Lager and Lawsuits
On May 15, 1878, Carl Conrad filed suit, charging Joseph Uhrig Brewing Company with “pirating” the Budweiser label and name in order to defraud the public. Joseph Uhrig Brewing, in the person of Otto Lademan, denied the charge, saying that the word “Budweiser” could not be trade-marked. If anyone was defrauding the public, he argued, it was Carl Conrad: his beer contained not one ounce of Saaz hops or Bohemian barley; it was not brewed “according to the Budweiser process”; and the beer’s label perpetrated those falsehoods for the sole and “fraudulent purpose of deceiving the public.”
The parties met in court in late October. Today, such a case would drag on for months and require the services of a horde of lawyers and expert witnesses, but Conrad and Lademan were in and out of the courtroom in two days. Conrad marched to the witness stand first and bumbled his way through an explanation of why he chose the name “Budweiser”—“the Budweiser process makes the finest beer”—and why his beer differed from all others—its unique qualities rested on his “own process” of bottling, known only to himself and his foreman. Adolphus Busch and Irwin Sproule followed him, both insisting that the Budweiser brewing process—based on double vats and mixed mash—was unique. Over a dozen of Conrad’s dealers and salesman testified, too, each claiming that Lademan’s inferior imitation damaged Conrad’s business and reputation.
Lademan’s lawyer called Lademan, William Lemp, and three other St. Louis brewers to the stand. The brewmaster for Wainwright and Co. summarized their collective testimony: “I don’t know anything about any process called the Budweiser process of brewing—never heard of such a process until I heard of this case.” Lademan was even more dismissive: “I know the process that was described by Mr. Busch this morning called the Budweiser process. It is a process used by everyone who uses rice in brewing. We make a water mash first, then a thick mash, & afterwards a water mash. It is no particular process at all.”
Lademan should have tried harder. On October 23, 1878, the jury ruled against him and ordered him to pay Conrad $4,175.00 in damages (approximately $73,000 today). Lademan appealed, but the new judge concurred: Lademan, he said, intended to deceive, and did deceive.
The Reigning American Brew
That Lademan was willing to risk so much speaks well not just of Budweiser, but of the new lager. Beer aficionados today scorn the quality of adjunct-based lagers, but nineteenth-century Americans embraced them with open hearts—and mouths—because, a reporter for the New York Times explained in 1877, they disliked the “‘sour’ and ‘bitter’” taste of all-malt beer, preferring instead the “sweeter” taste of light-bodied Bohemian brews. The nation’s brewers, “recognizing the fact that one American beer-drinker consumes more, on an average, than three Germans look out to please the greatest number—particularly when it pays them the best.” And as long as the “greater part” of the nation’s beer “flow[ed] down American gullets” the mostly German born and bred brewers had no choice but to “modify the flavor of their beer to suit American palates rather than those of their” fellow émigrés.
John E. Siebel, the science editor for Western Brewer and founder of the first American brewing school, agreed. The old-world crowd would always prefer the “nourishing qualities” of full-bodied Bavarian lager, he wrote in 1878, but its heyday had passed. Most Americans drank in order “to pass time pleasantly in jovial society.” They disdained old-world lager as too heavy, too filling, and entirely too brown, and demanded instead a “light” sipping beer, one that fell somewhere between “light wine and the heavy Bavarian lager.” Brewers who planned to stay in business had to adjust to the times and the place.
It was true. When it came to beer, an enormous divide separated Europeans and Americans. Germans, deck of cards or chess set in one hand and pipe in another, plunked themselves in front of a frothy mug and nursed it for hours. Americans wanted to drink—and they didn’t want to imbibe a brown broth that hit the stomach like a seven-course meal. Perhaps the difference stemmed from nothing more than scarcity and abundance: For centuries, Europeans prized beer as food—liquid bread. The American experience relegated that idea to antiquity’s dustbin. The United States was the land of liberty, high crop yields, and protein-rich diets. No one need drink beer for food. No surprise, then, that Americans preferred a beer that sat light on the stomach; a beer more suited to the American way of life.
The new brew changed the face of American beer for all time and did so almost overnight. In 1875, the Schaefer brothers of New York “tried the experiment of sending out to their customers genuine old lager” made with only hops and barley. Disaster. Their effort to turn back the clock produced “a general growl over the hard, bitter, hoppy taste, and the absence of the rich, creamy broth” found in pale beers. One hundred years later, another group of innovators would succeed in turning back time, but the late nineteenth century belonged to adjunct-based “American” lager.
Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association v Fred Miller Brewing Company, Final Record Books in Chancery, 1862-1911, vol. Q; United States Circuit Court, Eastern District Wisconsin; National Archives and Records Administration, Great Lakes Region, (Chicago)
Charles Conrad v Joseph Uhrig Brewing Company; St. Louis Court of Appeals, Case No. 1377; Missouri State Archives.
Cochran, Thomas C., The Pabst Brewing Company (New York: New York University Press, 1948)
Fix, George, “Explorations in Pre-Prohibition American Lagers,” Brewing Techniques 2 (May-June 1994): 28-31
Lisheron, Mark, “Capturing the Past: The Rebirth of Pre-Prohibition Lager,” Zymurgy 20 (1997): 20-23, 82-86
“The Million’s Beverage,” New York Times, May 20, 1877, p. 10.
Renner, Jeff, “Reviving the Classic American Pilsner—A Shamefully Neglected Style,” Brewing Techniques 3 (September/October 1995): 70-71.
Siebel, J. E., “The Use of Unmalted Grain,” Western Brewer 3 (October 1878): 671