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History of Texas Breweries

Thank Those Thirsty German Immigrants

For those seeking a little (or a lot of) history about beer and brewing in pioneering Texas, Fredericksburg's Jeff Holt is the source – so much so in fact, that this dedicated aficionado of the "cool one" has literally written the book covering this fascinating subject. Entitled Historic Texas Breweries, it's a must-read for one and all with a shared passion for foamy heads and history. With such a respected resource on tap, the Texas Hill Country magazine, in the spirit of this issue's theme, decided it might be fun to pop the top off the author's bubbling-over brain and delve for a few fun facts regarding those early days before the advent of national brands and convenience stores. And, where Central Texas and beer are concerned, Jeff reminds us to thank those thirsty German immigrants of the mid-19th Century for getting things rolling (especially the kegs) and creating the Lone Star State's first commercial brewing boom! With today's influx of serious microbrewers however, what's old is new again und, those old Germans would certainly be proud – prost!

While home brewing became commonplace with the arrival of the German immigrant, the first commercial brewery was opened in La Grange in 1872 by Heinrich Kreische.

Many early brewers were primarily in the hospitality business running hotels. Three examples include William Menger in San Antonio, Charles Nimitz (Admiral Chester Nimitz's grandfather) in Fredericksburg and Thomas Ingenhuett in Comfort. These names are still prominent in these cities – but alas, no longer for beer making!

In the 1870s John Geupel of North Texas' Cleburne Brewery came up with the idea of the first 12 pack. He sold this for a $1.29 ($.11 per bottle). Sales of singles quickly fell.

William Menger, Frederick Probst (Fredericksburg) and Hubert Wolters (Comfort) were all initially coopers – beer barrel makers – before immigrating.

Early frontier beers were vulnerable to heat and would spoil. Several brewers excavated "lagering" rooms or cellars located over cooling springs and rivers. The beer cellar at the historic Luckenbach bar still exists. Even so, these products could quickly deteriorate and sicken drinkers – many were called, unflatteringly, "warm headache beers."

According to the Handy Book of the Malting and Brewing Trades (published at the turn of the previous century) an American wheat beer was described that used 70% malted barley and 30% corn grits, but not a drop of wheat!

By 1900, with the introduction of refrigeration and pasteurization, the parched Texas populace eagerly turned to the (safer, tastier and, usually less expensive) regional/national beers supplied (via railroad) by the larger commercial brewers which, unfortunately, put most of the small operators out of business.

On January 16, 1919, Prohibition closed all 13 commercial breweries in Texas – eight were large regional breweries, five were small. During the ban Otto Koehler's Pearl Brewery in San Antonio made ice cream and ran a sign company, Kosmos Spoetzl (Shiner) sold ice and others, like out-of-state-based Busch, switched to near beer and soda water. After Prohibition's repeal, with few exceptions, only the larger Texas breweries reopened. With Koehler's wife Emma at the Pearl helm in 1933, 15 minutes after the repeal she had 100 trucks and 25 boxcars loaded with beer and headed for multiple retail destinations across the state. Go girl!

For more fun beer information or to order a copy of Jeff's Historic Texas Breweries, visit: www.texasbreweries.com.

Oh Honey! A Beer That Sings to You

Robert Earl Keen and Pedernales Brewing Team Up

What do you get when you cross beer, a singer/songwriter and honey? Robert Earl Keen Honey Pils, of course!

It was a case of serendipity that the three came together, but for Robert Earl Keen and Lee Hereford, it just made sense.

That's Robert Earl Keen, Texas singer and songwriter, who, for the last 25 years has called the Hill Country his home. He now calls Kerrville home, and has even come up with his own slogans for his part of the world – "All's Well That's Kerrville" and, quite simply, "It's Easy to Live Here."

"It's Easy to Live Here."

Lee Hereford, a veteran brewer and President and CEO for Pedernales Brewing Co. in Fredericksburg, is excited to be collaborating on such a fun project. Known for producing award-winning pilsners and lagers, Hereford is ready to add a new beer to his already successful lineup, which includes the Lobo brands- Lobo, Lobo Negro, and Lobo Lito, among others.

