From Russia With Hops – 1940

The time is March 1941. American political columnist Drew Pearson, writing with Robert Allen in their syndicated column “Merry-Go-Round”, noted that U.S. cotton exports to Russia might be ending up in German hands.

They then turn to another subject:

“Russian” Hops

…. some highly interesting figures … have just been compiled on U.S. imports of hops, essential in the brewing of beer.

Prior to the outbreak of the war principal sources of imported hops were Czechoslovakia, Belgium and Poland, now all under Nazi domination. In 1939 Russia sent us $3,000 worth.  But last year this figure skyrocketed to $450,000, many times the total of hops ever obtained from Russia.

Figures on the extent of Russian hops production are not obtainable, since the Soviet is very secretive about such information. It is possible that Russia, foreseeing a profitable export field, grew enough hops in 1940 to warrant the tremendous jump in sales to the U.S. Trade experts admit that they don’t know.

But they point out that it also would be very simple for the Nazis to ship hops from the occupied countries to Russia for re-export to the U.S. in Russian ships, and that such a deal would be very advantageous to the two allies. It would enable Russia to obtain American currency for purchases here, and give Germany a credit in Russia payable either in American, dollars or in the goods the Soviet buys here.

The suggestion was American cotton might be paying for hops ending in American hands.

Such cooperation between Russia and Nazi Germany was not inconceivable. The 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression treaty between the two countries, was still in force. It was dropped of course when Germany invaded Russia in June 1941.

The Merry-Go-Round column often blended fact with speculation, gossip if you will, so nothing was crystal clear here, while readers were left with an impression.

It does seem clear America imported no, or very few hops from Germany after the European war started on September 1, 1939. The Royal Navy imposed a blockade of Germany that was generally highly effective, for one thing.

Before that, due to American antipathy to the Nazi regime, U.S.-Germany trade in goods had declined significantly. There was some barter trade in cotton and other commodities, but general trade (vs. say, direct investment via corporate affiliates) was minimal by 1939.

See e.g. this referenced posting in Reddit. A 1937-1938 report from Barth & Son, well-known German hop merchants (today BarthHaas) supports this for hops, see pp. 13-14.

Barth states America henceforth would import hops mainly from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Poland, in part due to Germany facing a tariff of $0.24/lb. The rate applicable to Czechoslovakia and the others was lower.

One may note, parenthetically, the clear presentations of world beer output and hop production and usage, including lbs/bbl of hops used. America actually exceeded Germany, for example.

It is a useful continuation of similar data I discussed recently in a Polish brewing journal for 1935/1936.

Certainly once the war began for the United States, European hops from any source, I believe including Great Britain, did not enter the U.S.

American hop growers made some efforts to grow a hop with European characteristics, and would keep trying for the next 30 years. Indirectly this led to the hops that power craft brewing, as the first star, the Cascade hop, was intended initially to replace European noble hops.

In July 1941 the Cazenovia Republican in New York State described a plan to grow in Bridgewater, New York a seedless Saaz-type hop, developed in the West.



Sadly it seems such plans did not materialize, or produce the expected results.

A 1949 brief submitted by the U.S. Hop Growers Association to the federal government states America relied on its own hop supply during the war. See also brewing scholar Greg Casey’s remarks on wartime hop self-sufficiency in his recent article in the MBAA Technical Quarterly.

I noted recently that Anheuser-Busch, for its part, continued to make beer during the war from malt, hops, rice, and water. It did not use non-standard malt adjuncts such as sorghum or potatoes, in other words.

No doubt Anheuser-Busch stockpiled imported hops before the war, as it had for World War I. How long they lasted must await a detailed study of its wartime brewing methods.

Certainly at war’s end American brewers resumed importation of European hops to supplement American hops in the brewhouse.

In January 1946 an ad from Gunther’s Brewery in Baltimore proudly touted use of new Czech hops (Evening Star of Washington, D.C.):



The tenor suggests that wartime beer likely was affected by lack of noble European hops.

Returning to Pearson-Allen and 1940, one wonders if they had a tip from a brewery worker. Be that as it may, it should be noted Volhynia was a historic hop region, Polish until the Soviet annexation in September 1939.

