Ye are About to Witness the Return of the Old-fashioned Irish pub

Note: the post below was originally put up in October, 2018. I am re-posting it, simply to reflect stylistic improvements, there is no change otherwise. Also, at time of writing, the Fulton History newspaper archive is down, so links to it will not work. Periodically it is down so site owner can perform maintenance. Look in again in a few days, likely Fulton will be back.

Irish Pub: Tradition, Mutation, Adaptability

I proposed a distinction between early Irish pubs in North America, founded by Hibernian arrivals or continued by their progeny, and a later, more Americanized version. A history of Chicago Irish pubs by Ilison Hantschel will assist to understand the immigrant wellsprings of the American Irish pub. This 1961 column by a Jewish writer, Harry Golden, spotlights early Irish bars on the Upper West side of Manhattan which had mostly disappeared, even by then.

The Mark II version may have been started by someone of no Irish background, or who purchased a pub from Irish-Americans, or maybe an Irish-American long assimilated.

A third stage emerged with the onset c.1990 of the Irish Pub Concept. Dublin architect and designer Mel McNally, in concert with Guinness/Diageo, were the principal movers. McNally, seen in this YouTube clip in 2011, gives a good overview of IPC and how thousands Irish pub interiors were shipped around the world.

(Diageo has no commercial ties today to IPC but evidently has a good relationship with it. McNally remains active in the venture some 40 years after first studying, as a student project, the design of pubs in his homeland).

A fourth stage of the Irish or Celtic pub that I would identify is the craft version, of which a number exists in Toronto. Indeed we have examples of pubs in all four categories. A good pub is down to the actual experience, regardless of category, something that cannot be defined in advance, indeed for any food or drinking place.

The categories are fluid to a degree, and proposed for convenience, but broadly hold, in my opinion. This is based not just on considerable reading and reflection but practical pub experience in Toronto, Montreal, New York, London, Paris, and elsewhere.

In New York in the 1960s the rise of Version II sometimes ruffled feathers. Consider this letter to the Irish-American weekly, the Advocate, published in 1967:

 

 

Condon was a regular letter-writer to the Advocate. He must have been about 60, I’d guess a retired transport or other worker. He mentions in one letter having worked on Manhattan subway construction in 1936.

He had definite views on Irish politics – staunchly nationalist – and on pubs and beer, evidently. He recalled how bottled Guinness (i.e., Foreign Extra Stout) was served in Manhattan in the 1930s.

The Advocate printed many articles on Irish history and culture. At least in the 1950s-1970s, the period covered by my review, the paper didn’t take a strong stance on unification. Nonetheless many of its readers were strongly nationalist, or at least demonstrated a resolute ethnic pride.

Condon’s letter is an illustration. You can’t blame him in one sense. Into the 1970s at least, a close connection with an ethnic pub entailed knowing the owner well, who was a key part of one’s social network. Condon felt more at home with an owner of his background, and expressed the sentiment in his letter.

Times change, and concepts of ethnicity and citizenship with them, so the letter has an old-fashioned ring.

The Advocate reported regularly on pubs in Ireland, the model for the bars Condon admired. Most of these articles were complimentary and often quite funny.

One describes customers’ surprise at an itinerant vendor who announces, “Gentlemen, ye are about to witness the return of the old-fashioned top”. He entrances them by jigging on a spinning top, appealing to their memories “as childer”.

In the process he unloads not a few toys on their gladdened souls. The writer remarks, the jar the next night foregone.

Another item describes singing styles in a “singing pub”. Not unexpectedly, the English come in for a good ribbing in the craic:

Tom Kelly blasted out his own version of ‘If I were a Blackbird’. It’s a good job that Tom isn’t a blackbird because if so it would be too bad for the Queen of England when he flew over her.

Some articles pointed out differences from American tavern customs for those planning first-time visits. Pat Greene noted dryly:

What I like most about the Irish pub is the uncertainty of it. First of all, though you know to the minute what the opening time will be, when it comes to the closing time you could find your calculations out as much as an hour or for that matter much more.

Not all the treatments were adoring/affectionate. A 1970 piece by a correspondent born and bred in Dublin offered a more nuanced, even dissenting, view. He deprecated the tendency to romanticize and elevate the Irish pub, at least beyond its just place in Irish culture.

Not just that, he offered the opinion that, in general, Irish pubs in New York were superior! No doubt this was expressed more safely than had he done so in an Irish bar, on either side of the sea.

