In 1838, beer flowed in the streets of Plzen, Bohemia. This was not the result of a wild party, vandalism or some horrible accident. It was the deliberate act of the town brewers. Yet another store of their ale had become infected and they were fed up. It was time to make drastic changes. So, they dumped their beer in the town square where it flowed into the sewer and began to look for a solution.
Strange though this may seem, this isolated event in Eastern Europe would set off a series of events that would led to great changes and great wealth for Missouri, especially St. Louis. Fortunes would be made, dynasties grown and empires established in St. Louis thanks to the brewers of Plzen.
The Plzen brewers hired a German brewer from Bavaria to come and teach them the lager brewing techniques for which the region was famous. When Josef Groll arrived in Bohemia, he found fields of Saaz hops, a wonderfully soft water supply and long limestone caves perfect for lagering. Using very lightly malted barley and a strain of lager yeast that may or may not have been smuggled out of Germany by a monk, he and the brewers began work on a new beer that would revolutionize brewing.
Four years after they dumped their beer in the town square, the brewers gathered to open the first cask of their new beer. What flowed forth was unlike any beer they had seen before. Golden, clear, wonderfully effervescent and full of flowery Saaz character, this new Plzen beer was definitely a change from the dark, muddy ales that had preceded it.
It was not long before this lager from Plzen was taking over the world of beer. More stable than ale, it could be shipped farther. The gorgeously clear body with a beautiful white head piled on top was far more attractive to thirsty drinkers than the mean, muddy beer they had seen previously. Brewers from Munich to Milwaukee were soon using the same techniques that Groll used to replace or recreate Plzen beer, or Pilsner as it has since become known.
In St. Louis, demand for lager was strong. The growing city, built on the confluence of two rivers, was right at the edge of the new American frontier. A wave of German immigrants was arriving in the US and building farms and towns on the eastern edge of the prairie. St. Louis, famously, was their gateway to this western paradise. It also served, for many, as the final stopping place.
But the real fortune for St. Louis beer was built during the Civil War. Positioned as it was, at a hub with direct access to the South via the Mississippi River, the city served as a perfect holding place for troops, supplies and the businesses that sprout up around an enduring war. Consequently, the population of the city blossomed with young men with nothing much to do but wait and drink beer. The city's breweries made fortunes feeding this thirst, among them, the Bavarian Brewery, the precursor of the biggest beer maker in the US.
By this time, Adolphus Busch had formed a lasting partnership with Eberhardt Anheuser. The men were first business partners then later relatives when Busch married Anheuser's daughter. Although the partnership was relatively short lived - Anheuser left the day-to-day operation of the brewery not long after Busch climbed aboard - their names would last.
Anheuser-Busch's signature brew, Budweiser, was an interpretation of the Pilsner style. Using the lastest technological advances such as pasteurization, refrigerated rail-cars, and automated bottling lines, Busch was able to ship his beer nearly across the entire country. His pioneering efforts would lead the way for other brewing dynasties that arose around the same time such as Coors, Miller and Pabst.
One by one, Anheuser-Busch's competitors in St. Louis and eventually across the entire state went out of business. Those that survived into the Twentieth Century were mostly wiped out by prohibition. By the 1970s Anheuser-Busch stood alone among Missouri breweries.
But, that was about to change. Continues: Beer travel - Missouri beer today