So perhaps the hops in question really were Russian. Barth & Son didn’t have great things to say about Volhynia hops in their report, at least for 1937/1938, but it may have been a case of take what you can get.

See our follow-up post, Saaz Seedless.

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Latter-day Harp Lager

Recently in two Parts I looked at early Harp Lager brewing at Dundalk, Ireland, concluding it was likely all-malt. This is a kind of supplement, since it pertains to latter-day Harp.

Brewing at Dundalk ceased in 2013, with production relocated to St. James Gate, Dublin. See Anne Campbell’s report in the Irish Independent. Other reports of the period discuss label updating. I think possibly the recipe was adjusted as well at the time.

The Harp I tasted recently, bought at LCBO in Toronto, was 5% abv, imported from St. James Gate Dublin.

This current page at Carlsberg Ukraine states that the ingredients of Harp Lager are water, barley malt, barley, and hops. (Presumably Carlsberg distributes Harp in that market).

Nutritional data is also included, so probably these statements are meant to comply with Ukraine laws.

A note in the listing terms the beer “Irish lager”, 4.9% abv. The place of manufacture is not stated as such but probably, therefore, is Dublin.

The barley could be raw barley, flaked or finely ground, used as an adjunct as in Guinness. The way the ingredients are listed the barley seems not to be malt, in other words.

But maybe it means roast barley, used to deepen colour. Whatever is meant, the beer as we get it has a good natural taste. I did not get an obvious adjunct flavour as so often with mass market lager.

For Dundalk, so prior to 2013, I could not find an official statement of grist used. However while unofficial, published guides to brewing commercial beers can be helpful, especially when putting together a full picture.

CloneBrews: Recipes for 200 Commercial Beers by Tess and Mark Szamatulski (2nd. ed., 2010) contains directions to brew extract and all-grain versions of Dundalk Harp, see at pp. 54-55.

In the all-grain, British lager malt and crystal malt are used, with Hallertau Hersbrucker and Saaz for the hop bill. The authors stipulate Hersbrucker for bittering, Hersbrucker + Saaz for flavour, and the two again for aroma.

This approach, producing a 5% Harp as now exported, is consistent with my all-malt deductions for early Harp at Dundalk. I’m speaking now of grist, not alcohol or final gravities.

While only snippet view was available to me, Les Howarth’s well-known homebrewing series seems in similar vein. See regarding Dundalk Harp his The Home Brewer’s Recipe Database, 3rd ed. at p. 245.

Finally, the Brewer’s Friend offers a Dundalk clone in essentials similar to both, except using German pilsner malt and CaraHell (a caramel malt often used in pale lager).

Taking all with all, it seems likely Dundalk brewed all-malt from 1960 until the brewery closed in 2013.

As to Harp made elsewhere over that period, I do not doubt some employed malt plus corn. Maybe in some cases too, malt plus sugar, meaning here for the fermentables, not just to adjust colour.

The Beer Revolution …

… and Madison Avenue

One might think a news item with phrases like “fomenting a beer revolution” and “revolt against ‘bland'” originated in the 1990s, or ’80s.

Actually it was 1960.

The story was about Carlsberg, the famous Danish lager. While known and admired by American connoisseurs then, it did not sell large quantities in the U.S. It was not a Heineken – “the” name in imported beer – but had ambitions to be.*

Carlsberg hired a New York ad agency to ramp up sales. The Mad Men came up with the “quaffmanship” campaign. Robert Alden of the New York Times got the story in May 1960.



Quaffmanship was the brainchild of Martin Solow, a Manhattan ad executive. The term was clever, suggesting both discrimination in taste and quantity imbibing.

If brewers love nothing else, it’s moving product in quantity, whatever demographic they target.

There was perhaps also a subliminal appeal to the idea of craftsmanship, the sound of “quaffmanship” almost suggests it. Which rather brings matters up to date.

The campaign had launched earlier and would now intensify. A run of magazine ads was planned, with radio spots on classical music and other “quality” stations.

The 1960s perfected the use of vague, one-liner ads focused on lifestyle. But different thinkers there always were, and Solow was one, evidently.

