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.

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.