|Watercolor by Jim Koehn|
Over the past year, readers have come to look forward more and more to Saturdays, when Austin Bureau Chief Caren Jeskey shares her insight, observations and philosophy from the Lone Star State. Her feature has become popular—incredibly popular, really, with a readership exceeding the other six days, umm, combined.
So in the "Give the lady what she wants" spirit that has always informed my blog, Caren has agreed not only to come to Chicago, but to write the blog jointly with me, her only stipulation being that the "goddamn"—which she was never comfortable with, it violating her sense of joy in the divine in all of us—be changed to something more positive. I readily agreed. And to try to encourage readers to check out the blog on days that AREN'T Saturday, I've asked Caren to write once or twice—or more—on weekdays. So welcome Caren Jeskey to a more prominent role in the EGD —whoops, EFD—family! Times change, and we change with them!
When I visited Präzision (Precision) Western Wear I was greeted warmly by the great-great grandson of Anja and Franz, Stefen Weber, and his wife Theresa. They offered me coffee and kolaches. The Texas Kolache is more like a pig in a fluffy blanket. They explained that Germans brought hot dogs to our shores, as well as hamburgers and the original cooking methods that became known as barbecue.
Precision Western Wear has been tucked away in the town of Shiner, Texas since 1937. Germans make up the fourth largest population of the Lone Star State after Anglos, LatinX, and Black/African American residents. In the 1840s, the Adelsverein (The Society for the Protection of German immigrants) organized on the Rhine in Biebrich to assist citizens who wanted to emigrate. The Weber family hailed from Bavaria, and for generations had farmed hops on a small plot of land. While they were able to survive off of their modest profits, the promise of more success and better treatment of working class families drew them to the United States of America.
Anja and Franz Weber were both 18, and they forged the trail. They each collected a small parcel and made their way to the shores of the Rhine, where they embarked on their 12 week journey to Ellis Island. From there they made their way, financed by Adelsverien, down to the Wild West. The Webers dug right in and with the help of their community, started brewing beer. What started as just enough brew to serve their local church community on Saturdays turned into what's now Spoetzl Brewery. You may know them as Shiner.
Once my belly was full of a hotdog kolache and a jelly filled one to balance things out, Theresa insisted that her mission was to get me fitted for a pair of custom boots. Not only that, but I’d also get a glimpse of the process from start to finish.
First I was invited into the curing barn where giant cow pelts hung from the rafters. I picked out a black and white spotted pelt. Hey, I am leaving Texas soon and at least I can come home with a proper pair of boots. Theresa personally fitted me for a boot that won’t destroy my feet as I break them in, but will still look authentic. She told me stories of her Irish Catholic upbringing in Boston, and meeting her husband at SXSW (South By Southwest) music festival nearly 20 years ago. Her 10-year-old son watched us from a distance, a little too shy to get to know this Yankee stranger.
Their homestead grew, and they acquired cows, goats, and chickens, and over the year the family business grew into a little village unto itself. The original Webers had four children, whose families settled down on the compound and contributed to their endeavor.
As their cattle herd grew, the possibilities became endless. They sold pelts, milk, cheese, and eventually decided to fill another great need in their town. Boots. Their small empire grew, and they are now the largest boot and beer purveyor in the region.
Their earlier beers were created with hops that were delivered to them from the Pacific Northwest. Despite the Texas heat, this young entrepreneurial couple manage to start growing their own Humulus lupulus (hops) vines. They were the only outfit in town, so all of the neighbors did what they could to help supply them with water and hands on help to keep the crops alive.
We spent the rest of the day riding horses on a dusty trail (I could not walk for a week after that), touring the brewery, and finally sitting around a roaring fire with friends and family while Stefan prepared a brisket extraordinaire.
Days like this will make it even harder to leave this complicated state, but at least I’ll have proper footwear to prove that I was here.