A sample (the author refers to himself in the third person):

He does, however, try in an Irish fashion to refute the false notion – that Dublin pubs are full of playwrights, artists and the like – whose de­light in life is – to sell his bill of goods to the visitor, and I must admit – whatever the fash­ion – in this he is sincere. For the Dublin pub is indeed over­rated both as to clientele and the establishment itself. The clien­tele is invariably quite dull, un­less inebriated and the establish­ments – though perhaps semi-historic is not of the historic nature that a nation would seek to preserve. Yet the average visitor, es­pecially the Americans, seem far more interested in the Irish pubs than in the Irish culture.

Another thing notable in these pub reports, whether by Irish or American reporters, is the lack of interest in beer as such. To be sure, Guinness’ and sometimes other brewers’ doings were chronicled, for example in 1960 when Harp Lager was launched, or for Guinness strike in the early 1970s.

But apart from reciting regularly the founding year of Guinness, little interest in porter and stout as drinks was shown. Their origins, changes over the years, even strength, aroused no comment.

Guinness was respected as a known emblem of Ireland. Beyond that, nothing comparable to the attention given by international beer writing once it got going after 1975.

Harp lager, to be sure, was greeted in the Advocate with good interest, but for being something new from Ireland. Its Continental origins were noted but not considered incongruous in a stout and ale-drinking country. Smoothing matters along, the drink was trumpeted as Hibernian to the max:

 

Blarney, did they say?

Little was said in the Advocate of Irish whiskey except that sometimes in the pub you could get a “half-one”, I assume a small drink vs. a double. Today, no touristic description of Ireland is complete without an ink-laden charge into distilleries venerable and spanking new.

I think at bottom all this means, the Irish and their wiser counterparts overseas were, and are, pragmatic about the country. If building “authentic” pub interiors for the world gave jobs to Irish workers, and contributed to a benign image for Ireland, all the better.

If chilled lager ended pleasing the Irish equally or more to the traditional stout, bring it on.

All countries are like this at bottom really, at least capitalist ones, and the others don’t count. Tourism perhaps has had doubtful effects in Ireland but it is equally so in England, Scotland, Canada, California, Italy, and … where is it different? The advantages to those directly concerned are felt, clearly, to outweigh the costs.

Note re images: the images and quotation above are from the Fulton History newspaper archive, with source for each 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.

 

 

Michelob Over Time: Part VII.

Brothers Hofbrau, 1960

Continuing my Michelob series, which started with Part I, below is a striking advertisement/menu for Brothers Hofbrau in Phoenix, Arizona. It was placed in the Phoenix Jewish News in October 1960 (via Chronicling America).

 

 

Author and journalist Jon Talton recalled Phoenix’ Central Avenue of this period in a blogpost, with evocative photos. He notes the street was home to many restaurants and bars.

Today the block looks very different, glossy block towers rule.

By the tenor of the ad, it appears Hofbrau was the latest addition to a restaurant group in the city owned by the Brothers.

Draught Michelob was featured, the only draught mentioned, still all-malt in 1960 and considered perhaps America’s best beer. 55 bottled beers are also offered, all imported. The selection likely varied over time.

We saw recently how imported beer was gaining ground in this period, bettering the growth of domestic beer.

The menu is surprisingly diverse, a pot pourri of Jewish, Central European, Irish, and American cuisine.

Jewish deli with a difference, one might say.

Michelob does not feature, here, to highlight any Jewish connections to beer. Beer is not an element of Jewish foodways, and has no specific resonance in Jewish culture. There are many connections between Jews and brewing, as I have often discussed, but in other areas: science and business, notably.

The term Hofbrau evidently was used in just a general way, underpinning a focus on world beers.

In the schema I’ve discussed, the correct inference is American beer bar, or beer specialty house. For its time and in a different way Hank’s Tavern of 1930s Hudson Valley, New York was comparable.

The year, 1960, is quite early to offer 55 imported beers. The now-defunct Brickskeller in Georgetown, D.C., inaugurated in 1957, was more famously a postwar beer bar.

The Ghosts of D.C. site in 2012 reproduced a Brickskeller ad in the Washington Post from 1957. Three draught beers were offered, type not stated, and 46 bottled beers.

(In later decades Brickskeller sold only bottled beer, but in great number. It finally brought draft back: see in the Washington Post again, Fritz Hahn’s 2005 article).

Brickskeller also offered a diverse food selection, Continental European judging by its early ad. Brothers Hofbrau seems to have been a kind of Western equivalent.

Had the Brothers named their restaurant PhoenixBrau – not a bad name when you think about it – the analogy to a Brickskeller, or say, Tommy’s Joynt in San Francisco, becomes clearer.

All were of the same type, deracinated or American beer bar. Note how the Brickskeller ad of 1957 disavowed being a “Rathskeller”.

