Today is the birthday of William H. Gerst (April 1, 1847-March 10, 1933). In 1890, along with Christian Moerlein as a partner, he bought the Nashville brewery that was founded in 1859. A few years later, he bought out Moerlein and his brewery became known as the Wm. or William Gerst Brewing Co. until it eventually closed down for good in 1954.
Here’s Gerst’s history from the Gerst Haus in Nashville, Tennessee, which Gerst’s grandson opened in 1955.
William H. Gerst was born in 1847, coming from a long line of brewers in the Bavarian region of Germany. A short time later the National Brewing Company was established in 1859 and changed hands several times. In 1890 Christian Moerlein and William Gerst went into partnership to open the Moerlin-Gerst Brewing Company, until Gerst bought out Moerlin and the brewery became William Gerst Brewing Company in 1893. The brewery was located on 6th Avenue South here in Nashville, Tennessee. William Gerst received a Master Brewers Certificate in 1888, and in 1889 was elected the second President of the United States Brewmaster’s Association. Gerst had a passion for horse racing. In 1910 his horse by the name of Donau won the Kentucky Derby in 2 minutes, 6.5 seconds, and is to this date the only horse owned by a Tennessean to win the derby. Gerst was a prominent business man and also a family man with 4 sons and 2 daughters. The sons all worked in the brewery and eventually would come to run the brewery. William Gerst retired from running the brewing business due to Prohibition. He died on March 10, 1933 and never got to see his brewery after the Prohibition law was repealed that same year. The brewery closed in 1954 and the original building was demolished in 1963.
An excerpt from the book Nashville Beer includes this snippet about Gerst:
William H. Gerst was a pioneer in the brewing industry and was also known as the king of advertising. He promoted a variety of his beers at the Tennessee State Fair and Centennial Exposition, gained lots of attention for creating cone-top cans and labeled it as “Brewed in Dixie,” before Prohibition practically shut down the brewery. Gerst lost his desire to brew malt beverages, near beers and other non-alcoholic drinks (Cola-Pepsin, Imperial Ginger Ale, sodas) during Prohibition, paving the way for his four sons to take over the brewery.
Here’s more of Gerst’s story from the early days, from Nashville Brewing (Acadia Publishing, 2006), by Scott R. Mertie:
The Gerst Pavilion at the Centennial Exhibition, made from beer bottles and featured a 2,500-gallon cask of beer.