PEARL BREWING COMPANY
The Pearl Brewing Company in San Antonio started in 1881 as the J. B. Behloradsky Brewery which was purchased in 1883 by a group of San Antonio business leaders that formed the San Antonio Brewing Association. The brewery was renamed the San Antonio Brewing Company and began producing Pearl Beer in 1886. In 1888 the name was changed to the San Antonio Brewing Association and listed its address as 312 James Street and Avenue A.
The Pearl name came from a German brewmaster that had thought that the bubbles in a freshly poured glass of beer resembled pearls. He called them "Perlen." The San Antonio Brewing Association purchased the formula and name from the Kaiser-Beck Brewery in Bremen, Germany. Otto Koehler became and remained president until his death in 1914. His wife, Emma, succeeded him as the chief executive. Under Koehler's direction the original pioneer brewery was replaced by a larger modern establishment. Production was gradually increased to 6,000 barrels per year, and by 1916 Pearl was the largest brewery in Texas with a capacity of 110,000 barrels per year. Shortly after leaving the Shiner Brewing Association, Herman Weiss returned to San Antonio and worked as brewmaster. The San Antonio Brewing Association was the only brewery in San Antonio to survive prohibition, due in large part to the hard work and determination of Emma Koehler, who kept it going during those lean years by producing near beer, and operating other businesses. Within fifteen minutes after prohibition ended in Texas on September 15, 1933, 100 trucks and twenty-five boxcars loaded with Pearl beer rolled out of the brewery grounds.
In 1952 the San Antonio Brewing Association changed its corporate name to the Pearl Brewing Company in an effort to more closely associate itself with its product. Pearl acquired the Goetz Brewing Company of St. Joseph in 1961 and merged with the Southdown Corporation of Houston in 1970. In 1981 their beer was distributed in forty-five states.
By 1995 S&P Company of Mill Valley, California, acquired Pearl Brewing Company. In 1998, Pearl Brewing purchased the Stroh Brewing Company, who had recently acquired the Lone Star Brand. To much hoopla, Pearl brought the Lone Star brand home.
In April of 2000, the S&P Company decided to close the brewery. Employee protests extended the deadline for three years and the brewery continues to brew Pearl Beer and Lone Star Beer. Much of its line is brewed by Miller Brewing in Fort Worth.
In April 2001, S&P Company CEO Bill Bitting announced the brewery would finally close in June. One hundred white collar workers will remain at the company headquarters, but over 150 brewery workers will be layed off. Production of Lone Star and Pearl beers, along with other Pabst brands will be brewed by Miller Brewing Company in Fort Worth. Miller will brew 80% of Pabst beers. Pabst continues to operate, for the time being, a brewery in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.
In June 2006, Pabst brewing company anounced that they would move their headquarters from San Antonio to a suburb of Chicago.
There is an editorial comment that could be inserted here, something about the death of tradition, the loss of a regional brewery, and the consolidation of market share among the Big Boys. The truth is that Pearl Brewing Company is as much a victim of Budweiser beer as the Richter brewery in High Hill, the Pressler brewery in Austin, the Probst brewery in Fredericksburg, and countless others. The allure of "big city" beer is too strong, their commercials too powerful, and their pockets too deep for the little brewers to survive. Eventually, there will be one beer on the market. And the local drinker is to blame. By purchasing non-local beers, we force our local suppliers out of business, and ourselves deeper into the arms of Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing, and the Adolph Coors Brewing. In other words, Support Your Local Brewer.
The photo is from the San Antonio Express-News, c. June 2000.