The Kreische Brewery in La Grange may not have been the first or largest brewery in Texas, but it was one of the most unusual and historical. Now preserved in Monument Hill/Kreische Brewery State Historical Park, the ruins of the brewery speak volumes of the builder's ingenuity and imagination.
The brewery was built on the side of a hill in a spring-fed ravine. In the days before refrigeration, tractors, and electricity, Heinrich L. Kreische built the three-story building to take advantage of the location. The brewing process worked downhill from the granary on the third floor to the fermenting tanks on the first floor, says Park Ranger Dale Martin.
It is amazing that Kreische could brew his Bluff Beer, a lager beer that requires a fermenting temperature between 50 and 60 degrees, for nine months of the year in the Texas heat. Favored by the German and Czech immigrants, the lager beer had a big foamy head and was loaded with flavor.
The first 25 years of Kreische's life before he came to Texas in 1846 are pretty much a mystery, but he came to the New World with two marketable skills -- stonemasonry and brewing. Kreische went first to New Braunfels but relocated to La Grange. In the 1860 census he was listed as a stonemason. His skill as a stonemason landed him several large contracts at a time when Texas was building from the ground up. He constructed Fayette County's second jail. The house he built in 1855 on a bluff above the brewery stands solid. When demolition crews tried to tear down the courthouse he built in 1855 it took dynamite charges to level the thick walls. He could have made a good living for his wife and six children as a contractor.
During the Civil War, in his early forties, Kreische changed occupations to brewer. Martin says park rangers are not sure where he learned the craft, but he must have experimented with home brewing because some of the designs of the kitchen suggest the possibility. Records show that the brewery was working as early as 1864. The brewery made its own malted barley from local grain that was intended for bread or animal feed, Martin says. The hops were imported around the Union blockade of the Texas Coast.
By the end of the Civil War, Kreische was a prosperous businessman. He bought land around La Grange, operated a ferry on the Colorado River below his house, had a quarry on the property, and engaged in various other business enterprises.
The brewery reached its peak between 1870 and 1881, when Kreische was making around 40,000 gallons of beer a year. The beer was marketed to the beer halls and saloons of klein Deutschland (little Germany) with Round Top as its unofficial capital. By 1879, the Kreische Brewery was the third largest brewery behind the Menger Hotel and the Giesecke Brewery in Brenham.
The fortunes of the small regional breweries began to change in the late 1800s when the national beers began their gradual ascent aided by the expanding railroads, ammonia refrigeration, pasteurization, and mass advertising.
Evidently, Kreische saw the future and became a distributor for Anheuser-Busch. His own beer sold well between Giddings and San Antonio and even into Austin. The dance pavilion he built on the bluff was thriving and became the home of the local social called Frisch Auf or Freshen Up. He also built a dance hall near the southwest corner of La Grange's courthouse square.
In 1882, at the age of 61, Heinrich Kreische died after a wagon load of rock rolled over on him. Two years later his three sons abandoned the brewery and concentrated on other businesses. None of Kreische's six children married and when his last daughter died in 1952, part of the land was developed and the rest sold to the state for a park.
"One of the prettiest spots in Central Texas," as Martin says, refering to the state historical park that is a shady grove on a bluff overlooking a bend in the Colorado River and La Grange. The site was selected in 1848 as the final resting spot for the remains of the Texans, many from the La Grange area, killed by the Mexican Army at the Battle of Salado Creek in 1842 and on the ill-fated Mier expedition into Mexico in 1843.
Considered to be a "hidden treasure state park," the park has picnic areas and nature trails covering much of the 40 acres. Volunteers lead tours of the brewery on Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 3:30pm. Tours of the Kreische house are held on the first and second Sunday of the month 1:30-4:30pm. The park is open daily 8am-5pm. For more information, call 409/968-5658 or http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/monument/monument.htm.
Coming up this weekend...
Night Skies Over the LBJ Ranch takes visitors to the highest point on the Johnson Ranch near Stonewall to view the night sky, Nov. 8. Reservations required. 830/644-2420.
Camelot makes an appearance at the Bastrop Opera House, Nov. 7-22 & Dec. 5-20 with matinees on Nov. 16 & Dec. 14. 512/321-6283.
Market Trail Day at Houston Square in Castroville features vendors, food and music, Nov. 8. 830/931-2331.
Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in Harlingen includes field trips and seminars, Nov. 12-16. 800/531-7346.
"A Passion for Birds: Eliot Porter's Photography" is the first major exhibition of the artist's bird photographs and runs through Jan. 18 at the Amon Carter Museum in Ft. Worth. 817/738-1933 or http://www.cartermuseum.org.
Online Maps of the Hill Country, West Texas, and state parks presented by TxInfo include topographic and road maps and can be downloaded for free or ordered by mail. http://www.eden.com/~txinfo