Barney’s Beanery Rocks Beer in the Pre-craft era

 

Shown, courtesy the historic menu collection of Los Angeles Public Library, is the beer list of the legendary Barney’s Beanery in Hollywood, CA c.1980. I first visited L.A. about this time, and the list is exactly as I recall it.

Barney’s was founded in 1920 and continues to this day at the original location. It’s in the same, low-slung wood frame building it always was. New ownership in this millennium has expanded the brand to other locations, all to the good as the original vibe seems a goal of the modern Barney’s.

The image below of the original location is from the restaurant’s website. The exterior is virtually unchanged for generations and the interior too, judging by images I’ve seen online.

Barney’s Beanery was known in the old days in L.A. as beer-central. This was before Pizza Port, Stone Brewing, Lagunitas, and all the rest of beer revival’s royalty. But places like Barney’s paved the way – remember that.

As you see from its menu about 40 years ago there were only a few drafts available: Miller (High Life), Miller Lite, and Lowenbrau. This Lowenbrau was brewed in America by then, not Germany.

The availability of Miller in both light and dark versions reflects an earlier time, when “dark beer” – an American interpretation of Munich (or Dunkel) lager – had a niche market. To beer fans then, a “dark” was an alternative to the mass-market norm.*

But Barney’s bottled list is where the action was, and this too reflects an earlier era, when bottled, pasteurized beer was the form frequently available in the far-flung, pre-AC west coast. Delicate draft beer was not the ideal form to handle at the time there.

Despite advances in logistics by the 1970s, the cultural memory in southern California retained the preference to drink beer from an iced bottle. Of course, this form has never died out and is still popular in the region.

Barney’s beer menu of the time, in fact, is a study in 1970s beery predilections. From Canada came “Molson’s”, type not specified. It may have been Molson’s Golden Ale, or Export Ale, fairly light but tasty mass market ales. Today only the Export Ale survives, and Molson is now called Molson-Coors.

“England”, as many Americans still call the British Union – supplied Bass and Whitbread ale, pretty solid choices. Scotland supplied the dark, weighty McEwan’s Ale, and available currently in Ontario. The brand is now a Marston’s property (in Burton on Trent). The Scotch ale, at 8% ABV, is excellent, malty-winy, and offers a taste of early post-WW II brewing history – of what was on the Barney’s menu of 40 years ago, therefore.

Nearby Mexico offered up the usual suspects including Corona, so one sees the bridgehead of its current world penetration: places like Barney’s made it happen. Beer authority Michael Jackson once described Corona’s emergence in California as an unlikely, “sub-yuppie” phenomenon. That success later went national, and beyond.

Noche Buena was available too, which Jackson always liked. I think it’s still made, a caramel/amber evocation of the old Vienna lager style. It dates from the time Mexico was in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

A mainland China beer is a bit of a surprise, perhaps, for the time but Richard Nixon had recently opened up China trade, that probably explains it.

No craft beers are represented even though the craft pioneer Anchor Brewing’s beers were available in L.A. then. And, if the menu is post-1977, theoretically beer from New Albion Brewing in Sonoma could have been listed. (New Albion was the first modern craft brewery, given that Anchor Brewing actually originated in 1896).

But it was too soon for craft beer to appear even on a menu like this one: “craft” was on virtually no one’s radar at the time.

Wouldn’t it be great to recreate a Barney’s-style 1970s brunch today? Say, an avocado omelette, sourdough bread (the Bay Area is close enough), a Cobb salad, Crenshaw melon, and some of those bottled 1970s beers. You would have, not just a great retro meal, but a good one for any time. With a great disco soundtrack to match, of course.

Finally, that Barney’s cared about good beer is especially obvious, not just from the dozen or so German beers on the list but Pilsner Urquell, San Miguel Dark, and Carlsberg Dark.

San Miguel Dark in particular is a rich, delicious beer almost never seen in North America, from the Philippines. (Its blonde lager is far more available). Hark all importers, or craft brewers looking to make an interesting Dunkel emulation.

Net net, beer was honoured at Barney’s in the disco era. The range of beers today is much greater, for styles as well as source given the thousands of breweries nation-wide, but that doesn’t mean beer fans didn’t have excellent choices then, too. The Barney’s mens shows they did.

N.B. Thanks to Tim Holt, editor of the journal Brewery History ,who indirectly suggested the theme of this post to me.

Note re images: the images above were obtained from the sources identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Images used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*Two forms of bottled Lowenbrau are classified as German, but either this was a, um, printing hangover from earlier days when the beer was German-brewed, or perhaps the bar offered German Lowenbrau in bottles and American-brewed Lowenbrau for the draft.

 

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “Barney’s Beanery Rocks Beer in the Pre-craft era

  1. I look at the beer list today and wonder when the Belgians were first invited to the party.

    Is it all down to Mr Jackson? Is there evidence that others were cottoning on (outside Belgium) before he published his first Belgian book??

