The Life of William Gerst Sr.

Last month I shared how Master Brewers was contacted by Scott Mertie, a Nashville-based brewer, brewing historian, memorabilia collector, and author. After seeing an image of a brewing diploma on our website, Scott shared a digital image of another, identical Master Brewer's Diploma: that of William Gerst Jr., who received his diploma in 1904. Scott's sharing of Gerst Junior's diploma was exciting in its own right. But it was particularly exciting as Gerst Junior was the son of William Gerst Sr., who played a major role in the creation of the Master Brewers. In fact, he was one of the original officers elected at the very first convention in March 1887.

As I indicated last month, this story just gets better. I was again contacted by Scott. He generously shared with me yet another heritage gem... this one of absolutely unbelievable proportions. Scott sent me a digital image of William Gerst Sr.'s Master Brewer's Diploma! 


Scott also provided a translation of the diploma, complete with some explanatory notes. It reads:

Munich Practical Brewing School and Academy for Brewers
Master Brewer Diploma
Mr. William Gerst
From Cincinnati, U.S.A.
Who completed the summer course in 1888, and passed the examination with “One” receives the distinction of this Master Brewer Diploma.
Munich, the 20th of August 1888
On behalf of the Faculty:
The Director (Signed)


  1. “Practical” means on-the-job/hands-on training in addition to book learning
  2. “One” is the highest grade
  3. To get a diploma in Germany means all of the faculty agree that it should be awarded; if even one dissents, no diploma without retaking all of the course work, not just a particular area of deficiency

Gerst received this diploma on August 20, 1888. At that time, he worked at the Christian Moerlein Brewery in Cincinnati. When the Chicago Brewers Association hosted the organizing effort that became the Master Brewers’ first convention, they welcomed brewing representatives from around the country. William Gerst Sr. represented the brewing association from Cincinnati, Ohio. That group evolved into District Cincinnati (1887–2014) and ultimately District Midwest (2014), my home district!

Gerst was instrumental in offering his input into the new national organization. He took part in discussions, shared his concerns, and debated the appropriate issues. His presence was impactful enough that he was elected as one of Master Brewers’ original national officers, which included President L. Frisch (Chicago), 1st Vice President H. Guenther (New York), and himself as 2nd Vice President.

Gerst was voted as the second president of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas, a position he served from 1889–1891.

According to Scott's Mertie's book, Nashville Brewing, one of the “Images of America” volumes, Gerst moved to Nashville in 1890 and purchased the Nashville Brewing Company along with Christian Moerlein. The brewery's name was changed to the Moerlein–Gerst Brewing Company. Finally, in March 1893, Gerst purchased the controlling interest of the brewery from Moerlein and renamed it the William Gerst Brewing Company.

He built his brewery into a Nashville icon and established himself as a prominent local businessman. In the 27 years he was at the helm of his brewery, Gerst was a creative master at producing and distributing a vast array of clever , creative, and outright beautiful marketing materials, all of which helped to ensure that “William Gerst Brewing” remained a household name in Nashville. Some of these marketing items included:

  • Beer bottles—embossed with the Gerst Brewing Co. logo
  • Etched glassware—showcasing medal-winning achievements and used in restaurants
  • Attractive wall calendars—designed to be prominently displayed for the entire year
  • Souvenir pocket calendars—leather-bound and teeming with useful information
  • Beautiful lithographs—suitable for framing and depicting lovely ladies to local wildlife
  • Pocket mirrors—for the not-to-be-ignored ladies
  • Corkscrews—the crown bottle cap was not widely used at that time
  • Colorful trays—beautiful as well as useful for delivering Gerst's award-winning beers
  • Even long-stemmed corncob pipes!

Scott Mertie’s book contains dozens of images of Gerst marketing artifacts. It also provides expanded descriptions and fascinating background stories of Gerst’s advertising items, many from Scott’s private collection.

Gerst’s other passion was horse racing. According to Nashville Brewing, Gerst maintained horse stables in south Nashville and raced several horses in the Kentucky Derby. In 1910, a Gerst horse named “Donau” actually won the Kentucky Derby.

William Gerst Sr. retired from his brewing business with the onset of U.S. Prohibition. He returned to Cincinnati where he lived until his death in March of 1933, the very year Prohibition was repealed. The brewery was run by his sons until it ultimately ceased operations in February 1954.

We at Master Brewers are especially grateful for Scott Mertie. His alert eye and his heritage mindset both led to his generous sharing of the William Gerst Sr. story. Scott's timing was perfect. Between the time that you read this March, 2017 issue of the Communicator and the upcoming April 2017 issue, Master Brewers will celebrate its 130 anniversary! Sharing William Gerst Sr.’s story, and his contributions to the development of Master Brewers, is a noble tribute!

Brewing Resources

Ask the Brewmasters Technical Quarterly MBAA Webinars MBAA Podcasts Food Safety Brewery Safety Vendor Search