St. Louis Beer History

As large numbers of immigrants from Germany and Bohemia found their way to St. Louis beginning around 1830, a substantial portion of these newly-minted Americans settled in Soulard, the city’s oldest neighborhood. This area was home to a number of breweries over the years, and it eventually became the home of the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch. The immigrants’ principal skills included making bricks and making beer, so a number of breweries began to open in the city. And it helps explain the number of red brick buildings throughout the area. In addition to Eberhard Anheuser’s Bavarian Brewery and Adam Lemp’s Western Brewery, others like the Arsenal Brewery, Anthony and Kuhn’s, Excelsior, Green Tree and English breweries established themselves in St. Louis.

America’s first lager beer brewers

John Adam Lemp arrived in St. Louis from Eschwege, Germany in 1838, and sought his fortune as a grocer. What set him apart from other grocers was his ability to supply an item that wasn’t sold by any of his competitors – lager beer. Lemp learned the art of brewing under the tutelage of his father in Germany and the natural cave system under the city provided the perfect temperature for aging beer. Lemp soon realized that the future of lager beer in America was a force to be reckoned with, so in 1840 he gave up the grocery business and built a modest brewery on South Second Street. A St. Louis industry was born, as the brewery enjoyed tremendous success and John Adam Lemp died a millionaire.

William J. Lemp succeeded his father as the head of the brewery and soon built it into an industrial giant. When the Civil War started in 1861, Lemp had about 40 local competitors, but only 19 remained by the end of the century. He erected a new plant in 1864, as the size of the brewery grew with the demand for its product. By 1870, it was the largest brewery in St. Louis and controlled the lion’s share of the St. Louis market, a position it held until Prohibition. In 1892 the brewery was incorporated as the William J. Lemp Brewing Co. In 1897 two of the brewing industries were brought together by the marriage of William Lemp’s daughter, Hilda, to Gustav Pabst of the noted Milwaukee brewing family.

The first Falstaff brand beer appeared in mid-1899, and Lemp Brewing registered the Falstaff trademark and logo four years later. Named for the Shakespearean character of Sir John Falstaff, the beer name was a tribute to the character’s philosophy to “eat, drink and be merry.” However, all was not well within the Lemp beer dynasty. The first fracture occurred when Frederick Lemp, William’s favorite son and the heir apparent to the brewery presidency, died under mysterious circumstances in 1901. Three years later, William J. Lemp shot himself in the head in a bedroom at the family mansion, apparently still grieving the loss of his son. William J. Lemp, Jr. then took over as company president.

The brewery’s fortunes continued to decline until 1919 when Prohibition forced the plant to close permanently. Continuing what seemed to be a family tradition, Elsa Lemp, considered the wealthiest heiress in St. Louis, committed suicide in 1920. In June of 1922, the Lemp brewery, once valued at $7 million, was sold at auction to International Shoe Company for less than $600,000. Although most of the company’s assets were liquidated, the Lemps were able to keep the family home. After presiding over the sale of the brewery, William Lemp, Jr. shot himself in the same building where his father had died 18 years earlier. William’s brother, Charles continued to reside at the house after his brother’s suicide but led a reclusive existence. He also died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and his body was discovered by his brother, Edwin. In 1970, Edwin Lemp died of natural causes at the age of ninety. Today, the family’s home has been turned into a restaurant and bed and breakfast called Lemp Mansion Restaurant & Inn (3322 DeMenil Place; (314) 664-8024) and is available for tours.

In 1917, the Griesedieck family purchased Forest Park Brewing’s property and formed the Griesedieck Beverage Company. In 1918, the Lemp Brewery ceased production and closed, and Griesedieck went into receivership two years later. Joe Griesedieck eventually obtained the Falstaff trademark from the Lemp family and bought the Griesedieck Company back, renaming it the Falstaff Corporation. The company made it through Prohibition with a variety of side businesses as well as brewing “near beer” brands, or non-alcoholic brews. When Prohibition ended in 1933, the company became Falstaff Brewing Corporation and was granted the very first federal permit to resume brewing beer. The Griesedieck and Falstaff breweries merged in 1957, and in 1985, Falstaff acquired Pabst Brewing. However, the brand’s sales continued to drop throughout the 1990s, so in 2005, Pabst announced that it would no longer produce the Falstaff brand.

Anheuser-Busch

In 1860, Eberhard Anheuser acquired the Bavarian Brewery from the original owner, George Schneider, and renamed it E. Anheuser & Company. The next year, Adolphus Busch married Anheuser’s daughter Lily, and began working at his father-in-law’s brewery in 1864. The company, which grew quickly and began dominating the local beer market, changed its name to Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association in 1879. After Anheuser’s death in 1880, Busch became president of the company. In 1913, Adolphus Busch died and the company was turned over to his son, August A. Busch, Sr. Busch led the brewery through Prohibition, as the company began producing everything from ice cream and ginger ale syrup to non-alcohol Budweiser and refrigerated cabinets. Busch pioneered refrigerated railroad cars that extended the shelf-life of un-pasteurized lager so it could be shipped farther. Anheuser-Busch capitalized on this newfound technology to nurture a national market for its products. It was the first step in making Budweiser, introduced in 1876, the most popular beer in America.

August A. Busch, Jr. took over the reins of the company when his father died in 1946, and “Gussie,” as he was known, diversified the company by adding regional breweries, opening Busch Gardens, and creating the Metal Container Corporation as a subsidiary. Gussie’s son August A. Busch III took over the company as president in 1973. Busch III, who is often referred to as “The Third,” was at the helm when Bud Light was introduced in 1982 and when A-B broke the billion dollar mark of beer brewed since the company’s founding. During this period, A-B expanded its brewing practices around the globe, including purchasing a majority interest of Grupo Modelo in Mexico (in 1993) and the Chinese company, Wuhan Brewing Company (in 1995). Busch III retired in 2002, naming Patrick Stokes as president of the brewery, the first non-family member to oversee the company since its inception. In 2006, August A. Busch IV (“The Fourth”) assumed the role of president and the company continued to introduce new beer brands and expand into the distilled spirits category. Anheuser-Busch was acquired by Belgian beer maker InBev in 2008, resulting in a new moniker: Anheuser-Busch InBev. St. Louis serves as the company’s North American headquarters.

Today, visitors to the world’s largest brewer can take a free tour of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, which includes stops at the Brew House, Budweiser Clydesdales’ stables, the lager cellar, packaging plant, and the A-B gift shop. At the end of the tour, guests ages 21 and over can sample a variety of Anheuser-Busch brands, and those under 21 years of age can enjoy complimentary soft drinks and snacks.