The Carlsberg campaign relied on medium- and long-form narrative, irony-tinged yet stressing flavour and tradition. Art work was a strong point. Some ads lampooned the typeface and layouts found in old books.

A 1961 ad at eBay is illustrative, profiling the “Gourmet Quaffer”. The Quaffer enjoyed Carlsberg alone or “with a regiment”. Dumas the Elder is quoted, Latin phrases appear, the whole bit.

In the end humour subverts an excess formality. The message was, Carlsberg is not everyman’s drink, but anyone reading, with the price of a bottle, is welcome to try.

Solow’s perception that flavour had departed the American beer palate was echoed 20  years later by an emerging squad of craft brewers. (In time it became, indeed, a regiment, and army).

Ostensibly there was little in Martin Solow’s background to suggest the offbeat, or counter-cultural. Born in 1920, after college he spent the war years in the U.S. Army.

Later he edited labour journals and worked for the magazine The Nation before turning mid-career to the ad business. His obituary in the New York Times (1991) gives more detail.

The Quaffmanship campaign continued for some years. As usual in the ad business, newer ideas emerge. In tune with the times some Carlsberg ads turned minimalist. An ad placed in a Rochester, New York newspaper in 1965 forms an example:



But in 1960, Martin Solow’s insight to counter the drumbeat of light and dry was prophetic, to say the least. He lived long enough to witness the return of real taste to domestic beer. In some small way, he was responsible for it.

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*Heineken is still a top five import according to a 2021 Beverage Industry report.



Visiting the City of Lushington

A melancholy yet amusing tale is told in a 1903 issue of the Brewer’s Journal and Hop and Malt Trades’ Review.

As expected, humdrum reportage vital to brewing business dominates the pages: hops arriving from Ostend, Brisbane and points between; reports of a diastatic nature; new yeasty science, etc.

But a tale in literary form stood out.



And so a noted, venerable public house of London was lost to history. The Harp had long been patronized by those who tread the boards or with other connections to the world of playhouses, acting, and greasepaint.*

The locale was in Drury Lane, near the Theatre Royal and Fortune Theatre. There is, today, an old Harp pub in Covent Garden, a Fuller house, but of different lineage, it seems.

Famed Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean (1787-1833) knew a thing or two about the pot, including evidently as missile. A good bio appears in the Alchetron site, with a dynamic image of Kean shown.

Richard Sheridan will need no introduction for many, but this Wikipedia entry may interest some. His reaction to the conflagration of his prime business asset reveals sang froid to the max, or maybe a peculiar dark humour, call it what you will.

The general temperament today is quite different – no doubt a call would be made to the local M.P. for government help to build a new one – but then the pub business is not what it used to be, either.

Despite the fire disaster a Theatre Royal still operates, at the original location. It was rebuilt with the help of no less than Samuel Whitbread, the great brewer, appropriately for our story. The Wikipedia entry for Theatre Royal states:

Already on the shakiest financial ground, Sheridan was ruined entirely by the loss of the building. He turned to brewer Samuel Whitbread, an old friend, for help. As well as investing strongly in the project, Whitbread agreed to head a committee that would manage the company and oversee the rebuilding of the theatre, but asked Sheridan to withdraw from management himself, which he did entirely by 1811 ….

The present Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, designed by Benjamin Dean Wyatt on behalf of the committee led by Whitbread, opened on 10 October 1812 with a production of Hamlet featuring Robert Elliston in the title role.

Of the wryly named City of Lushington, it is long gone, the wit and gaiety that inspired it, at any rate.

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*There is no connection here to Irish Harp Lager.

Early Brewing of Harp Lager. Part II, Alton, UK

The Brewing Trade Review Covers the Alton Brewery

In Part I, I discussed whether the first brewings of Harp Lager at Dundalk, Ireland were all-malt. It seems likely they were, see in the comments brewer Ed’s analysis of a Dundalk brewing formula I quoted from the July, 1962 The Brewing Trade Review.

The apparent all-malt is interesting as Courage Barclay in London subsequently used a malt + flaked maize formula (see Part I again).

The Brewing Trade Review published a second article on Harp in 1962, in its May issue: “Harp Lager at Alton”, pp. 416-421. I now have a copy but it is not online.

