The High Quality of A.B.C. St. Louis Bohemian Beer

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Unquestionably, A.B.C. St. Louis Bohemian Beer was the main brand of the American Brewing Co. in St. Louis, MO.  A bock must have been issued seasonally, I showed an image in my previous post.

I have not tracked down a complete brand list. It seems the brewery produced more than two brands, at least locally. The Tavern Trove label website, a reliable source, lists a Muenchener and pale export as additional brands ca. 1900.

But for “shipping” purposes newspaper ads in the 1890s to 1920 suggest Bohemian was the only or at least main product available. No doubt it was introduced to compete with Budweiser.

In general, as I discussed earlier, from about 1880 one starts to see a Bohemian-style beer increasingly in the market. It differed from the standard lager it ended by replacing in being paler, less malty, and with more hop bouquet. An even paler, often less hoppy type, sometimes called “extra pale”, also emerged.

These related styles formed the basis for what became American Adjunct Lager, still the biggest selling beer type in the U.S. and probably the world today. It is also known as international-style lager.

A.B.C’s Bohemian was clearly a beer of cachet. The ads made much of various quality factors as discussed below, but another sign was listings by high class restaurants and railroad buffet cars. It appeared for example on Southern Pacific’s menu alongside stars such as Budweiser, Schlitz, Guinness, and Bass Ale. Bohemian was a “name”, in a word.

A.B.C.-branded beers were introduced in St. Louis after Repeal in, seemingly, three attempts to regain the market, under successive ownerships or reorganizations. Some useful details can be gleaned here for the overall chronology. The predecessor breweries before 1890 were those in which Henry Koehler, Sr. had an interest. His two sons, who had banking connections, were behind American Brewing Co. which started in 1890.

In 1906 the Koehlers sold the business to one of the brewing syndicates active in the city. Consolidations were popular then and often foreign-financed. That entity ran the business until 1920 and later went bankrupt. The A.B.C Brewery appearing after Repeal was operated by newer interests. Despite numerous attempts to re-establish the brands, it was to no avail. By 1940 A.B.C. St. Louis beer was off the market completely.

In the 1930s yet further brands appeared under the A.B.C. St. Louis name, even an ale, but whether these were legacy, or pre-1920 brands, is uncertain. One must be careful as well not to mistake A.B.C. beers from other breweries, as the name was not exclusive to the St. Louis brewery, hence its ads that read “A.B.C. St. Louis”.

In the free art offer I discussed yesterday of the 1890s the brewery listed the attributes of a good beer. The same desiderata were stated in many ads, always for Bohemian from what I can tell. Many of the ads appeared in shipping markets such as the American Southwest and Hawaii. To the list of qualities we can add this 1907 ad that stated ABC’s Bohemian was aged six months.*

Anheuser-Busch made similar claims around this time. This is a surprisingly long time for the period. Many lager brewers were aging for less, even in Germany. Brewing scientists were developing fermentation equipment – Leopold Nathan in particular whom I’ve discussed – that could help abbreviate the time significantly. Indeed, that would be the future for lager, but in the 1910s some American breweries still proudly following older European practice.

Among the criteria for good beer stated in Art For The Home clarity and “polish”, absence of a “foreign” flavour, good flavour, and a lasting creamy head are noteworthy.

A foreign flavour may refer to an unwanted wild yeast taste, from Brettanomyces. By the early 1900s a pure yeast culture was common in many breweries and would have encouraged a clean, consistent taste. Or, foreign flavour may have referred to an infected or lactic taste, which some beers at the time must have had due to the primitive sanitation as compared to today.

Once again some of these tastes have returned to brewing –  intentionally – to resurrect historical styles.  The trend that would have puzzled brewers in the period 1890-1920.

The list of qualities in Art For The Home also stated that A.B.C. Bohemian beer had a “pronounced” and distinctive hop flavour, one the company was proud of, evidently. This is not surprising as upwards of 1.5 lbs hops per barrel of beer was common for American lager then. The hops were often imported or a portion of them were, A.B.C. advertised use of choice European hops, as did Budweiser for a long time.

Clarity was another key aspect of Bohemian and extra pale beers then. The current fashion for cloudy or hazy beers would have bemused early-1900s brewers. Clarity was achieved by use of “chips”, or wood chips that promoted yeast removal, prolonged aging, or cellulose filtering (still with us).

Brilliancy was regarded as absolutely necessary for bottled beer in particular. Despite all these precautions, sometimes American lager was turbid. Further scientific work was needed to control the problem effectively. The solution was associated with another New York-based consultancy, Wallerstein Laboratories, which I will discuss in a later post.

There seems little doubt that, as for Budweiser, A.B.C. Bohemian used grain adjunct – corn or rice – in the mash. Still, the beers were clearly rich, very hoppy, and with a creamy head. They probably resembled modern Pilsner Urquell, or Czechvar (Budweiser Budvar). If you blended one with modern Budweiser, that may get close.

Note re image: the menu reproduced is from the New York Public Library’s (www.nypl.org) digital menu collection, here.  All intellectual property therein or thereto belong to their owner or authorized users. Image believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*14 years earlier, in an Arizona newspaper, a four month aging period was advertised for Bohemian. Note also the insistence on Bohemian hops (probably Saaz) in the latter ads, or rather mini-series of ads.

 

 

 

 

 

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