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 St. Louis, MO’s American Brewing Co.  A bock must have been issued seasonally, I showed an image in my previous post.

I have not been able to track down a complete brand list. It seems likely the brewery produced more than these two brands at least locally. Indeed the Tavern Trove label website, a reliable source, lists a Muenchener and pale export as additional brands c. 1900.

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

In general, as I have discussed earlier, from about 1880 one starts to see a “Bohemian” style increasingly in American markets. It differed from the standard lager it ended by replacing by being paler, less malty, with more hop bouquet. A yet-paler type, sometimes called “extra pale”, also emerged. It was often less hoppy than Bohemian, and these related styles formed the basis for what became American Adjunct Lager, still the biggest seller in the U.S. and probably world market today.

A.B.C’s Bohemian was clearly a beer of cachet. Its ads made much of various quality factors (discussed below) but another index was the appearance of the beer on reputed restaurant and buffet car menus. It was listed for example on the Southern Pacific railroad’s menu with such stars as Budweiser, Schlitz, Guinness, Bass Ale. It was a “name”, in a word.

A.B.C.-branded beers were introduced in St. Louis post-Repeal in seemingly three attempts to regain a market, i.e., under successive ownerships or reorganizations. Some useful details can be seen here for the overall chronology. The predecessor breweries listed 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 at the time and often foreign-financed. That entity ran the business until 1920 and later went bankrupt. The A.B.C brewery post-Repeal was operated by succeeding interests. Despite numerous attempts as stated to re-establish the brands, it was to no avail. By 1940 A.B.C. St. Louis beer was off the market.

(In the 30s, yet further brands appear under the A.B.C. St. Louis name, even an ale, but whether these were also pre-1920 brands is uncertain. One must be careful, too, not to confound A.B.C. beers from other breweries – the name was not exclusive to the St. Louis brewery, hence the wording in its ads, “A.B.C. St. Louis”).

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

I’ve seen a similar statement from Anheuser-Busch around this time. This is a surprisingly long time for the period. Many lagers brewers were aging for far less, some in Germany. Brewing scientists were developing fermentation equipment – Leopold Nathan in particular whom I’ve discussed – which could contribute to abbreviating this period significantly, as well. Indeed that would be the future for lager, but in the 1910s some American breweries were still following older European practice.

In going through the list of 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 may be noted in particular.

The foreign flavour may refer to an unwanted wild yeast taste, from brettanomyces. By the early 1900s pure yeast culture was common in many breweries and would have encouraged a clean, consistent taste. Or the foreign flavour may refer to infection or a lactic taste, which some beers at the time must have been subject to. Once again some of these tastes have returned to brewing in an attempt to restore historical styles, something that would have puzzled brewers in the period 1890-1920.

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

Clarity was another key aspect for Bohemian and extra pale beers then. The current fashion for cloudy or slightly hazy beers would have bemused early 1900s brewers. Clarity was achieved by use of “chips”, wood chips to assist yeast removal, prolonged aging, and 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, like Budweiser, A.B.C. Bohemian used some adjunct – corn or rice – in the mash. Still, the beers were clearly rich, very hoppy, with a creamy head. They probably resembled modern Pilsner Urquell fairly closely, or Czechvar (Budweiser Budvar), perhaps if you blended such beers with modern Bud, say.

That was mass market brewing at its highest pitch, then.

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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