The article states as the launch of Harp in Ireland proved successful, the decision was taken to build a brewery at Alton with then co-venturers Courage, Barclay & Simonds and Mitchell & Butler.

The article focuses on site selection, aptness of water, site preparation, design, and construction of the Alton plant, meant to serve Great Britain “south of a line from Merioneth to the Wash”.

The German-made brewhouse is described in detail. It was an all-steel fabrication with stainless cladding. No mention is made of hops, other than how the spent hops were removed from the brewery. Compressed air was used, ditto for spent grains.

As to fermentables, only malt is mentioned.

The raw material, in the form of malt, is received in bulk, and a lorry load will discharge into a hopper below ground level, from which it will be elevated and conveyed to the 10 concrete silos … [and then] transferred to the brewhouse by remote selection in pre-determined quantities, being screened and weighed on the way.

There is no reference to sugar, or raw grains such as maize. The list of equipment and fabricators included at the end makes no reference to handling non-malt fermentables. This does not mean these were not used in the process, but the article, while not containing brewing calculations, is consistent with an all-malt process.

The article states Alton was:

… equipped with the most modern plant to brew by the traditional methods used in the well-known European lager breweries.

It makes sense to me Alton would follow Dundalk’s example, particularly as both plants were purpose-built.

Seemingly (see Part I) Guinness at St. James Gate planned for some Harp to be made with malt + sugar, but where or when that occurred, I am not currently aware. Sugar or maize perhaps were introduced at a later date at Alton, or elsewhere in the consortium, that is possible.

The article adds Alton used two fermentation designs, one closed, one open. We saw an image of an open fermenter at Dundalk. The closed ones were used (said the article) to recover carbon dioxide, probably to carbonate the beer.

Alton maintained two yeast cultures, probably since two fermenter types were used. Perhaps output was blended although this is not stated.

Storage (lagering) time is not addressed although the storage tanks are described in good detail.

After storage and double filtration beer was placed in a holding tank, then racked direct to tankers “under sterile conditions”. These ferried the beer to bottling plants.

No pasteurization was employed at racking, is the inference, probably due to the bulk involved.

Note: Series concludes with this supplement, on latter-day Harp Lager.




Early Brewing of Harp Lager. Part I, Dundalk, Ireland.

All-malt at Dundalk?

Boak & Bailey just did a nice early history of Harp Lager’s introduction and production in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Both in the post and comments, links appear to posts by Ron Pattinson analyzing early recipes or brewing directions for Harp.

Harp was produced in different countries by a consortium. Due to this and differing plant capabilities, one document Ron looked at called for flaked corn as a malt adjunct, another used a sugar addition.

The maize pertained to Barclay Perkins in London, the other, from 1961, was a kind of head office (St. James Gate) directive, and listed a sugar addition. I’m not clear where that version was meant to be brewed.

The Brewing Trade Review in July 1962 has an article starting from p. 592, “Harp Lager Brewery, Dundalk“. An interesting piece, and certainly the grist details caught my eye.



Malt and hops only are referred to, with a basic formula that 2.5 tons of malt produced 4000 gal. beer. Without attempting a nuts and bolts brewing calculation, this struck me as similar in effect to the maize recipe at Barclay Perkins, i.e., of so many quarters of grist producing so many bbl.

Maize yield is somewhat higher than malt, though, and it is not said what the alcohol level was or final gravity at Dundalk.

Still, and bearing in mind the article emphasizes German authenticity, it seems possible the original Dundalk batches were all-malt.* Would a German brewmaster brought in to design a German-type plant want to use adjunct of some kind?



At the end of the article, the equipment installed at Dundalk is listed and the fabricators. No cooker is mentioned for raw grain, no bins for sugar, although this does not mean neither was used. Maybe the sugar was in sacks left on the floor somewhere.

Sugar might have been added to the kettle and simply not mentioned in the article, but this is where the calculations come into it.

The sense I had was all-malt, but I can’t be sure. Thoughts?

[See in Comments analysis and opinion of Ed, a commercial brewer].

Below is a picture of a Harp lager I bought today, at LCBO. Made at St. James Gate. A fresh pour and actually quite nice. Drier than I normally like but offering good natural lager flavour with no discordant notes.



