1. souse, n.5: 3. A drunkard. slang (chiefly U.S.). (OED)
  2. white souse, n.1: A blog for literature, politics, science, and the occasional cocktail.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Texas' First Brewery

Few people realize that back before the great consolidations of the sixties and seventies, (and the more recent emergence of gems like Real Ale, Southern Star, St. Arnold, and Rahr & Sons), Texas was a major beer-producing state, with dozens of breweries. Perhaps the oldest (and most historic) was the (1855) Kriesche Brewery of LaGrange, which was built into Monument hill in order to produce good cellaring conditions and get closer to the source of one of the area's many natural springs. Here is what C. E. Lieberman, swept up in the poetry of the moment, wrote of visiting the ruins (from the 1959 Brewer's Digest):

The roof of the main building above the cellar had collapsed decades ago. Only a few pieces of metal fragments were to be found in the rubble. Where the masonry had escaped the irresistible strength of jungle-growth and pressures from moving earth, it manifests the great pains and skill exercised by the artisans who pioneered this business. Though the vegetation had proved its might, and the twisted trees seem to scoff at mere man through their beards of Spanish moss, it wasn't difficult to picture in ones mind's eye the hustle and bustle that took place around the clearing back in those rustic days.

Lieberman was then head of Houston's own Gulf Brewing Company, the producer of Grand Prize beer (famous to collectors of beer memorabilia), which Howard Hughes set up in order to diversify his family's tooling company. Breweries were valuable commodities in pre- and post-prohibition Texas, because they also served as key local sources for ice (they had to build massive ice makers in order to keep their beer nice and cool in the Texas heat). A great interview with Lieberman appears on a site devoted to Pennsylvania brewing history. One of Lieberman's achievements was a revival of the Horlacher "Nine Months Old" beer which was lost during prohibition. If I had to guess, it was probably a Märzen, that is, a stronger alcohol beer originally brewed in the early Spring and then lagered in cellars through the summer for six to twelve months before release. This was the origin of the now-famous Oktoberfest style (though Ray Daniels suggests the original style was probably darker, with more body, hops, and alcohol than current examples).

You can also read about Kreische brewery at the Texas Parks and Wildlife site (it's now a state park). One striking tidbit: Kreische built a shooting gallery and dance hall on the brewery grounds. After all, there's nothing that pairs better in Texas than drinking, dancing, and shooting things.

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