Thank Those Thirsty German Immigrants
- Written by Ernie Altgelt
- Published Oct. 29, 2014
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.