Sitting just outside the Pedernales Brewing Co. brewery, Keen and Hereford relayed how the two came together, and just how the idea for this new Honey Pils was born.

Years ago, Robert said, he worked to helped promote Shiner. A beer lover, he enjoyed being a part of marketing the beer, but had always thought it would be great to do more than talk about beer...he wanted to be a part of creating his own. And so, about a year and a half ago, he and Lee began talking about it. He said that although it's been a long process, what has culminated looks pretty good.

Keen says that he has loved beer, all kinds of beer, as long as he can remember. He recalls the best beer he's ever had – a pilsner that he got while in Austria at the age of 19.

When it came time to nail down what direction to take this new beer, Lee gathered up about 15 different kinds of brew, and he and Keen sampled each one. Hereford asked Keen to make a list of what he liked and didn't like from each one, and from that, Peter McFarlane, master brewer, was able to create the recipe that would become Robert Earl Keen Honey Pils.

But why the honey? Well, Lee said his motivation lie in making something that hadn't been done before. Honey is popular right now, and although there are a vast array of Honey Wheat beers, there hadn't yet been one that utilized honey in a pilsner. And so it was determined that Fain's Honey, which comes from just down the road in Llano, would be the final ingredient. ."

Joking that he has always described himself as 'The Milton Bradley game of entertainment, appropriate for ages 8-80, Keen said that his beer is for everyone.

"This is a beer for people who love beer," Keen said. "Clean, crispy, beer."

Keen is no stranger to coming up with tasty treats. He has also created a dry Bloody Mary mix, Yardbird, that can also be used as a seasoning in many dishes.

So...when can I get it? Pedernales Brewing Co. will begin rolling out the new line on Oct. 15, sending it out in waves until all of the orders have been filled. It will be available at HEB and other retail locations across the state. The company will also debut Robert Earl Keen Honey Pils in towns on Keen's Tour Calendar. They will offer pint nights and in-store tastings, and of course, it will be available at Keen's concerts.

Keen said that he hoped to have some ready for the opening of his friend Charlie Robison's new venture, the Alamo Icehouse in San Antonio on September 29. Hereford said he wasn't sure, but they would try. In addition, Hereford wants to have some ready before Keen's show in New Braunfels on Oct. 10.

Hereford revealed that the Robert Earl Keen Honey Pils may not be the only special REK beer; they are already talking about releasing a Raspberry Hefeweizen, a German beer that is usually drunk in the summer months. He'd also like to see Robert's Raddlers take off – a drink made up of half-Hefeweizen and half-Sprite.

Robert Earl Keen Honey Pils is not the first project this duo has worked on together. For years, Keen has been performing at a fundraising event for the Hill Country Youth Orchestra. Recently, Hereford and Pedernales Brewing Co. joined in.

It's a natural combination, beer and music. Folks who've grown up in Texas and, in particular, the Hill Country, have probably spent a lot of time in front of a live band with a cold beer on a hot day.

In February, REK fans will get a treat – a new traditional Bluegrass album that Keen says is amazing. Featuring the Danny Barnes on the banjo, Sarah Watkins from The Decemberists, Peter Rowan, Natalie Maines, and Kym Warner, just to name a few, 'Happy Prisoners' is an album to look forward to.

Can't wait for it? Tune in to Austin City Limits on October 4 for the 40th Anniversary show. Joining REK on stage are Sheryl Crow, Joe Ely, Grupo Fantasma, Bonnie Raitt, Gary Clark, Jeff Bridges, the Alabama Shakes, Lloyd Maines, Doyle Bramhall II, Jimmie Vaughn and more.

Pedernales Brewing Co. agrees that music and beer go hand in hand, and on the first Saturday of every month, they host a 'Beer & Hymns' session at the brewery.

