Deep in the heart of Texas, San Antonio’s links with its rich brewing history are on display in some unlikely places—such as a noted art museum, a historic hotel, and a brewpub run by a local boy who learned the satisfaction of transforming raw ingredients into consumer product while managing his father’s tortilla factory.
Cowboys, bikers, and beer aficionados can all drink comfortably here.
That’s the good news. Like other cities in Texas, San Antonio has also had its bad news. In February, Pabst Brewing Co. told union workers that the old Pearl Brewery would be closed and Pabst would move production of Lone Star, Pearl and other brands elsewhere. Just two years ago, the brewery was still rolling out a million barrels of beer per year.
“It bummed me out,” said Joey Villareal, who runs the Blue Star Brewing Co. and Joey’s, a comfortable bar serving a nice range of specialty beers. “Last year in Milwaukee (during the Craft Brewers Conference) we went by the old (and idle) Schlitz Brewery and that left a dark impression on me. When you close these breweries, they are gone.”
Many breweries are just fleeting memories. Many opened across the country in the 1990s and are already gone. But Texas seems to have had more than its share of high-profile breweries and brewpubs close. A story headlined “What is killing Houston’s brewpubs?” recently appeared on the front page of the Southwest Brewing News.
To the north, in Austin, Miller Brewing Co. shut down the Celis Brewery, one of the most famous microbreweries in the country. Miller first bought a majority stake in the brewery in 1995, then the rest from founder Pierre Celis early in 2000. “It didn’t make economic sense to keep it going at this time,” Miller spokesman Jeff Waalkes said when the company announced it would close Celis.
“It’s a huge loss to Austin. It’s like you had an internationally recognized symphony and no one came to hear it,” Live Oak Brewing Co. co-owner Chip McElroy said. “Among beer people, the fact that Austin couldn’t support Celis is like Kennedy being shot in Dallas.”
150 Years and Counting
The demise of Pearl seems greater, though, because it was one of the few breweries in the United States built before Prohibition that was still making beer. Pearl production began in 1886 at the J. B. Behloradsky Brewery, which was founded in 1881. Its rival was Lone Star beer, which later took a circuitous path, leaving San Antonio, then returning to be brewed at Pearl until the brewery closed.
The Lone Star Brewery, built in 1884, was the first large, mechanized brewery in Texas. Adolphus Busch, of Anheuser-Busch, founded it along with a group of San Antonio businessmen. The castle-like building now houses the San Antonio Museum of Art, noted for its antiquities collection, Mexican folk art, modern art, pre-Columbian art and Spanish colonial art.