    • A few Belgian brands beyond lagers, Trappist or red ales, and the very strong Bush beer too (aka Scaldis), were being imported into the country in the 70s before Jackson’s books. A couple are reviewed in Jim Robertson’s book I mentioned in another comment. But there was no sense of “Belgian beer” as Jackson introduced it from 1977, nothing close. The importer Merchant du Vin via owner Charles Finkel is an important part of introducing quality Belgian beer to America, but I believe he took his inspiration from Jackson’s 1977 World Guide To Beer. The world wide success of Belgian beer as a specialty category and survival of many unusual styles is due to Michael Jackson’s work and this is why he was decorated by the Belgian government.

      Gary

  2. https://thebeerdaily.com/2012/12/17/las-tres-equis-en-la-historia-cervecera-mexicana/ is the best writeup about Tres Equis Beer that I could find after a quick search, but it is written in Spanish.
    https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=https://thebeerdaily.com/2012/12/17/las-tres-equis-en-la-historia-cervecera-mexicana/&prev=search is a Google translation. I remember Tres Exuis as a light lager, perhaps similar to the current Dos Equis Special Lager, but seemingly there was a dark version as well.

    • Thanks, I believe it is not brewed now. Neither Ratebeer nor Beeradvocate carry reviews for it except for a brief mention of a beer of that name from a New Mexico craft brewery. The latter has no connection I believe to the Mexican beer. I can help a bit though, as Jim Robertson’s 1978 The Great American Beer Book has a review at pp 182-183.Roberson did not like it as he describes a “sour”, “cardboard” taste and “wood-pulp finish”. Aftertaste is “too mild”. Maybe his sample was overaged, but still.

      Gary

      • For Gary: McDini’s still exists under different ownership in National City (which is south of San Diego). However, I think the beer bottle labels are long gone. When we went there in the early 70’s, Mike Dini was the owner, and served behind the bar on quiet nights. He said his former partner was Irish, so your ID of an Irish/Italian mix is right. When they split up, they each took one of the two restaurants, the other being in downtown San Diego. We visited that once, and it was fairly grimy, in keeping with a lot of the downtown at the time.

        As for unusual beers: We bought some Berlinerweisse Schultheiss in the early 70’s, but had no idea what it was. It was yeasty, and slightly sour. We thought that it had spoiled. Tres Equis was just a normal mexican pale lager in the 70s, nothing distinctive about it.

        There was an entertaining, and somewhat insightful, review of ’70 beer in “Oui magazine”, of all things, written by Robert Christgau, and now available (without any of the magazine’s illustrations) at http://www.robertchristgau.com/xg/misc/beer-oui.php .

        • Thanks very much Arnold, appreciated. Maybe those labels are in the basement of the McDini in National City, you never know! I have read that Christgau piece but it’s always good to revisit it, thanks again.

          Gary

  3. Even in the early 70’s, Anchor Steam Beer draft was available in San Diego, so should also have been in LA by ’80. Domestic ales were almost unknown on the West Coast (Rainier and Ballantine Ales were likely lager yeast fermented). But a few good lagers were on the market. Andeker from Pabst was still sold in 1980. Pabst also brewed a good draft dark lager as well as a canned bock. In the 70’s McDini’s in National City had a large draft variety, a good bottle selection, and a huge display of historic beer bottle labels.

    • Thanks Arnold, I’m sure there were a few vectors to the pre-craft beer scene then. I have a feeling Barney’s was following practices since the 1950s even in 1980. It’s changed now though according to the current menu online. Nonetheless it shows markers too of 20 and 30 years earlier if you take a look.

      Where is National City? Does McDini’s still exist? What a name, it sounds like a Scots-Italian amalgam. 🙂

      Gary

  4. Hey, they had Tres Equis, too, which as I understand was a beefier version of Dos. I’m willing to bet the Molson was Export. The late 70s were a bit too early for the coming flood of the inferior (IMO) Golden, which today ois no longer even brewed as an ale.

    I also believe the agreement between Miller and Lowenbrau prohibited the distribution of any German-brewed Lowenbrau in the U.S. Our version was nothing like the German Lowenbrau, unfortunately.

    A lot of domestic “dark” beers of the era were simply caramel-colored versions of the pale offering.

    • Thanks Sam. Maybe it was Export. I agree Golden was not as good although it had a certain taste, as Laurentide Ale did. I’m sure you’re right about that deal between Miller and Lowenbrau. Maybe the German designation was just an error, or playing fast and loose. Or maybe it was pre-deal imported stock, I hope not given it took long enough then for any import to reach America let alone sit in a basement for years until called to duty upstairs. I know about the caramel colouring but still some of those darks were good, I remember. 🙂

      Gary

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