Part II follows, on brewing at Alton.

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*The article stresses more a “Continental” approach, but I read this as seeking a German character, taking all with all. Dundalk, on the north-east coast near the Ulster border, is where the Harp project actually started. Harp issued from there before anywhere else, in July 1960. Alton was meant as a British showcase.


Michelob Over Time. Final Part.

This Thing Called Michelob …

For me, this story ends in 1980, as after that, Michelob entered a long period of sales decline for the hallmark or regular beer.

Light, Dark, Dry, AmberBock and other iterations there were, and finally the ultra successful Michelob Ultra, but we are partisans of old-style quality, which Michelob embodied at one time. And while it must be said in 2007 regular Michelob regained an all-malt formula, to my mind it was not as good as even when it was a malt-and-rice brew.

The pre-1961, all-malt brew vaunted choice Bohemian hops, as we saw earlier in period ads. A 1936 ad for Budweiser, in a Plattsburgh, NY newspaper, insisted it too benefited from an exquisite Bohemian bouquet:



Michelob and Budweiser were likely rather similar, therefore, to good pilsener beer from Bohemia, now in the Czech Republic. Assays of Budweiser I reported in earlier posts, dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s, bore this out in my view, especially lagering time and final gravity.

By 1980 though, what was Michelob, for its part, like? By my own memory, quite distant from Czech lager.

It was a decent beer, better than the North American norm, but not more. Michelob had a malty, characteristic taste but was rather light compared to good German or Czech lager.

Critics seemed largely to agree. Michael Jackson gave it 2.5 stars out of 5, fairly middling, in his 1982 The Pocket Guide to Beer. Between in other words “well-made” and “worthy of attention”. Not a ringing endorsement.

James D. Robertson gave it a respectful review in his 1978 The Great American Beer Book, lauding its “fine malt-hop taste”. He called it “excellent … and a worthy choice for the serious beer drinker”, finding the (unpasteurized) draft even better.

Michael A. Weiner in his 1977 The Taster’s Guide to Beer wrote it was “very smooth”, and “do not underestimate it”.

Fair enough, but I think to a degree it’s the times – the bar was simply different then, when imports were not always fresh and craft beer was just starting to emerge.

A California wine writer, Dan Berger – still active – did a review of Anheuser-Busch beers in the Desert Sun of Palm Springs in 1980 – in the presence no less of August Busch III.

He is interesting to read as someone with an experienced taster’s palate albeit avowing little expertise in beer.

He did find differences comparing Budweiser and Michelob to competitors such as Olympia and Coors. His language is not greatly detailed, but accords with Weiner’s and Robertson’s view that Anheuser-Busch made flawless, hence clean, but still enjoyable beverages.

Certainly he did not find all beers in the tasting the same, but used general terms to distinguish them. Anheuser-Busch made “clean” beer as noted, whereas another brewery’s product was “racy”, say, or fuller in body.

It seems doubtful the Michelob or Budweiser of c. 1980, which I recall myself as sweetish and mild with limited character, resembled the prewar brews in bouquet, bitterness, or malty character.

The body of pre-adjunct Michelob, bearing in mind the gravity known for Budweiser in the late 1800s, had to be richer than in 1980.

I think Anheuser-Busch never should have changed the all-malt formula of Michelob. It could have been bottled in 1961, I believe, as all-malt, despite company assertions to the contrary.

As it was, in the 1980s and ’90s Michelob faced established and newer imports, fresher than ever due to improved shipping and handling. The more characterful showed an adjunct Michelob to disadvantage, while the blander side had cachet simply from being imported.

Michelob was outpaced, too, by a craft palate gaining increasing acceptance.

As Michelob Ultra has been an outsize success for Anheuser-Busch InBev, at least the name survives, which is a certain satisfaction. But it is the obverse surely of all that Michelob originally was.

Craft brought beer full circle, returning it to its 19th century roots. Craft restored the kind of 19th century standards Michelob Draught of 1896 exemplified to a “t”.

Michelob has not come full circle, but it’s not too late. I hope one day Anheuser-Busch InBev will re-issue the beer as originally brewed in 1896.


Michelob Over Time. Part IX.

