In December of 2015, my first book “San Antonio Beer: Alamo City History by the Pint” was released. Co-written with my friend, and fellow beer writer, Travis Polling, it chronicled the history of brewing in San Antonio from the early 1850's to the present. Two of the chapters alone were on the Pearl. It was through this research I realized that the full scope of Pearl's story could not be contained in such a small number of words. Thus my second book "Pearl: A History of San Antonio's Iconic Beer" was born. Though the book will be released in December of this year, I wanted to release a series of 'teaser' posts. Below is the first of six previews.
The early 1880’s were an interesting time for San Antonio. The population had 225,000 by 1880; the city’s second railroad, the International-Great Northern, had arrived and an industrial revolution had gripped the city. Modernization was in full swing, paralleling that of the country’s growth at the time. Having dropped slightly from being the largest city in Texas, San Antonio’s infrastructure boomed as well, with hospitals, paved roads, telephones and the like bringing San Antonio into the modern era and once again the State’s largest city.
San Antonio’s fledgling beer industry was not spared this growth, as the influx of immigrants into the Alamo City was comprised of mainly Germans and the one thing Germans wanted most was beer. It was this thirst for beer that drove German immigrants William A. Menger and Charles Degen to open the Western Brewery in San Antonio around 1855. The Western Brewery, however, produced ale, unusual for a German immigrant at the time, as lagers required a very cold temperature for fermentation and a longer aging time. What the growing German population wanted, however, was the lager beer that was so popular in their native Germany and much of Europe at the time. lager beer, produced in other parts of the state including the nearby town of New Braunfels, was often brewed in the winter to take advantage of the lower temperatures. However, lager beer was lacking in San Antonio.
Feeling that he could fill the need for lager beer in San Antonio, J.B. Belohradsky made plans for his brewery, naming it City Brewery and pushed it to be the most modern in the Texas, with a focus on brewing a specific style of lager unknown as Pilsner. The Pilsner style was a relatively new type of lager that was gaining in popularity and hailed from the Pilsen region of Bohemia, now located in the Czech Republic. City Brewery opened in 1883 and Belohradsky planned to sell his Pilsner for around three dollars and fifty cents per keg, about a dollar lower than the more popular national brands that had recently come to San Antonio with the railroad.
After only two years in business, Belohradsky encountered trouble he may have thought he left behind from his time in Chicago many years prior. Regardless of the validity of the accusations, it was enough to spook his investors who abandoned Belohradsky soon after the accusation came to light, resulting in the value of City Brewery to dropping faster than hops in a brew kettle. Soon after, Lockwood Bank assigned a receiver by the name of Robert Tendick, who took control of City Brewery signaling that the end was very likely near.
At some point in 1886, a sheriff’s sale took place in San Antonio and one of the items up for grabs was City Brewery. Oscar Bergstrom, Belhoradsky's attorney, wasted no time in purchasing the City Brewery stock from its spooked investors, thus saving the drowning brewery and effectively dooming his own client. Bergstrom would then bring in one Otto Koehler to round out the new ownership group. By 1886 City Brewery was renamed the San Antonio Brewing Association and a legend was born.