last year -- Justin Moore stood out like a pig in church -- they sure got it right this year.

I saw one report that said the North Forty field was targeted for development, leaving the Picnic without a pasture (please don't put it back inside Billy Bob's -- that was just sad). I don't know if that will happen, but barring the curse of progress, or the unthinkable, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see a 42nd (somewhat) annual Picnic next year.

I'll be there. And I'll be doing it different.

Armadillo expert, entrepreneur and promoter, Sam Lewis was also a Texas legend beloved by many

It's been 11 years since my original mentor/stand-in grandfather Jalepeno Sam Lewis died in San Angelo at the age of 80. What follows is an article I wrote for the Standard-Times' Sunday life section about a week later. Almost everything I wrote for San Angelo has vanished in the ether (I would not be surprised if I've been expunged from the archives, as well), but a friendly website happened to pirate this. Anyway, I thought I would share it with folks who weren't reading my little West Texas paper in 2003.

Jalapeno Sam Lewis at the 1994 Terlingua Chili Cookoff (Behind the Store, of course).

It's 2, maybe 3 a.m. and I'm in the passenger seat of Sam Lewis' old brown van as we hurtle toward Terlingua.

We wander across the center stripe and back and back again — Sam's not near as worried about it as I am. Sensing my discomfort, Sam says, ''Oh, I just kind of aim this thing down the road.'' And he does, not steering as much as giving the steering wheel a slap every now and then when we appear to be on the verge of disaster.

I'm reassured by the thought that Sam might have a few armadillos in the back of the van. Surely, he wouldn't risk harming them.

Tonight we left San Angelo at midnight — when I got off work — and we'll arrive at Sam's little adobe hut near Terlingua just before dawn. We'll nap for an hour or two, and he'll deliver a few boxes of Jalapeno Sam olives and catch up with some friends before driving back.

Along the way, he'll tell me how he became fascinated with armadillos, how he started his own business and lots of things I wish I could remember clearly.

I'm not quite 24 years old, and I'm exhausted.

Sam is somewhere in his 70s. He's all glasses and grin, and there's not an old man anywhere described as ''spry'' that has anything on Sam. He's a giver and is beloved for it. He's the grandfather I haven't had for 20 years, and he's family for many, many people.

That was 1995.

We lost Sam Lewis early Jan 10. He was 80 years old. He was buried last week next to Betty, his wife of 50 years.

Sam was more than an eccentric entrepreneur, an armadillo expert, a tireless promoter and a Lone Star legend. He was human, in a way we all wish we could be. He touched lives and changed them for the better, mine included.

All of Texas should mourn his passing; there won't be another like Sam.

You know Sam.

If you've been to most any big event in Luckenbach or San Angelo or Terlingua, he's been there racing armadillos or selling T-shirts. Short, slight, big glasses and a variety of broken-in hats, he was the old guy who wouldn't give you a handshake when a hug would do better. It didn't matter if he knew you or not.

It seems he couldn't walk into a honky-tonk in Texas without someone giving him a big smile of recognition, though Sam never drank anything harder than root beer.

Sam might be the only person from San Angelo who has had a musical written about him. His younger brother, Franklin, wrote ''Jalapeno Sam as Seen Through the Eyes of Frankie Dan'' for the Texas sesquicentennial celebration. The commission gave it their official seal, and the musical premiered in Austin.

Who knew Sam was so famous?

He invented the jalapeno lollipop in 1977 and sold millions. Jalapeno-flavored ice cream didn't fare as well, but jalapeno-stuffed olives were an even bigger hit. Today, his jalapeno-flavored foods, including guacamole, salsa and ketchup, are distributed by Unimark Foods Inc. as part of the Jalapeno Sam product line.

Then there are the armadillos.

Sam didn't just run armadillo races, he was an armadillo expert and perhaps the world's greatest promoter for the hard-shelled critter. It's little wonder his land near Luckenbach was called the ''Armadillo Farm.''

Sam's armadillos were famous, too. They could be seen during the opening credits of the Kevin Costner movie ''Tin Cup'' and had a bigger role in the Willie Nelson western ''Barbarosa.''