A quality beer at such places denoted a top example of the brewer’s art, meant for the true beer fan; gourmet beer here did not function (primarily) as cultural touchstone, status symbol, or tribal totem.

One wishes these early beer lists were available. The Brickskeller became in time an international beer destination. So did Tommy’s Joynt, in its way.

Perhaps because of its location, this did not happen with Brothers Hofbrau.

According to the site Malls of America, the Thomas Mall in Phoenix, built in 1963 at 44th St. and Thomas Road, featured a Brothers Hofbrau. A contributor to the Phoenix forum of the City-Data site wrote in 2008:

… [Thomas Mall’s] Brothers Hofbrau Deli, with its famously cranky staff [had] amazing round honey crisps and succulent, kraut-drenched hot dogs.

Beer was not mentioned; perhaps the writer was not a maven. This branch lasted until about 1985, according to these discussions.

It was common at the time for established mid-town restaurants to open in the malls then spreading across suburban America. They were following their customers, many of whom had departed the city centre.

Such a location for Brothers Hofbrau reinforces the inference of undifferentiated American beer bar.

As all early malls in Phoenix, Thomas Mall was torn down years ago, as explained in this page. It and Brothers Hofbrau are now of history.

Much American beer and restaurant history remains surprisingly occult, by which I mean, concealed, unknown. Here is a small corner, deconstructed at any rate, à la Beer et Seq.

 

 

 

 

From Milk to Milk Stout – Ernest Dichter. Part II.

Ernest Dichter and American Brewing

My Part I included remarks to the American brewing industry in 1962 by the motivational psychologist Dr. Ernest Dichter (1907-1991). They appeared in the New York-based advertising journal, Printers’ Ink.

He suggested brewers fund a study to explore reimagining their beer, which he typed as “somewhere in between soft drinks and hard liquor”. He thought Americans, especially a new generation if given the chance, would welcome a “heavier”, more “European” beer.

Dichter was an Austrian-born Jewish refugee of Hitlerism who had worked professionally in Vienna in the mid-1930s. He advised the dairy industry on milk promotion while still in the country.

By the 1960s he was internationally known for his path-breaking studies of consumer behaviour, which used insights of psychoanalytic theory and sociology.

He put his work in service of the business community to help promote sales and markets. As I will discuss, Dichter had advised individual breweries as a consultant.

Brewers Seeking new Directions

Most brewers reading Dichter in Printers’ Ink probably were bemused, given American brewing had been wedded to pale adjunct lager for almost 100 years. But some were thinking out of the box. One investigated dispensing non-alcohol beer by vending machine, and brewing fruit-flavoured beer.

Anheuser-Busch’s new, shaped bottle for Michelob was featured in the same issue. The item explained A-B hoped to parry import competition with a high-end taste. (To what extent that occurred, given the recipe was revised to include rice, 20% by some reports, is another question).

Earlier I discussed another 1960s brewer, Hamm’s of St. Paul, which sought to marry European and domestic brewing influences. See this ad of the period in Life magazine for Hamm’s Waldech:

Waldech. Possibly the third new taste you are looking for in beer.

Despite such tentative moves American brewing wouldn’t revise its basic conception of beer for another 30 years – and quite possibly it never has, in fact.

Understanding Dichter

A concise, popular explanation of Dichter’s methods appears from an incisive interview of Dichter in 1970 by Pamela Rothon, preserved in the Hagley Digital Archives.

With the biographical 2002 film mentioned in Part I, it explains why he is remembered today.

 

 

 

The clipping of the article at Hagley archive does not state the magazine title, so unfortunately article source is not known. It has good, colour photos of a pipe-smoking Dichter at work in his secluded compound in the Hudson Valley, New York.

Not unexpectedly Dichter comes across, indeed by his own words, as a meticulous, driven personality. He spoke five languages, impressive in itself. Notable too was his almost unaccented English, which can be heard in the film.

Rothon stated Dichter had authored thousands of behavioural studies for both large and medium-size companies.

Early Brewery Connections

It seems unlikely Dichter would be interviewed by Printers’ Ink on brewing without prior connections to the industry.

Indeed he had been conducting attitudinal research for different brewers since the 1940s. The Hagley Business Archive lists 27 of his reports, for brewers such as Carling, Goetz, Mexicali, Regal-Amber, and Pabst.

A study from 1956 has been digitized, “A Progress Report of a Motivational Research Study on Falstaff’s Position in the Northern California Beer Market”.

