We all know Texas has major barbecue and breakfast taco game, and its beer is just as worthy seeking out. Even before the iconic Shiner hit the scene in 1909, there was Lone Star, a 4.6 percent ABV macro lager that embodies the spirit of Texas in name and practice. With the help of a few San Antonio businessmen, Anheuser-Busch co-founder Adolphus Busch built the Lone Star Brewery back in 1884, the largest mechanized brewery in the state. More than a century later, the National Beer of Texas is still going strong, and is available for under $5 at almost every bar in the state. So put on your Stetson and grab a barstool, because we’re about to get to know the one and only Lone Star Brewing Company.
The original Lone Star Brewery houses the San Antonio Museum of Art.
Like any brewery in the 1920s, Lone Star was majorly impacted by Prohibition. As a feeble move to stay afloat, the brewery released a soft drink called Tango, but that didn’t last long. When the dry age ended, Lone Star built a second brewery in San Antonio, abandoning the former one. The building was passed down through several owners before being acquired by the San Antonio Museum Association in the ‘70s. Following millions of dollars in renovations, the space reopened as the San Antonio Museum of Art in 1981, and it’s remained an art destination ever since.
There’s a riddle under every bottle cap.
We all know that Snapple caps are imprinted with random factoids, but most non-Texans are unaware that Lone Star does something similar. Borrowing the practice from its parent company Pabst, which acquired the brewery in 1999, the brewery began printing riddles on the bottom of its bottle caps in 2001. These mini puzzles usually feature a series of cartoons and letters that symbolize a common phrase: for example, “F + (Ace of spades card) the F + (drawing of an ax) = Face the Facts.” There are 413 riddles in total, so unless you exclusively drink Lone Star, you’ll seldom encounter the same one twice.
Lone Star was, at one point, available in the Philippines.
Lone Star Beer is available in almost every U.S. state yet still remains sort of a novelty outside Texas, as roughly 80 percent of sales are made within its home state. But at one point, the brewery tapped into the international market when it was contracted out to Asia Brewery Inc., which started distributing the lager in the Philippines. The can had a slightly different label, but still proudly stated it was the “The National Beer of Texas.” Lone Star’s Philippines production was eventually discontinued, but Asia Brewery Inc. still produces some other licensed American products like Colt 45.
It’s endorsed by Willie Nelson.
In the ‘70s, Lone Star soared to new heights and started getting attention in the country music scene. At the time, former Lone Star marketing and promotions manager Jerry Retzloff happened to be good buddies with the legendary Willie Nelson. So, Retzloff made a deal with the musician: Lone Star would provide beer for Nelson’s band backstage while on tour, and in exchange, Nelson would drink the beer on stage. Then, in 1974, Retzloff took Lone Star’s exposure to the next level when the brand sponsored the first-ever Austin City Limits festival. A number of country artists went on to rep Lone Star on stage and in the studio. Country icon Red Steagall even released an album in 1976 titled “Lone Star Beer and Bob Wills Music,” featuring a title track where Steagall professes: “Lone Star Beer and Bob Wills music have kept my heart alive since you’ve been gone.”
The official Lone Star mascot is a giant armadillo.
Marketing vice president Barry Sullivan was just as invested in Lone Star’s marketing crusade as Retzloff. As competitors like Pearl Brewing Company remained a looming threat and Lone Star had already roped in the youth and country music fans with its efforts, the executives sought to further solidify Lone Star as Texas’s preferred beer. Sullivan went with an obvious marketing route and commissioned some posters from local artists, but found them all to be too ad-like, leaving him searching for something more subtle. So in 1974, he took a trip to Armadillo World Headquarters, a since-shuttered Austin music hall and beer garden, to meet with its in-house artist, Jim Franklin. He asked Franklin to draw whatever he wanted, as long as it depicted a bottle of Lone Star and some nod to Texas culture. The result: an illustration of an armadillo running around a post-apocalyptic wasteland with Lone Star bottle necks sticking out of the sand.
Sullivan left the Lone Star team to start his own business in 1977, but this armadillo would soon become the crux of Lone Star’s marketing. After a few failed TV ad campaigns, the brand’s new marketing team unleashed a print ad that read “GIANT ARMADILLO ATTACKS BEER TRUCK” along with a series of ads focused on said armadillo. Though never actually making an appearance in the ads, the armadillo maintained a Bigfoot-esque mystique: Most commercials showed the aftermath of the 12-ton beer thief that would roam Texas, pillaging bars’ supplies of Lone Star. Today, the armadillo is still the official Lone Star mascot, now appearing on most of the brand’s merchandise.
Lone Star makes frequent pop culture cameos.
Given the Southwest’s steadfast affection for Lone Star Beer, it’s no surprise that its long-necked bottle has made a number of appearances on the silver screen and in countless TV shows. Just as Duff Beer is a fictional spoof on Budweiser in “The Simpsons,” fellow animated series “King of the Hill” pays homage to Lone Star with Alamo Beer. Though the can art isn’t identical per se, the series does take place in Texas, and the brewery was briefly known as the Alamo Brewing Company of San Antonio back in the day. Lone Star also shows up in several episodes of the first season of HBO’s “True Detective” after Rust (played by Matthew McConaughey) demands beer from the detectives interrogating him: “I’ll take a sixer of Old Milwaukee or Lone Star, nothing snooty.” The beer can be spotted in a number of films as well, including “Six Pack,” “Deep Impact,” and “American Sniper.”
Lone Star once owned the famed Buckhorn Saloon and Museum.
What could be more Texan than a half-saloon, half-museum showcasing antlers, rifles, and a vast taxidermy collection? Such a place exists, and it’s San Antonio’s Buckhorn Saloon and Museum. Albert Friedrich, whose father was a renowned cabinet and furniture maker, opened the saloon sometime in the 1890s and used the space to display his private hunting collection. He even incentivized fellow hunters to bring in sets of horns and antlers in exchange for free drinks. The place quickly became a tourist attraction, and it even hosted Theodore Roosevelt. In 1956, the Lone Star Brewery purchased the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, making it the unofficial Lone Star tasting room. The Brewery continued to add to the collection over the following years, establishing the Hall of Fins in 1964 and the Hall of Feathers in 1973. In 1977, the Lone Star Brewing Company changed ownership, and the Buckhorn collection was subsequently sold off. Friedrich’s granddaughter Mary Friedrich Rogers and her husband, Wallace, acquired the collection 20 years later, and the art is now on display seven days a week at the new Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, located just down the road from its original location.
Lone Star now has seasonal offerings.
For many years, Lone Star only had two beers in its repertoire: its original lager and Lone Star Light. But in the spring of 2020, Lone Star launched Mexican-style lager Rio Jade as its first-ever seasonal release. A few months later, the brand rolled out Das Bier Y’all, a peach-flavored German-style kölsch. The now-Pabst-owned brand also debuted High Desert Days, a wheat beer brewed with hibiscus and agave nectar in June 2021 as an ode to Texas’s Big Bend National Park. All three of these beers are part of Lone Star’s “Culture Series” with each release paying homage to a different region or aspect of Texas culture.