Sam introduced ''San Angelo Sam'' in 1984. This armadillo was our answer to Punxsutawney Phil. ''That Yankee groundhog doesn't know beans about weather in West Texas,'' Lewis said.

San Angelo Sam predicted the weather on Groundhog Day the next several years ... but wasn't much better at it than that Yankee varmint.

Sam even operated a ''pet the armadillo'' booth at the World Travel Market in London in 1982. Apparently the armadillos were extremely popular.

And famed writer James Michener called on Sam to learn about the armadillo when he was writing his epic ''Texas.''

But it was the armadillo races that will be his legacy.

I can still see him in Luckenbach during some event or other, his armadillo racing pen set up between the bar and the old blacksmith's shop. Sam has a tiny PA system and is rounding up youngsters and the occasional biker or cowboy to race his armadillos.

These races typically involve one armadillo sprinting for the finish line, one wandering aimlessly about and another refusing to budge.

''Blow on their tails,'' Sam says, ''but don't kick them! Don't hurt my armadillos!''

Sam's last armadillo race was held in October in Pampa.

Sam had told me during that road trip in 1995 how he came to love armadillos. How he found one during a hunting trip when he was just a boy and thought he'd found a dinosaur. How he'd been fascinated with them ever since.

I'm sorry I can't remember the details. I always thought I'd have another chance to ask him.

I apologize for writing about Sam mostly from my point of view. Sam had a great many friends, and most of them knew Sam much longer than I did. I hope in sharing my stories that people who knew Sam can remember their own experiences. I hope that people who didn't know Sam can understand who he was.

I first met Sam in the summer of 1994 when John Raven, then-editor of the Luckenbach Moon, urged me to go meet my fellow San Angeloan.

Through the doors of an office on North Van Buren Street, I found a little old man at a desk.

''Tell me about the Terlingua chili cook-off,'' I said.

In the first half-hour, he had persuaded me to completely change my vacation plans and go to Terlingua in early November. By the end of the hour, he had all but adopted me.

I didn't arrive at the chili cook-off until well past dark that year, the first time I had ever been in the Big Bend region. I was completely disoriented until Sam found me.

''Park over there,'' he told me, ''and come on, you've got to meet these people.''

Minutes later, we had disappeared into the camp riding on ''Geronimo's Cadillac'' — an old open-air jalopy. Some hippie passed back a bottle of sotol. I guess it's Mexican white lightning.

''Don't drink too fast,'' Sam said. ''You'll see pretty colors.''

Sam was always right.

I woke up in that adobe hut the next morning and stumbled out to a vista that was wholly unexpected and wholly beautiful.

If discovering Big Bend and chili cook-offs were all I had to thank Sam for, it'd be plenty. But that was just the beginning.

Sam wouldn't hesitate to introduce somebody, to help somebody, to smile, to wink. I soon moved away from San Angelo, lost track of Sam for a while and then came home again. I'm ashamed to admit that sometimes I didn't have time for Sam, or to help him out.

No matter what I'd done, though, Sam was always Sam.

I remember clearly a moment in 2001. Some friends and I were at Blaine's Pub in San Angelo when Sam walked up, gave me a hug, gave me a picture of him and Willie Nelson and walked away.

''That's him and Willie!'' a friend said. ''Why'd he give that to you?''

I don't know. But I think it's just that Sam had something to give and someone to give it to. And that made him happy.

''Come over here, you've got to meet this person,'' is probably what I heard most from Sam throughout the years, maybe right after ''let me know if there's anything I can do for you.''

Sam introduced me to the famous and to the down-on-their-luck with the same respect for both. I don't know if Sam ever met a man he didn't like, but judging from the number of friends Sam had, I'd say it's doubtful. He wouldn't pass up the opportunity to say hello, to give a hug, to make a new friend.

A favorite memory: One night, in the Luckenbach Dance Hall, Sam was kicking up his heels. He was on the high end of 70 and he could dance. He asked every woman in that dance hall to dance with him. No matter how unapproachably beautiful, no matter how . . . well, not beautiful. He asked them all, and I wasn't keeping track, but I'd bet he danced with nearly every one.