Falstaff Brewing

Falstaff of St. Louis was a brewer of nation-wide scope in this period, with a dozen satellites. During Prohibition it had acquired the Falstaff name from the well-regarded Lemp Brewery in St. Louis, which closed in 1921.

Its fortunes revived after Prohibition due to this strategic purchase. One of its satellites c. 1960 was the ex-Wieland brewery in San Jose, CA, acquired in 1952. It was formerly Pacific Brewing & Malting, and dated back in different incarnations to the 1800s.

In an earlier post I quoted Joe Griesedieck, Sr. of the family that owned Falstaff, from an article he authored in 1963 on the brewing environment. Falstaff was then at the height of its success but facing challenges, some of which he discussed in his remarks.

The fall ended in the mid-1970s when corporate raider Paul Kalmanowitz absorbed Falstaff via his General Brewing in San Francisco.

Dichter’s 1956 Report to Falstaff

I’ll give examples of remarks in Dichter’s report I found of particular interest.

I should say first, he wrote nothing on beer formulation – there is no suggestion to change or improve the product much less refashion it on European lines. That was a deeper, more fundamental issue to be addressed, if at all, at industry level as Dichter recognized in 1962.

Indeed Dichter assumed the opposite case: Falstaff was and would remain a typical American beer, well-made but in practical terms indistinguishable from California competitors such as Lucky Lager and Burgermeister.

Therefore, Dichter examined other factors to improve Falstaff sales in California including its advertising style, tag lines, name and label characteristics, and weaker and stronger demographics. For example, blue collar and minority drinkers tended to favour the brand.

He wrote:

Let your ads talk to the people who are FALSTAFF drinkers – not yachtsmen – people in formal clothes, but down-to-earth people with whom the viewer can identify.

Dichter also suggested more ad spots to attract more women (“Dizzy Dean and the games miss many of the women”). Noting that an interviewee stated Falstaff chilled down particularly well – apparently not all beers did – he suggested an ad campaign based on the line:

“The beer which gets colder”.

When one thinks of the Coors Light “Made to Chill” campaign two years ago, which built on years of success with “cold” marketing, one can appreciate Dichter’s astuteness.

Dichter had doubts about the Falstaff name, noting it connoted ideas of enclosed spaces like the tavern and ale house, whereas the Californian ethos was to appreciate the open air, one way Californians defined themselves.

In a way that must have taken independence of mind to state to his client, he wrote:

WHO IS FALSTAFF?

Unlike Cholly Knick of Knickerbocker Beer or Burgie “The Little Fellow” of Burgermeister beer, FALSTAFF, connected so intimately with FALSTAFF beer, has no outstanding personality.

As a trade symbol he is amorphous, dead, lying in an Elizabethan grave when he could be lively, sparkling — the personification of FALSTAFF beer.

He made suggestions aimed, not at abandoning the name as such in California, but building an active persona for the firm trademark. He cautioned nonetheless:

However, we suggest that FALSTAFF should not be cast in the Shakespearean image, where he is an “epicurean rascal” and where he is associated with English beer, but rather in the role of a jovial, witty good fellow.

Build a new Sir John Falstaff image, “Rotound, jolly, fun loving!”

Dichter advised not to emphasize British associations, not because of any concern with ale vs. lager, but because Californians had a strong sense of their own identity, one based on the pioneering spirit and the outdoors.

An appeal based on foreign ways and styles would not motivate them, he thought.

His report suggests a similar mistrust by Californians even for the American East, of its habits, institutions, ways. Falstaff should not, therefore, expect ad campaigns successful thousands of miles away to have necessarily the same impact in California.

Last Thoughts

While the nation, and the beer business, have changed much since 1956, much has not changed. The brilliance and perceptiveness of Dichter’s work as a whole is evident from this report alone. His eminence to this day in the fields of behavioural psychology and consumer motivation is no surprise.

Note: the source of the images and quotations above is the Hagley Digital Archives as 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.

 

 

 

 

 

From Milk to Milk Stout – Ernest Dichter. Part I.

Prescience in 1962

Printers’ Ink was a long-running American trade magazine on advertising. Started in the 1880s by New York-based George Rowell, it ended its days finally in 1972, retitled Marketing/Communications.

In 1962 it published a 25-page Special Report on American brewing. Even as it reflects its time, the reportage and analysis are sophisticated, with quality layout and artwork.

One is taken aback at certain moments. Fox Head Brewing in Wisconsin – its beers were entered in 1940s tastings by the Wine and Food Society of New York – planned to sell non-alcohol beer in vending machines. It was also designing a range of fruit-flavoured beers.

A man called Ernest Dichter, head of the Institute of Motivational Research, similarly thought American brewing needed to reimagine beer for an emerging generation (p. 47).

