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.
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.