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.