Only 13-15 years later, the venerable but tiny Anchor Brewery in San Francisco, and New Albion Brewing in Sonoma Valley, a ’70s start-up by an ex-Navy homebrewer, released the kind of beers Dichter foresaw would shake up the industry.

For a long time still mass market brewers didn’t want to know, the same posture that caught Dichter’s attention in 1962.

Anchor and New Albion didn’t shape-shift alone. It took many brewers, publicists, writers, and brewing consultants to create today’s brewing world, where full-flavoured styles abound.

It was largely young consumers who responded to their vision, drinking beers for the most part inspired by European originals – validating an outlier analyst in 1962.

Who was Ernest Dichter? His profile at Wikipedia states in part:

Ernest Dichter (14 August 1907 in Vienna – 21 November 1991 in Peekskill, New York) was an American psychologist and marketing expert known as the “father of motivational research.” Dichter pioneered the application of Freudian psychoanalytic concepts and techniques to business — in particular to the study of consumer behavior in the marketplace. Ideas he established were a significant influence on the practices of the advertising industry in the twentieth century.

He held a doctorate from the University of Vienna in psychology, and had done early work in Vienna on milk-buying habits of consumers. A Jewish refugee, he arrived in America in 1938, in the nick of time.

Dichter was profiled in a 2002 film on motivational research, The Century of Self by British filmmaker Kevin Adam Curtis. This clip on YouTube is most informative. Various experts including Dichter are interviewed.

In 2021 mass market brewers still exist, with ever-lighter beer as a staple. But full-flavoured beer is here to stay, in non-stop variety. Some is even made by the craft units of the selfsame large brewers.

Imports too grew considerably over the last 40 years. The Special Report has a section on them also, noting they bettered domestic beer in growth terms. Even in 1962 that was so, in other words.

Finally, one wonders if Dichter’s background in German Mitteleuropa, with its rich brewing tradition, helped shape the insights he conveyed to Printers Ink. I think it had to, Ja.

Part II concludes this look.

Note: source of excerpt above is linked in the text, via Google Books. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

Michelob Over Time: Part VI

Restaurateur/Beer Maven 

Michelob in the days when it had a pronounced European character bruited its connoisseur qualities. Then, as now for craft beer and some imports, not everyone could afford to buy such premium taste, or as often as they liked.

But taste appreciation cuts across social-economic lines. This is summed up in the old saying, I have Champagne taste but a beer budget (not meant literally in present context). Many find a way still to indulge a special taste.

The true beer fans comprised, and still do, a general category, defined by their love for quality malt beverage, not their social, ethnic, or economic classification.

In 1961 as we saw earlier, only 300,000 bbl of Michelob were shipped, against 7,100,000 of Budweiser and 1,100,000 of Busch Bavarian.

That Michelob, draught-only, was thinly spread among bars, restaurants, and clubs, and their wholesale suppliers. Some sought a premium name, to increase the prestige of their brand.

Some catered to an ethnic market, Polish or German, say. Some, to a market for which status, or tribal affiliation (arguably the college market), had primary importance.

But some distributors, and bar owners, clearly took an extra interest in beer, its composition, history, variety, and taste. Like-minded consumers responded accordingly.

This market can be identified by the tone of the advertising, and sometimes by the number of beers offered.

Hank’s Tavern between 1935 and 1940 in Cobleskill, New York placed news advertisements unusual for the time. It stressed, at length, the qualities and heritage of Michelob. A brewery might do that, but it was unusual to see prolonged narrative in retail beer ads, especially of a historical nature.

Cobleskill is an old town about 45 miles west of Albany, NY, in Schoharie County. It is not a tourist haunt, stockbroker town, or locus of the Ivy League.

It had a farming, dairy, and manufacturing base over the years, and was prosperous enough in the mid-1930s to support a bar-restaurant-dance hall of good quality.

Hank’s was owned by Henry Cooke, as a 1935 ad shows. Ads also showed he was the first in town to obtain a license to sell liquor, vs. just beer, after Prohibition ended.

His ads mention two beers: Michelob and Ballantine Ale, the latter a nod to New York State’s ale heritage. E.g. from 1937 in the Cobleskill Index:

 

 

Other Cooke ads might discuss Michelob to varying lengths, but this one was the most elaborate I saw, also from 1937 in the Cobleskill Index:

 

 

This ad, readable as the other despite the imperfect scanning, stretched the full length of the broadsheet. It stated the beer was “pure malt”, and that years before, the patriarch of Anheuser-Busch went to the town of Michelob, formerly in the Austrian Empire but now in Czechoslovakia, to bring the yeast and formula for Michelob to America.

