Prohibition in Kansas City

Goetz vs. Muehlebach

from NABA Vol.158 Article by Bob

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Prohibition was like a funeral march for most of the nation’s breweries.  Many chose to close rather than resort to the near-beer game.  Of those that remained open, many stepped-down to distributor status by selling near-beer, and other stop-gap products purchased from others.  In the greater KC area only two breweries, Muehlebach, who had been a stalwart in the KC market and Goetz (from nearby St. Joseph, MO), chose to give the Prohibition near-beer playground a try. One succeeded beyond reasonable expectations and one failed. This article takes a look at the products that produced this outcome -- of course with special emphasis on labels. To set the stage here’s a little background on these breweries:

 

Muehlebach Brewing Co:  This brewery began in 1869 when George and John Muehlebach,  Swiss immigrants, purchased an existing brewery at 18th and Main (now the site of the TWA Building) and began brewing  lager beer. John died in 1880 and George assumed full control of the business. That same year he razed the original brewery and built a new brick and stone brewery on the same site.  The new brewery was dubbed the “Beer Castle" because of its unique Romanesque style with a mansard-roofed tower. The Beer Castle then served the greater KC market up to and into the Prohibition years.  George died in 1905 and his son George E. Muehlebach took over. When National Prohibition hit, rather than close, George E. decided to continue with a near-beer called Mulo accompanied with a family of soft drinks. For unknown reasons, Mulo quickly disappeared from the scene (it probably wouldn’t spike) and was replaced with brands called Muehlebach Pilsener, New Brew and G&C.  These products had only limited success and in the end couldn’t support the large brewery infrastructure leading to closure in 1929, some four years before the return to real beer. When repeal came the Muehlebach family wasn’t able to muster the backing to restart immediately. Finally, in 1938, they built a new brewery at 4th and Oak Streets and began the process of re-establishing Muehlebach Beer in the KC marketplace. This new enterprise enjoyed success until the big National’s put on the squeeze and prompted selling to Schlitz in 1966. That’s when Muehlebach brews became history. Schlitz eventually closed their KC branch in 1973.

 

Goetz Brewing Co:  M. K. Goetz founded his brewery at 6th and Albemarle Sts. in St. Joseph, MO in 1859. The brewery was well received and local success prompted numerous expansions to accommodate an ever growing market area which soon included nearby Kansas City. The family owned brewery continued in business right through the tumultuous dry years of national Prohibition and into the post-pro period.  This brewery also felt the squeeze from the Nationals and succumbed to purchase by the Pearl Brewery of San Antonio, Texas in 1961 -- Pearl eventually closed their KC branch in 1976. The success of the Goetz Brewery during Prohibition was legendary. (See volume 144 Article titled Prohibition Winners).  During the dry years when most breweries closed, Goetz prospered to the extent they had to expand. Their near-beer was their secret of success -- it used a new process and new equipment not common in brewing circles.  Key was its flavor that almost resembled real beer, but even more important was the fact that it could be spiked with grain alcohol to resemble real beer’s kick without turning cloudy.  The flavor and spike-ability made Goetz’s near-beer a winner among a sea of losers from other breweries.  While Goetz couldn’t advertise spike-ability, they didn’t have to. The news quickly spread throughout the US by word of mouth.  They had entered the dry period as a small regional brewery, and ended up a prosperous nation-wide marketer.  During the same time, Anheuser-Busch’s widely touted Bevo product (which wouldn’t spike) flopped and was finally withdrawn from the market in 1929.  Unfortunately, Goetz lost a lot of their edge when Prohibition was repealed and it was back to real beer.

Goetz Prohibition Products

c1920’s-1933 1/2% Cereal Beverages

Goetz became very active during Prohibition and many examples of their early near- beers can be found.  The labels pictured on the top row are very early and quite rare. Row two shows later variants of their popular and spikeable Country Club brand.

This letterhead, dated 1925, lists three cereal beverage products — Country Club, G. B. C. Dark Brew and Country Club Special and seven Sweet Beverages — Grape, Strawberry, Orange, Cherry, Root Beer, Ginger Ale and White Lemon.

c1920’s-1933 Prohibition Sodas

Variations of Goetz’s most common soda brands are shown.  Many

more examples are likely waiting to be discovered.

A review of Goetz Prohibition labels suggests they tried Ale, Porter and  Pilsener type brews. Weather the Ale and Porter’s were really top fermented brews is unknown and, at this time, seems unimportant. The Pilsener, made by a special process, proved to be spikeable and became immensely popular. Called Country Club, it quickly displaced the other brands, and made Goetz Brews famous nation-wide. (See article titled Prohibition Winners.)