Sam was awfully proud of being married to Betty for 50 years — they had a grand anniversary celebration at the Armadillo Farm near Luckenbach in 1998.

They'd met after World War II, when Sam was a B29 tail gunner stationed at Pyote Air Force Base. They married in 1948 in San Angelo and enjoyed a half-century together.

When Betty died in December 1999, many of Sam's friends were worried that Sam literally couldn't go on without her.

But Sam struggled through. He might have leaned a little more on his closest friends, he might have slowed down a little, he might have been a hair more reflective — but he kept on going.

It was early Christmas week that I learned Sam had cancer and was refusing treatment. I went to see him that Saturday.

Standing outside Sam's home on Texas Tech Avenue in San Angelo, I might have turned back around and gone back to Blaine's Pub. I'm not emotionally prepared to see Sam in his final days. I don't know what to say to him. Hell, I can hardly talk at all. I'm afraid and I can't handle this.

And I think of the lines to a song by Ray Wylie Hubbard, who, in turn, was paraphrasing the German poet Rainer Marie Rilke: ''Our fears are our dragons, guarding our most precious treasures.''

And then I think of the best photo on the walls of Blaine's Pub, a picture of Ray Wylie and Sam standing together. I think Ray's got his arm around Sam.

And with a little more reassurance from my fiancee, Shannon, I go into see Sam for what would be the last time.

Some folks would tell me I shouldn't write about this part: how Sam was in a hospital bed in the middle of the living room, how he looked impossibly small, how he relied on his family and friends.

Some folks would say nobody wants to remember Sam that way. That's true. But I don't think they will.

Because even then, Sam was still a promoter, still a giver. And he knew how to put nervous visitors at ease.

When I first walked in, he asked me if I'd seen the December issue of Texas Highways; it featured armadillos and, of course, him. Then he went on to tell me about plans to hold a Llano River beauty pageant and cook-off.

''He never stops promoting,'' Dan Farmer said. Even now Sam is focused on the next project.

He was wearing a green Santa snowman shirt. He had a hard time hearing, but no problems understanding.

In the hour that I was there, a stream of friends came by. Later, former mayor of Luckenbach VelAnne Howle would come by and drop off a Gary P. Nunn CD for him to listen to. I've got to admit, ''Home with the Armadillo'' (as ''London Homesick Blues'' is often called) won't be the same without Sam.

Even some musicians from Luckenbach would come in to give a live performance.

But this day, the entertainment is a tourist calling from Luckenbach. He wants to see an armadillo and somebody told him to call Sam. We direct him to the Armadillo Farm. Maybe somebody there can help him out.

As we start to leave, Sam is blowing kisses to his daughter. I think I'd like to remember him that way. Shannon gives him a kiss on the forehead.

He looks up and says, ''Thanks, I needed that,'' and he winks at her.

Then he takes my hand once more and says, ''Thanks for being such a good friend.''

I'm so choked up, I don't know if he could hear my reply. But I know he can now.

No, Sam, thank you for everything.

