Pearl Brewing: A Book Teaser Part III.

By late 1918, Federal Prohibition was in effect and with it a change in the San Antonio Brewing Association, now known as Alamo Industries. Emma Koehler and company were intent on riding out the storm, as many did not feel that the national ban on alcohol would last more than a few years...

" Period Three. Prohibition 1918 - 1933

Chapter Eleven

In the two years leading up to the start of Prohibition, San Antonio and Texas in general, was in its prime. San Antonio boasted six breweries: the San Antonio Brewing Association; Peter Bros Brewery; Degen’s Brewery; the Lone Star Brewing Association, Schober’s; and the Och’s and Aschbacer’s Brewery. 1916 saw these San Antonio breweries realize a combined annual income of $8,000,000 that was a ridiculously high sum that amounted to around a fourth of the city’s overall income. With 1,200 employees and a total payroll of a million, San Antonio’s brewing Industry was three times larger than any other industry in the Alamo City.  In 1917, with Prohibition on the horizon, the San Antonio Brewing Association introduced ‘La Perla – A Near Beer’ while still brewing XXX Pearl Beer.

As World War I heated up in 1917, a nationwide conservation of resources was well underway and the brewing industry was not immune. In September 1917, President Woodrow Wilson ordered the distillation of spirits to stop. It was not long after that beer and wine were ordered stopped as well. The Food and Drug Administration even forbade corn to be distilled for any reason, even medicinal. Brewers were limited in the amounts they could buy to thirty percent and the ABV, alcohol by volume, was reduced to a maximum of 2.75 percent. Later the next year, the serving of alcohol within a 10 mile radius of a military base was prohibited.  

Between the temperance movement and Federal restrictions on grain, breweries around the country were hit hard. On June 15, 1918, Texas Governor Hobby declared that Texas would be dry statewide. Earlier than the Federal government, Texas was now in a true Prohibition. Later that year, the President declared a stoppage of grain use by breweries, though they were able to use what they had on hand until December 1, 1918.  

The monetary effects of Prohibition would hit the San Antonio Brewing Association as hard as did all breweries around the country. Dropping from net profits of $551,564.45 in 1916 to a mere $265,588.59 in 1918. Their main products at this point were kegged beer, bottled beer, ice and spent grain given to farmers as cattle feed. By mid 1918 when Prohibition hit, the San Antonio Brewing Association faced a difficult decision: keep going or shut down. Considering that the Federal government only allowed breweries to take a twenty percent loss if they liquidated, Emma Koehler and the San Antonio Brewing Association board chose to keep going instead. To do this, they would need a drastic modification to their business. Thus, Alamo Industries was born and Emma and company entered the dairy business.  

 At this time, many in the beer, wine and spirits industry believed that a Prohibition would not last. That it would be repealed along with the end of the war and the San Antonio Brewing Association fit right into this camp. When the war did not end as quickly as expected, Alamo Industries had to look more long term. With co-founder Colonel Otto Wahrmund stepping into the role of brewery manager and de facto president, the brewery at least had some direction and appearance of leadership to the public and to investors. 


Chapter Twelve

The brewery faced another challenge when Wahrmund resigned in 1919, leaving them again without leadership and despite being the majority owner, Otto Koehler’s widow Emma, would not be elected president of the San Antonio Brewing Association for a while.  For the time being C.T. Priest would be elected the association’s president in 1919, this of course despite charges of tax evasion. Though Emma would be elected vice president.

Proving that it was easily adaptable and would not give up, the San Antonio Brewing Association did what even fellow brewing giant Lone Star could not do: they kept people working and did it in a way as to maintain its facilities in case it ever was able to brew beer again. The now reformed Alamo Industries, later known as the Alamo Food Company in 1922, changed its production to making various sodas, an ice plant to manufacture ice for the local San Antonio community and even a mechanics shop turned up helping the cities residents repair their vehicles.  When Prohibition arrived in 1918 La Perla was dropped as a brand and XXX Pearl Beer became ‘XXX Pearl Near Beer’

Other buildings on the grounds were used as dry cleaners, cold storage and even a dye plant, ice cream and more. The spent grain left over from making near beer was sold to the nearby farmers as feed for their animals, a practice long used by breweries and one that continues to this day.  

Many creative promotions came out of the brewery during its Alamo Foods days. May 16, 1919, to be precise, the Alamo dairy products department of Alamo industries produced a popular Alamo ice cream. Multiple flavors were available to include: Cherry nut salad, tutti-frutti, caramel nut, French orange and almond bisque. Around Christmas of 1919 special flavors were introduced: New York ice cream, caramel ice cream, frozen pudding, maple mousse, cranberry sherbet, marshmallow date brick (which was a three layer brick of marshmallow day, pineapple sherbet and cherry nut), angel cream brick (a three layer brick of caramel, angel cream in tutti-frutii). Other items produced by the dairy department included Alamo cream, Sunnyvale milk and cream, Alamo butter, Sunbeam butter, Alamo cottage cheese and Alamo buttermilk.  

Around 1921, a few short years after national Prohibition began, Alamo Industries changed its name to Alamo Foods and the company's focus shifted from that of dry-cleaning, auto repair, a billboard company known as Sunset, soda making and the like, to solely food related businesses. Many of the other ventures were sold off to companies in the San Antonio area. 

On October 8, 1922, ice cream division of Alamo Foods decided to have a mystery break contest with winners getting a free quart of ice cream each week for one year. In all, there were 177 winners, which when multiplied by 365 days in a year; amounting to 9,204 free quarts of ice cream. The flavors had been banana nut, cherry, and orange. This was enough ice cream that it effectively put the ice cream division out of business. In 1923 they sold the division to another local creamery, who ironically enough rented space out from the San Antonio Brewing Association for the creamery. In 1930, Blue Bell Creamery and Bluebonnet creameries rented space on the top floor from Alamo Foods. Ironic, as Blue Bell would become an icon of its own in coming decades."