PEARL BREWING COMPANY

Michael C. Hennech, rev. by Laurie E. Jasinski
Pearl Beer Label.
Pearl Beer of San Antonio traces its beginning to 1886. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Pearl Brewhouse.
The Pearl brewhouse was constructed in 1894 and became a symbolic feature of San Antonio industry, Courtesy Pearl Brewery and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

PEARL BREWING COMPANY. The Pearl Brewing Company in San Antonio traces its beginnings to brewer Jaroslav B. Behloradsky, who arrived in San Antonio by the early 1880s and opened his City Brewery and began producing a lager beer in 1884. Behloradsky’s City Brewery was sold, and businessmen Oscar Bergstrom, Frederick Hartz, and brewer Otto Koehler took control of the brewery by early 1887 and drew up a new charter as the San Antonio Brewing Association (1887–1918). The Pearl name reportedly came from a German brewmaster that had thought that the bubbles in a freshly-poured glass of beer resembled pearls. He called them "Perlen." Though many histories of Pearl have stated that the San Antonio Brewing Association purchased the formula and name from the Kaiser-Beck Brewery in Bremen, Germany, author Jeremy Banas has written that Otto Koehler may have secured the name and formula from another source—possibly the A. Griesedieck Brewing Company in St. Louis in 1886. Koehler had previously worked for Griesedieck. 

Otto Koehler.
Brewer Otto Koehler was among the men who organized the San Antonio Brewing Association, and Koehler served as president from 1902 until his death in 1914. Courtesy Pearl Brewery and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

The beer originally debuted in the Alamo City as XXX Pearl Beer. The designation of XXX was a long-accepted symbol of the highest quality of brew by European monasteries. A new brewhouse was constructed in 1894, and the building became a symbolic feature of San Antonio industry. Otto Koehler, who had managed the Lone Star Brewery in San Antonio, became the president and manager of the San Antonio Brewing Association. In 1902 the officers were Otto Koehler, president; Otto Wahrmund, vice president; and J. J. Stevens, secretary. 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. In 1889 five 135-barrel tanks were installed by the Pfaudler Company, and by 1916 Pearl was the largest brewery in Texas with a capacity of 110,000 barrels per year. 

Emma Koehler at Pearl Brewery.
After Otto Koehler's death, his wife Emma took over as president of the San Antonio Brewing Association. Her business acumen successfully guided the company through prohibition and the Great Depression. She died in 1943. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
The first delivery trucks of Pearl beer head out after prohibition.
Just after midnight and the end of prohibition on September 15, 1933, 100 delivery trucks filled with Pearl beer headed out from the brewery. Courtesy Pearl Brewery and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Koehler remained president until his death in 1914. His wife, Emma, succeeded him as the chief executive. 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. Mrs. Koehler kept it going during those lean years by producing near beer, bottling soft drinks, entering the commercial ice and creamery businesses, and operating an advertising sign company. 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 Brewing Company, ca. 1950s.
Pearl Brewing Company, ca. 1950s. Courtesy Pearl Brewery and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Pearl acquired the Goetz Brewing Company of St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1961 and merged with the Southdown Corporation of Houston in 1970. The acquisitions allowed Pearl to move into national markets, and in its heyday, Pearl beer was nationally-known and distributed across the United States. Pearl then expanded its product line by buying the formula and label to Jax beer, a popular New Orleans product. In 1978 Paul Kalmanovitz, owner of S&P Company out of Mill Valley, California, acquired Pearl Brewing Company. Kalmanovitz later acquired some of the assets of Pabst Brewing Company by 1985, and Pabst took over Pearl operations. In 1981 Pearl’s 1.8 million barrels of beer were distributed in forty-five states, and the company employed 535 people at its San Antonio facility. In 1995 the employee force stood at 350, and production stood at 1.1 million barrels of beer. With changing tastes in a highly-competitive market, Pabst initiated cost-saving measures and halted its own production. The Pearl brewery closed in June 2001, and Miller Brewing Company in Fort Worth contracted with Pabst to take over the production of Pearl and Lone Star brand beers. In the 2010s Pearl beer was still sold in regional markets in Texas. See also BREWING INDUSTRY.

Hotel Emma in San Antonio.
In 2015 Hotel Emma, named for San Antonio Brewing Association president Emma Koehler, opened in the iconic Pearl brewhouse in San Antonio. Courtesy Hotel Emma and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

In 2002 Silver Ventures (owned by San Antonio businessman Christopher “Kit” Goldsbury) purchased the twenty-two-acre Pearl Brewery complex and developed a master plan for both revitalizing the area while preserving its historic structures. By the 2010s the San Antonio River Walk’s Museum Reach extended to the district known simply as the Pearl. Tenants of the neighborhood included a San Antonio campus of the Culinary Institute of America, a farmers market, restaurants, shops, upscale apartments, and business firms. Hotel Emma, named for Emma Koehler, opened in the historic brewhouse in 2015.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Jeremy Banas, Pearl: A History of San Antonio’s Iconic Beer (Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2018). Stanley Baron, Brewed in America: A History of Beer and Ale in the United States (Boston: Little, Brown, 1962). Shari Biediger, “Rise of the Pearl: How a Historic Brewery Transformed a City,” Rivard Report, October 5, 2017 (https://therivardreport.com/rise-of-the-pearl-how-a-historic-brewery-transformed-a-city/), accessed March 17, 2018. Mike Hennech, Encyclopedia of Texas Breweries: Pre-Prohibition (1836–1918) (Irving, Texas: Ale Publishing, 1990). Pearl: History (http://atpearl.com/about/history), accessed March 17, 2018. Joseph Pluta, "Regional Change in the United States Brewing Industry," Bureau of Business Research, University of Texas at Austin, 1983). Victor J. Tremblay and Carol Horton Tremblay, The U.S. Brewing Industry: Data and Economic Analysis (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2005).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Michael C. Hennech, rev. by Laurie E. Jasinski, "Pearl Brewing Company," accessed May 24, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/dipgx.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on March 17, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.