THE BEER SERIES: Part One | Prohibition looms

Texas was abundant in breweries before Prohibition. Mostly small, some regional, they answered to no shareholders or corporate bosses – just themselves and their customers.
And (you might have guessed I was leading into this), the micro-brewing scene in Texas today is much the same. Central Texas, in particular, is a hotbed of small breweries, pushing out whatever beers their brewmasters' imagination will come up with — from coffee porters to oatmeal stouts to ales so packed with hops it’s like you’re chewing on a dishwasher detergent packet.
But in between these magnificent times for beer connoisseurs – there was the Age of Texas Giants. Beers like Lone Star and Pearl and Grand Prize sloshed across the state and sometimes beyond. In the time between Prohibition and the new millennium, there was a great flood of pale yeller liquid for those of us who proudly put the “sewer” back in “beer connoisseur.”
And yet, our blind devotion to our own particular brand of beer (in my case, Lone Star), meant that there was little curiosity about other brands — quick, can you name a half-dozen Texas beers brewed between the 1880s and the 1980s? In fact, I’ve come to realize it’s pretty possible you don’t even know your own beer that well — how long has Lone Star Beer been around and how much of that time has it been owned by a company from outside Texas?
Inspired in part by a Pearl Beer antique that Shannon gave me last year, I’ve done a bit of Internet research on brewing in Texas during this time frame and I’m going to share it with you in an unprecedented multi-part series of blogs that will appear here over the next couple weeks. We’ll start off today with a brief look at Texas brewing leading up to Prohibition.
(Note: Unlike my excruciatingly researched History of Willie’s Fourth of July Picnic, I’ve done this by the seat of my pants via Google and a couple books. After 20 years as a copy editor and professional newspaper man, I’m a pretty good judge of what’s a reliable source, but there may be a hiccup or two. If you notice one, bring it to my attention and I will feel appropriately remorseful. Also: Don't email me whining "but what about Celis? Or Saint Arnold?" Shut up. If you want to read about craft beer, you'll just have to read one of the 10,000 craft beer bloggers. I'm talking about history. And one more: There will be photos at the end of each part. Because, you know, words.)

Pre-Prohibition and the March to the Drouth of Righteousness

Leaning heavily on the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas, I can tell you that wherever there were Germans, there was beer as soon as the fighting with the Mexicans and Indians died down enough to let them brew.
Between 1840 and 1880, there were small breweries of note in places such as La Grange, Brenham, Fredericksburg, New Braunfels and San Antonio, where William A. Menger’s Western Brewery is thought to be Texas’ first commercial brewery. You might have heard of his hotel.
By 1883, Adolphus Busch had arrived in San Antonio to help build the first large and mechanized brewery in the state: The Lone Star Brewery (only connected by name to the company you know from giant armadillos and Bob Wills music) opened in 1884 and ran until Prohibition, selling such beers as Buck, Erlanger, Cabinet and (of course) … Alamo.
The brewery that would become Pearl began in 1881 as the J.B. Behloradsky Brewery and started producing Pearl Beer in 1886. This brewery (known as the San Antonio Brewing Association by 1918) and the Dallas Brewery Co. would be the only two Texas brewers born before 1890 to survive Prohibition.

Other brewers of note include Galveston Brewing Company (1895-1918), which sold a beer called High Grade, Houston’s American Brewing Association (1893-1918), which sold Dixie Pale and Houston Ice & Brewing (1893-1918), which sold Hiawatha, Magnolia and Southern Select. Southern Select would become the foremost beer of Texas during this time.

Then there’s Shiner, which got its start in 1909 as the Shiner Brewing Association and was even briefly known as “Petzold and Spoetzl” from 1915 until 1918. (Hang on, Shiner fans, I won’t forget them and you'll like what I have to say.)
The problem for beer-lovers is that as soon as Texas had breweries, it had proponents of Prohibition, starting as far back as the 1840s. The Handbook of Texas tells us that in 1843 “The Republic of Texas … passed what may have been the first local-option measure in North America.”
What this means (if you’re not familiar with the Panhandle or Deep East Texas) is that people can vote their own cities or counties dry as they see fit – which they did with alarming speed.
Texas ratified the 18th Amendment in 1918, but not wanting to wait until it became nationwide law in 1920, also enacted statewide prohibition laws that took effect almost immediately.
By then, the TABC reports, 199 out of 254 counties in Texas were already dry under local option laws, 43 were “practically dry” and only 10 counties were “without prohibition areas.”
By 1933, however, Texans were relatively quick to follow the national lead in repealing Prohibition. Voters in Texas adopted an amendment to  the State Constitution legalizing the sale of beer in August of 1933 and ultimately repealed state Prohibition entirely in August 1935.

Up next: El Paso and the Metroplex

A Dixie Pale beer glass of great antiquity. Taverntrove.com

Hiawatha was a near-beer of sorts. They did things with a little more style back then. Taverntrove.com

Galveston's High Grade, promoted as "liquid food." Taverntrove.com

Southern Select was the king of Texas beers pre-Prohibition. Taverntrove.com

Reputation, from Houston Ice & Brewing. Taverntrove.com

Magnolia beer, from Houston Ice & Brewing. Taverntrove.com

Check out more photos from Houston Ice & Brewing at http://magnoliaballroom.com/memorabilia-gallery.html

THE BEER SERIES: Part Two | North by West

Before we become fully submerged in Texas' brewing history, we have to pay homage to points north and west. El Paso is an unlikely place to find one of Texas' top historic brews. And the Metroplex is strangely quiet in this tale.

