THE BEER SERIES: Part Six | The fall of Pearl

The fan site 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.

A Texas Tap label from 1968.

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 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.

Unposted photos: Summer

A few more in the continuing series ...

I'm still kicking myself for not dressing the Ghostman in a red shirt that morning.

Buddy and Bullworker

What is this shit?

They look better in stick form.

Adios, fishie.

Swimming is hard work.

That's my girl.

"Dad can I jump off the top of this chair?" "Yes, son. Just let me get my camera first."

Summer is East Texas' best season.

Good times.

Unposted photos: May-April

More in the continuing series of how I've let you down ...

How Buddy's 6th birthday looked.

Grandpa and Peanut.

Bombardier view.

Bonk at the Farm.

Don't make Peanut angry. You wouldn't like her when she's angry.

Bonk molests the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center.

With Grandma at LJWC.

After much thought, we decided that this was our official WildFlower Photo of 2013. We've had some very nice pictures in the past couple years, but after struggling on two visits to get a nice photo for this year, we opted for this one because it illustrates where we were at the time.

Though I gave strong consideration to the moptop photo.

In their Alcatraz PJs. Bonk is holding a bottle of beer.

Unposted photos: Jan-March

In a few weeks or so I'm going to post a several-installment blog about the history of Texas beer. It will be long and nobody will care except for Bullworker.

But I realized I couldn't revive my blog without posting the photos I should have posted throughout the year.

Here are the best photos from January through March.

A. Some have already been on Facebook.

B. Bonk (aka "Ghostman") doesn't make much of an appearance yet. But he has a bunch of really good photos from later in the year. So hang on.

Sidewalk vs. Forehead.

Bonk is out of here.

With Grandma

Showing off the PJs that Aunt Julie got him for Christmas.

East Texas.

First bit of solid food ….

Preparing that first solid food diaper for Dad.

Seems like a long time ago.

Smooth criminal.

Playing in the dirt.


The real truth* about Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong fucking murdered and ate this kitten.

"I ate seven kittens today!"

"Wait, you ate what?"

"Bro! Toss me a kitten!"

"This is not what I meant. Fucking French."

"Feed me kittens! Rawr!"

"Here kitty, kitty, kitty!"

"I wonder if ferrets taste like kitten."


* By "real," I mean "completely made up."