This is broadly correct, but for a more complete account, this page in Tombstone Brewery’s website is helpful. Tombstone, in Arizona, released last year a replica of Dreher Michelob. This explains its assiduous research.

One wonders if a disquisition on Michelob history bemused town residents more than enlightened them, but who knows?

Cooke had to be a beer enthusiast beyond the norm, or his bar manager was, why else go to that trouble and expense?** The information likely came from the Michelob distributor, but Cooke still had to be motivated to use it.

By the 1930s sophisticated distribution facilities existed in New York. As this 1940 story in Glens Falls, further upstate, made clear, a distributor in Glens Falls had extensive refrigerated facilities to warehouse beer properly.

This was important for a delicate product like Michelob. Its fine Saaz character could disappear with indifferent handling, just as today poor handling can destroy the fine scents of an I.P.A.

Michelob and Ballantine were among the brands carried by the distributor, so possibly Cooke bought his beer from this source. Glens Falls is 80 miles away but the distributor’s  advertised 10-truck fleet could deliver and return in a half-day.

If not from Glens Falls, a distributor in Albany (the state capital) likely supplied Cooke. The 1940 story stated distributors with good facilities were spread through the state.

The early beer writer James D. Robertson, in his 1978 The Great American Beer Book, wrote (p. 45):

The youthful beer drinkers of the late 1940s and 1950s would often travel to another town where Michelob was available.

Hank’s Tavern was such a place. If you lived in Champlain, New York and there was no Michelob, you might hop in a Ford for a 15-mile jaunt.

Finally, and re-emphasizing my initial point, there was nothing obviously ethnic about Hank’s – it had no German-American character, for example.

It offered a daily special of spaghetti and meat balls, mentioned rather incongruously at the foot of the 1937 ad. But Cooke is not an Italian name. Spaghetti was good old American eating by this time.

Cooke catered primarily to the beer fan, is my conclusion. I don’t doubt social class played a part, but surely gentry was not numerous in this town. It was not, again, the stockbroker belt, not the Hamptons.

Part VII covers another beer haunt, of different type and locale, but sharing the trait of appealing to the beer-aware.

….

*Some ads stated it was across the city parking lot. A Google Street view shows the likely site. The double doors and window style of the red building suggest a restaurant or club at one time.

**Unless possibly the distributor or brewery paid for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michelob Over Time: Part V

Specialized Postwar Markets: Ethnic and Academy

In this and the Parts following, I survey typical markets for Michelob from the 1950s through the 1970s, relying on media ads and other sources. Before 1961, when the beer was first bottled, the market was either upscale, ethnic, or generic “beer enthusiast”.

Acerbic author and critic H.L. Mencken, the so-called Sage of Baltimore, was an example of the last and perhaps the second, given his German-American background.

Without claiming to be comprehensive, these Parts should give an idea where Michelob typically was consumed or sold, and the demographic intended by the marketing.

The two instances in this post are examples of a pre-war demographic that continued into the postwar period.

Ethnic Market

One of the first ads for Michelob, in 1896, was in a Baltimore German newspaper, from the Cafe Berlin on West Lafayette Street as we saw earlier.

64 years and numerous wars later, in August 1960, a beverage distributor in Rochester, New York advertised both Michelob and Budweiser in Rochester Abendpost, a German-language newspaper:

 

 

There is an appeal here based on ethnicity, but otherwise un-variegated; that is, social segmentation does not play a role.

Similar ads were placed by Lake Beverage Co. in the same paper until at least 1965. The paper shut its doors in 1967.

Also in August (beer month after all), this time in 1973, Try-it Distributing Co. placed an ad for Michelob, Budweiser, and Philadelphia’s Schmidt in Deutscher Wochenspiegel, another German paper in Rochester. It is surprising how many there were.

Similar advertisements probably appeared in other American media oriented to Germany or other Central European heritage, regardless of publication language in fact.

University Partisans 

The Greek letter societies were strongholds of Michelob affection, and the general association continued after World War II. Consider this ad from Phi Sigma Kappa in February 1961, in The Concordiensis, a student newspaper in Schenectady, New York.

Phi Sigma Kappa had strong East Coast and Ivy League associations prior to continued expansion in the country.

The ad is headlined “Have a Blast”. A sub-text, among others, is beer blast, a staple university entertainment aka kegger. Michelob is the only beer mentioned; readers who drank beer with discrimination knew that said it all.

A university but non-fraternity or Ivy League setting where Michelob featured was the student bar Wigwam, adjacent to The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. It was 1952, the Korean war still on.

