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GULF BREWING COMPANY

Frantz Brogniez at the Gulf Brewing Company.
Frantz Brogniez (standing center), president and brewmaster of the Gulf Brewing Company in Houston, was a key figure in Houston's brewing industry. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

GULF BREWING COMPANY. The Gulf Brewing Company was started by Howard Hughes, Jr., in the summer of 1933 in Houston, Texas. Gulf Brewing Company was listed as one of many new breweries started in Houston just after the repeal of Prohibition in August of the same year. Built on the grounds of the Hughes Tool Company at 5301 Polk Avenue, the facility consisted of mostly steel-frame and tile walls and was designed and operated under the direction of the new brewmaster, Frantz Hector Brogniez. An article in the magazine Houston quoted that the 50,200-square-foot facility had the capacity of producing 600 barrels of beer a day, or 7,980 cases, and boasted the second largest cold storage capacity in the city. The company planned to use from 75 to 100 distributors and to purchase 200 trucks. At its peak in 1947, the brewery sold almost 483,000 barrels of beer. 

The Gulf Brewing Company’s president and brewmaster was Belgian immigrant, Frantz Hector Brogniez. The vice president was his son, Frantz P. Brogniez; Samuel Streetman, Jr., was the secretary-treasurer, and B. L. Dodwell was the general sales manager. Frantz H. Brogniez was not new to Houston or beer. Born in Belgium in 1860, he and his wife Alida immigrated to America in 1896. Brogniez was hired to establish the Tivoli Brewery in Detroit in 1897, and when Alida died in 1903, he married her sister Alice (at his late wife’s request) and eventually moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, to establish the People’s Brewery. Because of Alice’s health, Brogniez moved his family to Houston and worked at the Magnolia Brewing Company as brewmaster under the Houston Ice and Brewing Company from 1912 until Prohibition.

Advertisement—Grand Prize Lager.
Advertisement—Grand Prize Lager. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

While at Magnolia, Brogniez brewed a family recipe that earned himself and Houston beer international acclaim at the Universal and International Exhibition (Exposition Universelle et Internationale) in Ghent, Belgium, in 1913. The Southern Select beer (the sample entry of which had been “plucked from a routine production run”) was awarded the Grand Prix out of 4,067 entries. When Brogniez returned to Houston after Prohibition ended, the Hughes Tool Company found the money and space to build his dream facility and brew his prize-winning beer. Because the Southern Select name was owned by Galveston-Houston breweries, the name of the beer was rebranded to Grand Prize Lager Beer in order to reference the achievement. 

Grand Prize Lager Beer Label.
By 1936 Frantz Brogniez's prize-winning brew, Grand Prize Lager Beer of Gulf Brewing Company, was the best-selling beer in Texas. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Brogniez died on October 9, 1935, barely two years after the brewery’s opening; his son took over as brewmaster after his death. By the following year, Grand Prize became the best-selling beer in Texas. In 1948 the Gulf Brewing Company hired Charles Leiberman, who later became vice president and brewmaster until the brewery’s closing. He introduced a new product, the Pale Dry Grand Prize, in late 1949. The brewery maintained good public relations throughout its operations and invited the public as well as visiting celebrities and dignitaries for free tours. Production at the brewery lasted thirty years until it was leased to the Theodore Hamm Brewing Company of St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1963, and the last mention of the Gulf Brewing Company in the Houston City Directory was in 1962. Hamm and its assets were taken over by Connecticut-based Heublein, Inc., in 1965. In February 1968 a welder’s spark started a fire that destroyed most of the facility, and in June the remaining five-story Grand Prize Brewery brew house was demolished.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Ronnie Crocker, Houston Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Bayou City (Charleston: The History Press, 2012). Houston, August 1933; September 1933 (Houston Chamber of Commerce).

Lorelei Willett

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Handbook of Texas Online, Lorelei Willett, "Gulf Brewing Company," accessed November 18, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/dig02.

Uploaded on October 18, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.