The 1870s St. Louis “Budweisers”

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“The Star Beer of Bohemia” and Its Influence

The St. Louis Globe Democrat reported in October, 1878 on the St. Louis Circuit Court proceedings involving Charles Conrad, then owner of Budweiser, and Joseph Uhrig Brewery. The judgement went in favour of Conrad, a result affirmed by the St. Louis Court of Appeals in 1880 as I discussed in my last post.

The St. Louis story was picked up in November in a Raleigh, NC paper called The Farmer and Mechanic, you can read it here. Above is an extract. In the story, the journalist expresses surprise that American brewers, even in centres of American brewing excellence, were using large amounts of corn or rice in their mashes.

Clearly evidence was presented at court on this issue, presumably too on what Budweiser from Conrad/Anheuser used in its mash.

As I said in my post yesterday, it appears that Budweiser did employ some rice in the mash from the outset. Oxford Companion To Beer (2011) states this, and the percentage, 23.5%, see here. Randy Mosher authored the entry and cited Maureen Ogle’s book (2007), which I referred to yesterday, and two books published earlier.

A-B probably always varied the percentage due to variations in the nitrogen and other components of its malt, which can change with the seasons. In a 1923 court case where A-B successfully prevented a malt syrup dealer in New York from using the Budweiser name, the chief chemist of A-B testified that the company used 30-40% rice in its mashes. The mash did not change when the company switched to near beer, so this would have represented the pre-Prohibition picture. The range today is similar based on reading I have done.

There are a number of period references (American) linking Bohemian-style beer to rice adjunct, both in the popular press and scientific journals. It was either assumed that in Bohemia, brewers used rice to make pale lager beer, or that such use was needed in the U.S. to off-set the high nitrogen content of its malting barley (to promote clarity).

The St. Louis journalist writing in 1878 allowed that most brewers in his city used corn or rice, as in Milwaukee, but less, and the beer was possibly superior as a result. He ended the story by saying some Budweiser sold in St. Louis – meaning not just Conrad’s but Uhrig’s and other beers carrying the name then – used rice or corn. Some. Therefore not all, although the language is somewhat ambiguous.

If there was an all-malt group and it did not include Anheuser’s Budweiser, perhaps only one or two traditionalists were using the older, Bavarian way to brew, and indeed the Bohemian way which has always been all-malt for pale lager as far as I know.

The justices in the appeal court focused on the high quality of Budweiser. Presumably that was down to the 100% imported hops used, probably too the use of imported Bohemian yeast and pitch for the casks. High quality could have extended in their minds to use of rice, not just by virtue of its price, apparently higher then than for malt (although the high extract or efficiency probably off-set that), but in the sense that its use facilitated in America duplicating a famous European beer style.

The pale colour and clarity of the beer were noted approvingly and in similar later judgements, especially the 1898 case involving Fred. Miller Brewing of Milwaukee which I mentioned earlier.

Some rice was used in brewing in the later 1800s in Germany, but generally in the north. Bavaria was pure beer law country (all-malt), and Bohemian brewing had a close relationship with Bavarian: Josef Groll, the brewer who introduced pale lager in Pilsen, Bohemia, in 1842, was a Bavarian…

If someone can find Judge Wickham’s Circuit Court decision, more clarity may result.