The university was erected on public land and belongs, in effect, to two adjoining cities, Champaign and Urbana. Suppliers and contractors greeting the opening of the Wigwam in a full page spread in the college paper, Daily Illini:

 

 

New Jersey-based Champale was owned by brewing entrepreneur Louis Hertzberg, as I discussed earlier. Bubbly light Champale was billed as a wine-like beverage, suitable for those who didn’t favour the “brown October brew”.

It’s an odd phrase, redolent of the 19th century or even earlier. There wasn’t much brown October beer in America in the early Nuclear Age.* Given the context, maybe the copywriter had combed old poetry for beer references.

Lowenbrau of Munich proudly offered both light and dark lager. Clearly some Munich breweries had ramped up for an export trade, only seven years after World War II.

The box ad for Michelob showed it in stellar company even apart Lowenbrau and Champale, whose upmarket image was inherent. There was an old import favourite, Bass ale, another Munich beer of fame, Pschorr, Canada’s O’Keefe Ale, Czech Pilsner, and more.

Milwaukee’s Blatz also appeared. Interestingly, as we saw earlier, Blatz was bracketed with Michelob once before in Illinois, in 1919. Maybe the same distributor handled both products.

The broad import range, in the rural Midwest of 1952, is notable here. The college setting explains everything, as with the Faculty it implied an international community, of people or at least interests, hence an extension of the usual national taste.

The onset of craft brewing, with its variety, continued the process, as students were early proponents of craft beer. The appeal of geography was less patent than when Heineken and Bass ruled, but still implicit in what craft beer was doing.

And the aspect of taste adventure differed not at all.

As to the Wigwam, it endured into the 1960s, and even later in different incarnations. An alumni webpage of The University of Illinois sets out the arc. Urban redevelopment finally cleared the block; nothing remains of the bar or the structure that housed it.

Part VI follows.

Note: source of each image above is linked in the text. The first two were sourced from NYS Historical Newspapers. The last three, from Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*Or very much of it in England, by then.

 

 

 

Michelob Over Time. Part IV.

Michelob Soars in the Space Age

From 1951 through to 1977 Anheuser-Busch enjoyed almost interrupted sales increases, sales dominance, and good profitability. This table extract shows shares of national barrelage (all brands) for major producers in that period (The Brewing Industry: Staff Report of the Bureau of Economics, Federal Trade Commission, 1978, p. 22):

 

 

In 1961 Anheuser-Busch shipped 8,500,000 bbl, of which 7,100,000 were Budweiser, 1,100,000 Busch Bavarian, and 300,000 Michelob (Printers Ink, Vol. 278, 1962).

For Michelob, this was mostly draft beer, as bottling only started late in 1961 and the format was new. Hence the small shipment considering too Michelob was extra-priced and distributed selectively.

In 1968, all Anheuser-Busch brands shipped rose to 13,600,000 bbl (Marketing/Communications, 1967, p. 28).

By 1977, Anheuser-Busch is shipping 25,000,000 bbl of Budweiser, 6,400,000 of Michelob, and 3,400,000 of Busch (Beverage Industry, Vol. 74, 1983, p. 31).

As noted, in 1961, a pasteurized bottled version of Michelob was issued, meant for national distribution, and both it and the draft were lightened with rice adjunct.

A news ad of March 1962 in the Evening Star of Washington, D.C. (via Chronicling America) displayed the new bottle, a striking contemporary design. As signalled in the ad, the brand was still in limited distribution, but that would soon change.

 

 

The steady climb in Michelob sales was due to wide distribution of the bottled version and a determined advertising push (The Advertising Age Encyclopedia of Advertising (2002), ed. John McDonough and Karen Egolf, p. 77).

An interesting side-effect, noted by Victor and Carol Tremblay in The U.S. Brewing Industry: Data and Economic Analysis (2005), p. 107, is bottling and extended promotion of Michelob opened the door to greater import sales. They do not state it as such, but the implication is, the change of formulation made Michelob less appealing as an import substitute than earlier.

Still, Michelob remained virtually alone in the super-premium, or highest-priced domestic category. That would change somewhat when Miller introduced Lowenbrau in 1975 as a domestic brew, but Lowenbrau never made great inroads on Michelob’s market.

The span in question, 1950s to mid-70s, was one, too, that appreciated the full-calorie Michelob. Lightened it may have been, but it was not a “light” – Michelob Light was only introduced in 1978.

Perhaps due to the formula change, Michelob would seek newer demographics, or rather the reverse, more likely.