Michelob Advertising 1960s-’70s

Reviewing Michelob advertising in the 1960s and ’70s, certain themes emerge. Ad headlines often focused on the professional or upper business class, with some relaxation by the 1970s.

This reflected Michelob’s higher price. A 1975 ad for draft in Webster, NY had Michelob at $16.50 per quarter keg, $2.00 more than for Schlitz, itself $2.00 more than for Rochester, NY’s Genesee. In bottles Michelob was priced comparable to Canada’s Molson.

Headline of an early ’70s ad: “When it’s time to stop playing a round”. Tee, golfballs, and scorecard are seen in the background. Golfing was an upper echelon activity, like tennis. See sample ad in Jay Brook’s website, and his commentary.

Another: “In beer, going first class is Michelob”. So, if you flew first class and stayed in first class hotels – or aspired to – you were a Michelob prospect.

Another: “The premium is a little higher, but just consider the benefits”. This was allusive of the financial world, as a control block of shares earns a premium on realization. Michelob was a boardroom beer.

“Good taste runs in the family”. Less subtly: “You don’t usually find beer clicking glasses with martinis or scotch-on-the-rocks, but this is an exception”.

I mentioned earlier that contrary to its didactic 1930s ads, Michelob was now advising to leave beer technics to the brewers. Tagline: “Draw your own conclusions”. See sample ad at eBay.

But old habits die hard. An ad in Life magazine in 1966 could not resist listing some impressive-sounding ingredients:



20 or 30% more than … what exactly? It is not said. A footer reiterates the drink is of deluxe standard. If the reader didn’t know what to make of Hanna or Chevalier malt, they were still at the right party, if they had the brass.*

1970s ads could vary in tone. The “surprise people” group Jay Brooks discussed were less reliant on class pigeonholing.

Some ’70s ads featured everyman pastimes such as bowling (“Bowl them over”). Shooting pool or playing cards also figured. A TV commercial showed a group of friends playing cards. Message: Michelob is a valued if occasional treat for such group.

In a 1974 camping fishing commercial, Michelob again makes an unaccustomed but welcome appearance.

Still, scenes of young professionals were evergreen. This example (1977) showed stylish young achievers enjoying an orchestral “pops”.

A 1973 spot pictured a young couple on a shiny boat in dock, having trouble with the sails. An old salt passes by carrying a gunny sack, maybe a merchant sailor, maybe “crew” for a yacht owner. He stops to help.

He fixes the problem easily, and the couple crack a Michelob with him in grateful appreciation. His appreciation for the extra quality is event. The gravelly voiceover intones: Michelob  is for everyone. Simple but clever spots like this were less starchy than 1960s ads.

In the ’60s and ’70s Michelob advertised in magazines read predominantly by African-Americans, such as Ebony and Jet. An example in Ebony in 1965 was no doubt intended as symbolic. Two men are shown reviewing a sales report, August A. Busch, Jr. and a black sales executive.

An ad in Jet in 1978, part of the new “Weekends” promotion, depicted couples relaxing with Michelob in a book-lined den:



From the 1950s through the ’80s, however, black advocacy groups were dismayed with Anheuser-Busch on issues of minority employment and expanding black participation in lucrative distribution.

Occasionally boycotts were threatened, and at least one was launched, by Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH. PUSH led efforts to secure a better deal from corporate America, in general. Finally a settlement was reached with Anheuser-Busch, reported a 1983 Jet story.

Among its covenants Anheuser-Busch engaged to spend $8,000,000 for advertising in minority-owned newspapers and other media.

In the later 1970s, “Weekends are made for Michelob” spots gained visibility. This campaign had its origins in a narrower, “Holidays are for Michelob” series.

In the ’80s “Weekends” morphed into the edgier, rock-tinged “Nights are made for Michelob”. The initial campaign was rated a success, as Michelob sales were growing through the ’70s.

Harvard Business Review, in a 2020 collection of advertising studies, considered the program went on too long and ended by confusing consumers. The writer notes that after 1980 sales of regular Michelob fell significantly over the next 18 years.

Surely other factors were also at play. The ceaseless fashion for imported beers was one, especially Corona, but beers from Canada, Holland, Germany and elsewhere had to take a toll.

