A Tale of Two Breweries - The History of Beer in St. Louis

I'm from St. Louis, and have drank St. Louis beers since college.  I have always loved my Budwesier! I thought I'd take a look at the history of beer in St. Louis, and find out why I like Bud so much.  

Within fifty years of St. Louis' incorporation, 43 percent of all residents were born in either Ireland or Germany. In addition to its skilled immigrant population, St. Louis offered all the other right ingredients for making beer-it was on the train route to the wheat fields of the country, it was near fresh water, and best of all, it was pitched on top of a limestone cave system that could be used for cooling and preserving beer all summer. The stage was set for creating one of the greatest beer cities in the world. And although many excellent brewers have come and gone from the St. Louis landscape, one could argue that the history of St. Louis beer is primarily a tale of two brewing families: the Lemp family and the Anheuser-Busch family.



The dramatic saga of the Lemp brewing family, a tale of fame, fortune, scandal and suicide, began in 1838 when Johann Adam Lemp opened his first grocery store in St. Louis. Lemp appealed to his market with two specialty items which he made himself: vinegar and lager beer. Lager beer was relatively unknown to the beer drinkers of the United States and its popularity soared. The term "lager" comes from the German word "lagern," which translates to mean "to stock, or store." The limestone caves beneath St. Louis would lend a hand to this beer manufacturing giant in its infancy, as it provided an inexpensive way for the yeast to settle in the beer before it was sold. By 1850, around 4,000 barrels of beer were being produced annually by Lemp, establishing it as one of the most significant breweries in St. Louis.

In 1862, Adam Lemp passed away and left the brewery to his son, William Lemp. With Lemp's strong business acumen, the brewery swelled to produce 100,000 barrels a year in 1878. Lemp's brewery was the first to implement a national shipping strategy, and even had its own railroad. In 1904, William Lemp, Sr. committed suicide following the mysterious death of a favorite son. The vast empire was inherited by William Lemp, Jr. Prohibition closed in on the family, and although the brewery limped along in soft drink manufacturing, the equipment reportedly began to rust from being unused. The property was sold off at one-tenth its value, and Lemp, Jr. committed suicide shortly thereafter.



What is today one of the largest breweries in the world began humbly enough, by a soap manufacturer named Eberhard Anheuser in 1852. Five years later the master entrepreneur Adolph Busch would arrive on the scene, and marry Anheuser's daughter Lilly. The Anheuser-Busch brand was born. By 1880, Adolph Busch's fortunes were estimated to be close to $2million and by 1901 there were one million barrels in production.

The laws of Prohibition became a death knell for the large manufacturers of beer, and a boon to the craftsmen and the bootleggers. For 13 years Anheuser-Busch's productions ground almost to a halt while they boiled off the alcohol to create "near beer" and soda pop. When Prohibition ended retraining the American palate, which had grown used to the sweet brew of bootleggers, proved an uphill challenge for the marketing department. They developed a campaign around "The Five Day Test" in which beer drinkers were encouraged to drink Budweiser for five days, and then sample the sweeter bootlegged beers. Slowly, Anheuser-Busch's sales climbed. By 1964 there were ten million barrels in production, and by 1997 there would be more than 100 million barrels produced annually. Today Anheuser Busch produces two popular beers, Budweiser and Bud Light, and has 12 breweries in the United States, in addition to operations around the globe. They were recently purchased by a Belgium brewing company.  



The Lemp family and the Anheuser-Busch family have laid a strong foundation and St. Louis is destined to remain a top destination for sampling great beers. Recently there has been a resurgence in smaller, craft breweries. Schlafly and Morgan Street Brewery have won numerous awards for their beers, and every year St. Louis sponsors St. Louis Craft Beer Week in which residents and tourists can tour and sample at the many craft breweries in the area. It remains to be seen which of these small craft beers will surge to the top of the pile and become the next merchant king of the St. Louis beers. I have my eye on Urban Chestnut.  They have one of the bet porters in town! 


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