Robert Earl Keen and Lee Hereford make a great team, and the enthusiasm for their new venture is contagious. The delight each one had for not only the anticipated brew, but also the excitement of just going through the process, made this occasional beer-drinker ready to pop a top on an ice cold Robert Earl Keen Honey Pils. This is gonna be good.

Breweries at Home in the Hills

A Quarter of all Texas Breweries are in the Texas Hill Country

Of the thousands of people who take up residence in the Hill Country each year, many have been home brewers, that breed of men and women who have the urge to create what they like to drink. When that passion turns to wanting everyone else to share in the fruits of their labors, it was only natural that they would start serving up beer in the towns they call home.

Fred Hernandez and his wife Jennifer, former mechanical and chemical engineers respectively, fell into the homebrew scene with a simple do-it-yourself kit. When he found himself making and giving away his five-gallon batches of beer at the request of people he didn't even know, he figured it was time to go pro and sell it to the locals.

"It's astonishing how many beer drinkers there are in our tiny town," Hernandez says of how his beer has been received in Boerne in the last year. "We didn't name it the Boerne Brewery by accident," Hernandez says. "We want to be the brewery for Boerne."

Similar stories abound throughout the wide swath of the Hill Country from New Braunfels to San Saba.

Nearly a quarter of all Texas breweries are on the main streets or among the rural, rolling hills of the Texas Hill Country. The German roots of many of the towns include a rich tradition of excellence in brewing, but the brewers of today's Hill Country come from all walks of life and bring variety and invention to tried-and-true formulas.

While Hill Country residents may enjoy a brew from Houston, San Diego or Munich from time to time, they still want to pop down to the beer garden, restaurant or grocery store and pick up a cold one they can call their own.

"From the small town perspective, that's a great formula for a local brewpub," says Charles Vallhorant, executive director of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, which now has more than 100 members. The Hill Country also is ideal for larger breweries that package and keg their beers for sale in bars, restaurants and stores thanks to the availability of land and room to grow, he says.

But it isn't just locals drinking their favorites. Distribution deals have put everything from Hill Country golden lagers to sour brews made with wild yeast in the hands of consumers sometimes hundreds of miles away.

People also are making their way into area for brewery tours the way wineries have traditionally drawn travelers.

New laws passed by the Texas Legislature last year make it possible for production breweries to sell patrons a pint right out of the brewery, leading most to add tap rooms. Brewpubs, which traditionally have been breweries tied to restaurants, can now distribute their beer, making it available beyond the front door of the establishment.

Lee Hereford, CEO and co-founder of Pedernales Brewing Co. in Fredericksburg said he chose the Hill Country city over San Antonio or Austin because of the 1.2 million visitors who come to the area each year. Peaches, museums, shops, food and wineries have always been a draw, but with Pedernales and the well-established the Fredericksburg Brewing Co. brewpub in the heart of downtown, beer tourism is high on the list of many visitors.

Special events, such as the annual Real Ale anniversary party at the Real Ale Brewing Co. in Blanco also bring out the faithful, sometimes in the thousands. Real Ale, once an Austin and Hill Country staple, now commands a statewide following and has grown to meet the demand. But die-hard beer fans from all over don't miss the annual bash where the brewers pull out all the stops to impress visitors.

Jester King Brewery, which specializes in Belgian-style farmhouse ales and a lot of experimentation, drew more than 4,000 people to a party at its Hill Country brewery, exceeding all expectations.

With more than 100 beers from 22 breweries, and more in the works, drinkers can find traditional renditions of classic styles from Germany, England and Belgium in the Hill Country and plenty that turn beer on its head or give it a Texas twist.

"I'm, for the most part, a traditionalist," says Ray Mitteldorf, head brewer at Faust Brewering Co. in New Braunfels. "That's what I like to drink and that's what I like to make. But I like the fact that others are out there doing different things in different niches. It's good for the business that there's a wide variety out there. It's better for the breweries and better for the consumer."

Travis E. Poling is a writer living in New Braunfels and co-author of the book "Beer Across Texas: A Guide to the Brews and Brewers of the Lone Star State."