Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Missing Link - A Pilsner Story

Many Kansas Citians know of the recently released Boulevard Pilsner. Some of those beer drinkers know that it pays homage to the late Kansas City's Muehlebach Pilsner, but most probably were not ready for the old school label. What most do not know is that in between the two there was another Pilsner that was created based on the Muehlebach brand. This is the story of those beers.
George Muehlebach came to U.S. from Switzerland in 1859. He was a very well known Kansas Citian like Harry S. Truman or Walt Disney. George had business on the mind and he ran a large Hotel in KC as well as a brewery. In 1879 there were 67 breweries, but only 2 in KC. George had to sustain a business that dealt with alcohol through the prohibition and like Anhueser-Busch selling Bevo through drought, George sold Mulo, a non-alcoholic beverage, or near-beer, to get through rough times. Muehlebach Brewing Company lasted though prohibition and became a very strong contender during World War II. While there were many different styles of bottles that Muehlebach produced I was able to obtain the rare green bottles that have the U.S. Victory Bonds label at the top.

What sparked my interest in this whole story was when I was shopping for some interesting beer at a Berbiglia store. While I do not have any loyalty to a particular beer store I rarely make it to a Berbiglia. As I was purchasing some Rochefort 6 and 10, I noticed behind the register what I thought was a recently released Boulevard Pilsner bottle. As I took a closer look I noticed that it looked very aged. It said "Berbiglia Pilsner" and I thought to myself that Boulevard must have copied off Berbiglia. The next day I talked to Boulevard's marketing and Jeremy Ragonese reminded me of Muehelbach. I took a look online and sure enough both bottles look extremely similar to the much older brew. When I spoke to the beer clerk he said that the manager there had been working there since the 70's and that she saved back a bottle when it was brewed. That made me think it was brewed in the 70's. I contacted Marcia Butterbaugh of BCCA Magazine and she informed me that the Berbiglia Pilsner label by Dick Brothers in Quincy, IL and by Huber Brewing in Monroe, WI date to between 1946 and 1951 and that both breweries are closed. Now what is interesting is that I found this label from the Fischbach Brewing Co in St. Charles, MO. Where was Berbiglia brewed at what times I still do not know.
Boulevard Brewing released the Boulevard Pilsner in the summer of 2009. It created a lot of buzz with the vintage logo. The price of these beers at $6 per 6 pack are lower than typical craft 6 pack that Boulevard makes. This makes it a convenient contender for the Budweiser or the Millers on the shelves. I am often asked how many calories are in a Boulevard Pilsner. While calorie information is not yet obligated by the breweries I was informed that the calories would be more equivalent to a Budweiser as opposed to a Bud Light. While this brew is nice, light and refreshing this was not Boulevard's way to compete with the lightest of light beers. Another interesting fact about Boulevard was that when they opened in 1989 they were the first brewery to open in Kansas City since Muehlebach reopened after prohibition in 1938.

I hope you have enjoyed the first blog article of many to come.



Dan said...

Wow - what a great serving of beer history! Thanks for the background - I had no idea about any of this.

Pat said...

And the last picture shows Bob, in the Fedora, and his dad in front of him. And yet another homage, Bob's '47!

KC Hop Head said...

A couple people have already pointed out something that I did not notice. The Muehlebach and Berbiglia spells theirs Pilsener where as most I see today is spelled Pilsner.

John said...

Interesting point about the spelling.

Pilsener is literally "from Pilsen" in German. Pilsner is obviously a shortened, perhaps phonetic version.

You can find references to both spellings going back 150 years or so.

As far as I can tell "pilsner" is more common in the Czech Republic and "pilsener" in Germany. Not surprising that the non-German speaking country would be more likely to bastardize a German word (one they only use for marketing purposes in other countries).

Your bottles would suggest the favored spelling in the US has varied over time.

I guess if there is any appeal to authority to be had, it belongs to Pilsner Urquell.

John said...

I checked to see if the BJCP picked up on this subtlety and they did...

but they got it backwards.

Category 2B Bohemian (Czech) Pilsener. The only commercial example listed from Bohemia that spells the word out is Pilsner Urquell.

Category 2A German Pilsner. The only commercial example listed from Germany is Konig Pilsener.

For the record:

Category 2C: Classic American Pilsner.

I'm going to email someone at the BJCP and see if there is a defense for the differentiation they make in spelling. It seems as though they got it backwards based on how the word is spelled in the Czech Republic and Germany both currently and historically.

a beer sort of girl said...

Awesome piece, Hop Head. :) Thanks for sharing.

Carl H said...

Great job.

Muddy Mo said...

Really top notch work, Hop Head.