St. Louis, once the kingdom of beers

St. Louis during the 1800s established itself as the epicenter of American brewing, notably of lager style beers. The city became a destination for many German Americans, among them titans of a new American industry: beer production and beer distribution to the masses. These families were dubbed “beer barons.” The early kings were the Lemp family and the Anheuser-Busch dynasty. The prevalence of underground caves in St. Louis made it ideal to ferment suds, which lead to great local fortunes. The Lemp’s fortunes waned in the early 1900s, before being finished for good during Prohibition. The Anheuser-Busch dynasty survived, with Budweiser becoming the so-called “King of Beers.” As a St. Louis area teen, I of course grew up on these pale, not-so-tasty brands.

The Lemp factory site still exists as a historic area in south St. Louis, near the riverfront. Close by is the even larger, and massive, Anheuser-Busch complex. For St. Louisans, beer symbolized one of the few industries that still made the city great through the 20th century. But globalization that also brought the downfall of the city’s industrial sector also led to the downfall of Anheuser-Busch to subsidiary status. In 2008, the Belgium brewing conglomerate InBev borrowed massively and acquired the home of the clydesdales for $52 billion, turning Anheuser-Busch into a junior partners, known now as Anheuser-Busch InBev. The sale brought jeers of “traitor” to billionaire investor Warren Buffet who supported the sale, and short-lived and quickly forgotten protests and yells of, “”Hell, no, Bud won’t go.”

The mighty factory still churns out the mediocre suds that are trucked nationally and globally, but the king is dead. Long live the king.

During my visit in June 2016, I drove by both factories–the old Lemp site, the Anheuser-Busch plant–and even the old Falstaff brewing plant. You still find signs of the glory in the city’s urban, aging taverns. Rome was great, and its mark is everywhere. This is how the beer kingdom’s reach can be seen today, a brick factory and the aging and dying liquor establishments that mark its footprint.


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