Beer writer Michael Jackson, in his 1990s The Simon & Schuster Pocket Guide to Beer, called Mexico’s Sol a “sub-Yuppie” favourite. Sol competed with Corona, and remains hot to this day; both appealed to the nascent Michelob drinker.

The rise of craft brewing had to diminish interest in Michelob as well. The evident difference in palate impact made Michelob’s claim of European quality less credible.

In the ’70s Michelob had fended off serious competition from now-domestic Lowenbrau and other super-premiums such as Erlanger, Andeker, and Augsburger. The 1980s posed challenges it never overcame as a full-flavoured, traditional beer.

The phoenix-like revival of Michelob Ultra in the last 20 years has been a remarkable success. But to all intents and purposes Ultra is a different beer than Michelob started as. By a remarkable business and marketing inversion the brew became its opposite, and the till still rang.

This is not uncommon of course in brewing history, something similar could be said for Guinness, but throughout much of its history Michelob was touted for its rich and sustaining character, before the first light iteration came out (1970s).

The irony of upending the beer in character, while retaining the core name Michelob, is a remarkable business and marketing story, but not mine to tell here.

Note re images: the source of each image above is linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Michelob never quite gave up on the “ingredients” angle, as a 1983 ad showed in Ebony. The neat headline: “Night Harvest”.



Michelob Over Time. Part VIII.

Michelob Hour of Excellence TV Spot

In a c. 1965 black-and-white TV spot, preserved on YouTube, actor, director, and writer Hal Holbrook promoted the “Michelob Hour of Excellence”. Its distinctive hourglass-shape bottle appears on his chair-side desk.

Holbrook, who passed away only recently, is remembered especially for his stage reenactment of Mark Twain.

The upload caption attributes the year as 1958 but it had to be later, as Michelob was first bottled in 1961. Prior to that it was draft-only. As well, in 1965 the North Countryman, a newspaper in Rousses Point, New York, described the Michelob Hour of Excellence as “new”.

Using trans-Atlantic tones, Holbrook explained how a great American beer would sponsor a series highlighting American excellence in successive one-hour programs. Excellence in theatre, sports, music and more would be featured. The flying Wright Brothers were scheduled for one show.

The North Countryman advertised this weighty program:




The tone of Holbrook’s introduction, and evidently The Hollow Crown production, were thoroughly highbrow or upmarket in tone – Michelob territory as I have discussed. Contemporary, televised Budweiser pitches by Ed McMahon, long-time sidekick on the famed Johnny Carson Show, were more everyman, in contrast

This reflected the relative market positioning of the two beers, anchors at the time of brewing behemoth Anheuser-Busch (now Anheuser-Busch InBev).

Witherill Hotel Bar, 1961

The Witherill Hotel in Plattsburgh, New York was built in 1868 and lasted a full 100 years, closing in 1968. Plattsburgh is the “North Country” of New York, not far from the Canadian border.

The hotel was owned for most of its existence by the Howell family. In 2015 Susan Howell Hamlin, a descendant of the owners, was interviewed in the local Press-Republican for a retrospective on the hotel.

Hamlin, who wrote a book about growing up in the hotel, discussed its arc including the bar-restaurant Fife & Drum, opened by the hotel on July 4, 1940.

The evocative photos accompanying the story show a dignified, 19th century pile. It was altered over the years but never lost its Victorian mien. Today such a building would likely be preserved but in 1970 it was torn down to make room for a branch of the State Bank of Albany.

An eBay listing shows the Fife & Drum in striking, 1940s glory.

Emblems of mid-century design such as red leather banquettes, black Formica tables, and tile flooring mingle with Revolutionary War themes. All-American it is, without question.

For most of its career the Witherill enjoyed a carriage and business, as well as high-end tourist, trade. This emerges from numerous accounts including Kelly Julian’s (2012) book Plattsburgh, a history of the city. See the discussion and photos at pp. 37-38.

In June 1961 the Fife & Drum advertised in the Press-Republican, with prominent mention of Michelob and Lowenbrau:



These beers were consistent with the high standards that characterized the Witherill. The bar did not bill itself as a beer destination, as we saw earlier for Brothers Hofbrau in Phoenix in the same period. It did not vaunt expertise in beer and beer history, as Hank’s Tavern did elsewhere in the Empire State in the 1930s.

