Beer of the Week

Stag

Week of November 10, 2009

Stag is brewed and groomed for the independent and self minded among us who like a strong man's beer. Strong as in determined. Stag stands apart from other beers with its own recipe of malted barley and hops: common ingredients with an uncommon taste. Brewed under special conditions which enhance malt's natural flavor, Stag corrals the zest of hops with the simplicity of pure midwestern grains. Steak, Taters And Gravy, that's Stag.

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Why the Beer of the Week?

 

In honor of all the deer hunters preparing for the opening weekend of the season, we wanted to feature the number one beer for deer camp as our Beer of the Week. It may not be the beer of choice at the clubs, but when used to celebrate bagging a trophy buck, it screams alpha male like no other.

 

What the Brewery Says:

 

Stag is brewed and groomed for the independent and self minded among us who like a strong man's beer. Strong as in determined. Stag stands apart from other beers with its own recipe of malted barley and hops: common ingredients with an uncommon taste. Brewed under special conditions which enhance malt's natural flavor, Stag corrals the zest of hops with the simplicity of pure midwestern grains. Steak, Taters And Gravy, that's Stag.

 

History of Stag

 

Some time in the 1850's, Phillip Neu and Peter Gintz joined together to brew beer. From their union, Western Brewery, creators of Stag Beer, was born. The three-story brick brewery building had a 40' x 70' malt cellar, a ten horsepower steam engine and a brewing capacity of 65 barrels a day.

 

In 1907 the brewery held a contest to name a new brand of beer. Its leading brand was still "Kaiser," and with the growing unpopularity of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, that name would be dropped, replaced by a new beer with a new formula. The company would award a prize to the person selecting the new name. On March 8, 1907, a newspaper ad heralded the contest results:

 

IT'S THE STAG BEER

THAT IS THE NAME CHOSEN FOR OUR NEW PRODUCT AND GEORGE E. WULLER OF BELLEVILLE IS THE WINNER OF 25.00 IN GOLD.

HEREAFTER, WE EXPECT THAT STAG BEER WILL BE A HOUSEHOLD WORD, FOR IT IS THE NAME CHOSEN FOR THE BEST BEER EVER OFFERED IN THE BELLEVILLE MARKET.

 

The Western Brewery and Stag beer entered a new era in 1912, when on April 12 it was announced the facility was being purchased by a group headed by Henry L. Griesedieck, Sr., with Henry Jr. named company president, and "Papa" Joe Griesedieck, Vice-President. The Griesediecks' opted to keep the Stag brand, and introduced a premium brand called "Continental." George Friedrich was appointed brewmaster, and the facility continued to expand.

 

In September, 1919, despite facing the by then inevitability of Prohibition, the Western Brewery completed payment of a $250,000 bond, and the mortgage was burned at a ceremony in front of the county courthouse. Unfortunately, the production of real beer was about to become illegal. As the 18th Amendment became the law of the land, Western Brewery was producing 80,000 barrels annually.

 

By the early 1930's the Western Brewery had little business other than its ice business, with no activity in most of the former brewery buildings. With the repeal of the Volstead Act a certainty, work began on refitting the plant at the Western Brewery. In November, it was announced that Western was the only brewery in Illinois outside of Chicago that could begin manufacturing beer on short notice. Dealers as far south as Alabama notified brewery officials that they would like to buy their beer if and when the 18th Amendment was repealed, and St. Louis hotels began bidding for the first case. Just before the end of Prohibition, the company changed its name to the Griesedieck Western Brewery Company, Inc., with H. L. Griesedieck, Sr., as president, and H. L. Jr., as Vice-President. Adolph Walther was hired as brewmaster, and the brewery was refurbished. The facility would reopen with a capacity of 100,000 barrels per year, and the ability to pack 5,000 cases daily.

 

On May 27, 1933, Stag Beer, now with a temporary 3.2% alcohol content, came back on the local market. Proud brewery officials showed reporters stacks of orders, and gave tours of the facility, where 50,000 new cases waited to be filled with bottles.

 

In January 1934, Henry Griesedieck, Sr., invited 1,500 beer dealers to a party at the brewery's new rathskeller. Demand was soon to outstrip production capacity for Stag. Stag became the top-selling beer in the St. Louis metropolitan area, well ahead of Falstaff and Budweiser, and the Stag distribution area began to grow.

 

Growing sales meant the need to brew more Stag, leading to the building of a new modern brewhouse, featuring two 490-barrel brew kettles. Completed in 1939, it was the fourth addition to the plant in three years. The five story structure cost $550,000 to build. Soon to follow were new boiler, and settling houses. Production was set at over 2,000 barrels a day, four to five days per week, which was more than the bottling plant could keep up with.

 

In 1944 construction began on a new smokestack. The 225' tall structure was completed in early 1945 and featured 5'5" high white tile letters saying "Stag Beer." Sales of Stag continued to escalate, with 4,000 barrels being produced daily. The brewery's biggest year was about 1.5 million barrels, and by the early 1950's Griesedieck Western was the 11th largest brewing company in the U. S., with Stag beer being sold in 22 states. Sales continued to be strong for the next several years, as popular advertising campaigns featuring the cartoon character Mr. Magoo for Stag continued to draw attention to the brand.

 

In 1978, the Belleville brewery, and with it Stag Beer, was purchased by the G. Heileman Brewing Company of LaCrosse, WI. Manufacturing of Stag was continued and the plant began producing other brands in the Heileman stable as well, with production running at or near the plant's yearly capacity of 850,000 barrels for several years. The talented brewmaster department, due to its ability to brew most of the Heileman labels, extended the utility of the brewery. In 1986, the top 45 feet of the giant Stag smokestack was renovated. It was deemed impractical to replace the "Stag" lettering which had been on this section, so now only the word "Beer" loomed above the Belleville skyline.

 

Today, parts of the brewery still stand, much of them empty. However, Stag beer continues to refresh beer drinkers in central and southern Illinois, and parts of Missouri, in particular the southeast portion of the state. Stag outdoor neons still glow red outside taverns, and the beer remains the popular choice of many beer fans throughout the region.




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