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.
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