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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

Beer Wars

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Fredericksburg was home to several breweries in the late 19th century. Then the big operators in San Antonio declared "Beer Wars" in Gillespie County and put all the local guys out of business.

Before a unified rail system and refrigeration, towns needed local breweries. Warm beer went flat in a hurry so it needed to be brewed close to the people who drank it.

Charles Nimitz operated a brewery in the cellar at the Nimitz Hotel in Fredericksburg beginning around 1860, but Nimitz stopped brewing during the Civil War when Union blockades made it difficult to get hops and grain.

In 1857 Adolph Assig borrowed $850 from Frank van der Stucken and started a wheat beer brewery on the north bank of Town Creek in Fredericksburg.

Assig's beer was especially popular with the singing groups (saengerbunds) who would gather periodically in Fredericksburg for singing contests (saengerfests). The singers claimed Assig's beer lubricated their voices.

Friedrich Probst came to Fredericksburg from Germany in 1857 to work as a barrel maker for Adolph Assig. Then when Assig moved to Blanco County in 1861, Probst took over the business. Probst moved the brewery to a building in the 300 block of West Austin Street next door to his house.

Fredericksburg TX - Assig Brewery
Assig Brewery
Photo courtesy Gillespie County Historical Society


Fredericksburg TX - Probst Brewery
Probst Brewery
Photo courtesy Gillespie County Historical Society

Probst called his brew Probst's Special Beer. One of his biggest customers was the bar at the Nimitz Hotel, but he hauled his barrels of foamy delight as far west as San Angelo.

The Mauer brothers, Henry and John, operated a brewery in Marlin, Texas before opening their brew house on Creek Street in Fredericksburg in 1875. A couple of years later Henry left for Seattle leaving John to run the company.

Meanwhile big things were happening in the brewery business in San Antonio. In 1884 Anheuser Busch built the Lone Star Brewing Company on Jones Avenue. A couple of years later a group of San Antonio investors built the San Antonio Brewing Company between Avenue A and the river a few miles north of downtown.

The Lone Star Brewing Company would soon begin brewing a popular beer called Santone. The San Antonio Brewing Company made Pearl Beer, "the beverage of the masses."

It wasn't long before the big guys in San Antonio made the decision to expand into the lucrative Gillespie County beer market. To get their foot in the door the big guys hired teamsters to haul San Antonio suds to Fredericksburg where their representatives sold it cheap to saloons along Fredericksburg's Main Street.


The beer wars came to a head in December 1898. That month the Gillespie County News printed a letter from a group of hopping mad saloon keepers.

"From this time, all the saloons which sell City Beer (brewed in Fredericksburg) will give you a big 'Schooner' for five cts. We have to do this to keep up with the procession and to hold our own with those who began the battle and want to crowd us out of our trade."

"It is a battle between local capital and the capital of a northern millionaire. Will you support him or us? Support home industry and, as before, drink only what is well known to be the Best Beer in Texas - the City Beer. If you do so, you help to keep the money at home, as all the stock in the City Brewery, and all local saloons is held by local capitalists and the profits they receive are not sent north and thereby lost to the south, but are used to employ home labor and in home industries. 'Live and let live' will always be out motto."

But in the long haul local breweries couldn't compete with large corporations who sold their beer for a nickel a glass. By the early 20th century all the local breweries were out of business.

In an ironic twist, with some poetic justice thrown in, the brewery business has come full circle. Today the big breweries are struggling while business is hopping at 3 local breweries in Fredericksburg, 2 in Kerrville, 2 in Johnson City, 2 in Blanco and 1 in Comfort.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" October 15, 2022 Column

Related Topics:
Texas Food & B
everages

Sources:
"Old Newspaper Tells of 1897 Beer Wars Here," Fredericksburg Standard, June 30, 1976.
"Buy at Home - Why?" Fredericksburg Standard, April 7, 1923.
"City has deep roots in beer brewing," San Antonio Express-News, March 24, 2015.


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