The Howells simply made sure to offer top quality in this amenity, as the hotel did in general. The Witherill therefore, in our estimation, exemplified the status image encoded in the name Michelob.

In those pre-Ultra days, that meant rich European quality, of a piece, say, with Munich Lowenbrau, hence the pairing in the above ad.

At that time, for countless high-end restaurants and hotels, for the country club and club house, nothing more need be said.

Last Parts in Series

Through the 1960s and ’70s, assisted by its new bottle and perhaps the new rice adjunct recipe, Michelob sales grew considerably, as shown earlier.

The marketing now broadened to include magazine spreads including in African-American-read Ebony magazine, and TV commercials focused on lifestyle.

I’ll consider these in the next Part. In the final part (so two more coming), I will review opinions of Michelob by beer and wine writers ca. 1980. These are particularly interesting in light both of early Michelob history, when it was all-malt and touted a Saaz hop bouquet, and the craft revolution since ensued, which revived interest in that level of quality.

After 1980, sales of regular Michelob steadily declined as craft and imported beer became increasing draws. Michelob, and the line extensions that proliferated, accordingly present less interest to us than earlier, and we will stop there.

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Beer Pitches for the Brainy

Trusting the Stable Laws of Marketing

Continually examining historical beer advertisements, I have noted that some intended for a college audience exhibit literary flourishes.

This was either a simple nod to the environment or more likely an attempt to ingratiate.

An extended example, perhaps the best I know, is the parody of author Ernest Hemingway by Utica Club beer: See Union College and the Time of Schaefer.

In 1972, a literate beery pitch appeared in The Paper, the student journal of what is now Concordia University in Montreal. The October 16, 1972 issue contained this ad:



The ad illustrates the “know your audience” rule of marketing. Mindful many Concordians were taking, or giving for that matter, literature classes, the copywriter drew on references to ale in literature. That meant at the time, in this country, classic English literature, basically.

The formulation of writer George Borrow was neatly abbreviated by removing his concluding words “of Englishmen”. By this device the line was made inclusive of women, or not exclusive at any rate.

With the gender balance changing significantly on campus and in the general culture, advertisers could not afford to offend.

Referring to Englishmen in this context at the time – or any time, given the French majority in Quebec – would not have been the best idea, either.

The last quotation is the most clever, a device to reinforce the name of the beer:

There they are, my fifty men and women.

The quote is from Robert Browning’s poem One Word More. It is the only one in the ad that expressly mentions women.

Even apart the changing cultural picture, women had been in marketers’ sights for decades, including for beer. I mentioned how Dr. Ernest Dichter, a Vienna-trained motivational psychologist, counselled Falstaff Brewing in 1956 to include the female audience.

As he put it, “Dizzy Dean and the games miss many of the women”.

Browning meant his line to reference the 50 preceding poems in the volume, and as dedication for his (equally famous) wife.

A clever Montreal copywriter adapted it to his own purpose. Advertising can work this way, there is a reason its output is termed “creative”, although liberties inherent in the ad game can discomfit some.

Do beer companies still market to college students? In some places they do, with ongoing controversy on the propriety. Indeed attempts are periodically made to ban the practice.

In 2013 a U.S. Federal Court of Appeals validated such advertising in student media in Virginia on First Amendment grounds. In that case, most students at the colleges, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, were over 21.

The result might have been different at an American junior college, where most on campus are 18 or under. As the lawyers say, each case must be judged on its own merits.

Do campus beer ads of today cite the greats of English Lit, or other worthy literati? Somehow I don’t think so.

Times change, as do icons of literature, as do advertising pitches. The fundamental rules of marketing do not change, though. The “Know your audience” rule remains fundamental.

Still, if current beer marketers are looking for poetic inspiration, they might examine Hip Hops: Poems About Beer (2018), by Christopher Keller (Ed.).

N.B. A 12-pack of Labatt 50 as it looks today appears in the website of grocery chain IGA in Quebec. The packaging is almost unchanged from 50 years ago:

Note re images: source of each image above is linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.