El Paso
Never count out El Paso — which you will do anyway until you actually go there. That’s what it took for me to realize that El Paso is just a little West Texas town that is bulging at the seams with Mexican food, history and scenery. Where else would you find something as cool as Rosa’s Cantina, the actual joint mentioned in the Marty Robbins opus “El Paso.”
(I saw someone on CMT one time refer to “El Paso” as the “Stairway to Heaven” of country music. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I wish to hell I had said it.)
The El Paso Brewing Co. that existed before Prohibition became the Harry Mitchell Brewing Co. in 1933 and produced a beer that went through names like a self-conscious teenager: Harry Mitchell Beer, Mitchell’s Beer, Mitchell Beer and Mitchell’s Premium Beer were produced during a 20-year run from 1935 until HMBC went out of business in 1955.
But that’s not quite the end of the story for El Paso. The brewery was purchased by Falstaff Brewing in 1955 and it produced Falstaff until 1967.
Falstaff was a national brand, but was produced in Texas from 1955 until at least the 1990s (When Falstaff’s Galveston brewery was closed in 1981, production moved to San Antonio’s Pearl Brewery).
El Paso was also a temporary home to Frantz Hector Brogniez — one of Texas' most iconic brewmasters. Herr Brogniez lived in El Paso and had his driver take him daily to Juarez where he brewed beer while waiting out Prohibition. You'll learn more about him in the Houston section.
You had no idea: Falstaff was still available as recently as 2005.

Dallas / Fort Worth
The Metroplex doesn’t have much of a brewing history (though they did better than Austin) and I’m not sure why. Not enough Germans? Too close to the dry regions of the Panhandle and East Texas? We would need a historian to help us out on that one.
What D/FW didn’t have in history, though, they made up for in memorable beer names. A pair of breweries that existed before Prohibition — Dallas Brewery Co. and Texas Brewing Co. — would both come back post-Prohibition and put out interestingly-named beers before both folding up before World War II.
Dallas Brewery would give us White Rose, Texas Select and Chubby Beer (I did not make that up). Texas Brewing was reborn as Superior Brewing Co. and would give us Old Chippewa, Golden Kreme, Casino Club, Kellermeister, Prosit and … wait for it ... Kego Beer in addition to the less awesomely named Superior Ale, Old Style and Golden Lager.
But it’s a brewery born post-Prohibition that would give us North Texas’ most iconic beer.
Schepps Brewing Corp. existed from 1934-1939 (giving us Schepps, Highland Park and Black Dallas, among others) before becoming Time Brewing for a short time.

Finally pulling it together as the Dallas-Fort Worth Brewing Co. in 1940, the brewery gave us Bluebonnet beer until shutting down in 1951. With an 11-year run, Bluebonnet qualifies as one of Texas' top historic brews. 

Up next: Good times on the Gulf

Harry Mitchell's from 1936. Taverntrove.com

Mitchell's from 1950. Taverntrove.com

A Mitchell's beer glass from the 1950s. Taverntrove.com

A Mitchell's label from 1954, just before they went out of business. Taverntrove.com

A Schepps label from 1935. Taverntrove.com

Black Dallas beer from 1936. Taverntrove.com

Time beer from 1939. Taverntrove.com

Black Dallas beer from 1939. Taverntrove.com

Bluebonnet beer from 1943. Taverntrove.com

Bluebonnet beer from 1947. Taverntrove.com

White Rose Bock from 1935. This one is pretty cool. Taverntrove.com

Falstaff, from the El Paso plant in 1957. Taverntrove.com

Chubby Lager. Told you I wasn't making it up. Taverntrove.com

A Bluebonnet beer shell glass and an appropriate stand-in beer.

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.