Depending on how you feel about beer drinking, you can blame or thank the Germans for bringing the brewer’s art to Texas.
At first it was small scale. A farmer who brought the knowledge with him from the old country would brew enough for the enjoyment of himself and his neighbors.
The first commercial brewery didn’t spring up until the mid 1850s…just about hundred yards from the Alamo.
Founded by German immigrants William Menger and Charles Degen in 1856, the Menger Brewery (sometimes called the Western Brewery) produced a product so good it became a tourist attraction.
Menger was a cooper (barrel maker) and supplied the barrels for the brew. Degen was the brewmaster. Texas’ first.
Of course a brewery needs a lot of water, and that was supplied by the Acequia Madre de Valero, sometimes called the Alamo Madre Ditch.
This stone-lined irritation ditch was built in the 1720s and ran from the San Antonio River to the Alamo mission and then through what is now the Menger Hotel courtyard.
About that hotel.
It owes its existence to Menger & Degen’s beer trade. When the brewery opened in 1856, so many people flocked to it that Mr. Menger decided to expand his wife’s boarding house to accommodate them. The fancy limestone Menger Hotel opened its doors to thirsty travelers in 1859.
If Mr. Menger liked you, he might light a candle and guide you through a tunnel off the hotel basement for a tour of the brewery.
After Menger died in 1871, Degen carried on the business with Mrs. Menger until 1878, when the last barrel of Menger brew was bunged and Degen struck out on his own.
He ran the tiny Degen Brewery until his death in 1912. What Degen’s brewery lacked in size it made up for in pride and craftsmanship. It became a mecca for beer lovers.
Mr. Degen’s passing in 1912 was especially lamented by printers, an occupation whose members where known in those days for their love of drinking.
A 1912 issue of The Typographical Journal stated:
“It is doubtful if there is a printer in the country who has ever been to San Antonio that has not visited the famous Degen Brewery and spent a few moments in drinking what is claimed by the United States government to be the purest beer brewed in this country. Many of the printers keenly felt the loss when this estimable old gentleman passed from this earth on February 8.”