Before 1961 Michelob might be found in an Ivy League or other college setting, in seafood restaurants, the country club, and better hotels and bars. In general, an upmarket image prevailed, while the separate ethnic market continued, for a time.

Beer nerds also sought the beer – the general maven market.

But the advertising would seek markets beyond these. The ad above shows an element of the newer strategy: Washington politicians, drawn from all over the country, and world diplomats and their staff.

Part V follows.

Note: sources of images above are 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.

 

Pilsner Urquell, 2021

I purchased this brand yesterday at a Sobey’s supermarket outlet in Toronto.

It tastes as good as ever, and this particular batch seems extra-good for some reason with deep barley flavours, flowery, herbal aromas, and a fairly pronounced bitterness.

 

 

Michelob Over Time. Part III.

Michelob in a War Economy

A simple question: did Anheuser-Busch produce Michelob in World War II? So from December 8, 1941 until May 7, 1945 when Germany surrendered? Japan surrender came later that year, but I’m taking war’s end in Germany as a bookend.

I would have thought it did not, because, as I discussed earlier, and see Greg Casey’s article referenced, there were tight limits on malt usage in breweries. Michelob was all-malt, although in an odd reversal as Casey explains, with adjuncts short brewers had the option to brew from all-malt. The method reverted in fashion, so to speak.

Some brewers were nonplussed to have to brew without adjuncts! He recites how one old-timer dryly informed colleagues at a meeting that he had always brewed from all-malt and never had any trouble.

As I discussed recently too, Acme Brewery in California ceased making bock beer for most of the war and for two years after as well, when issues persisted with adequate grain supply and type.

In March 1943 J.S. Foto speaking for Acme Brewery told Palm Springs’ Desert Sun:

“The special materials and man power required to produce Bock beer and usher in spring in the traditional manner, are being conserved to meet the demand for the large amount of beer from the greatly increased population of the far west” … “All of the frills are out for the duration.”

No frills brewing.

Acme brought back its bock in 1947, and an advertisement the following year in the Calexico Chronicle explained the beer contained “rich caramel malt”. It seems this, and the quantity of malt used, as perhaps the beer was 100% malt, were frills dispensable in a war economy.

So what of Michelob, likely not using a specialty malt (other than prime 2-row), but all-malt since inception in 1896?

Clearly more Budweiser could be brewed if Michelob production was suspended or reduced for the duration. Budweiser was a pasteurized, bottled beer, unlike draught-only Michelob – by definition more saleable to a broader market, including military.

My interpretation of events is, while some Michelob was still made, likely it was relatively little, which probably assisted production of more Budweiser.

There are a few ads in the press, by my gleaning, from 1942-1945 for Michelob, but not many. A distributor in Euclid, Ohio, about 10 miles east of Cleveland on Lake Erie, advertised the beer in Cleveland’s Enakopravnost newspaper in April 1944:

 

 

The paper was a Slovenian-language daily. I don’t think the ethnicity here was the deciding factor to stock such a premium beer.

Drenik had a wholesale distributorship for Anheuser-Busch products – at least it did some 35 years later when it was finally acquired by another regional distributor, House of Larose.

The website of that purchaser explains the history. I infer distributors with that kind of relationship to Anheuser-Busch got the nod for supply of a scarce resource.

Was Michelob in 1944 still close to 5% abv, as it was in later decades, and rich-tasting? Michael Jackson in his The Pocket Guide to Beer (1982) stated alcohol was 4.8% abv as for Budweiser, but the original gravity for Michelob, not specified, was higher.

In fact, it appears the grist and gravity for Budweiser did not change during WW II. This is stated clearly in a snippet view to Making Friends is our Business: One Hundred Years of Anheuser-Busch (1953) by Roland Krebs and Percy Orthwein:

AnheuserBusch did not reduce the specific gravity or strength of Budweiser at any time despite the difficulty in World War II years of getting raw materials. The company brewed Budweiser from the traditional malt , rice , hops, water and …

While the rest of the book is not currently available to me, one would think the same applied to Michelob, but how much Michelob was made is another question.

It is no surprise of course that a company the size, and with the resources, of Anheuser-Busch was able to best weaker competitors for optimal material sourcing.

It is interesting to look to California again for a somewhat analogous case viz. Michelob. Until September 7, 1955, as reported in August that year in the Napa Valley Register, draft beer in California was held to 3.2% abw, or 4% abv.

On September 7, by a change in the law, 4% abw or 5% abv draft could be sold. Anheuser-Busch Van Nuys, established in 1954 as I discussed recently, brewed Michelob, but at standard strength: the beer was shipped out of state to other markets.

Budweiser draft was brewed at 3.2% abw for California. From September 7, 1955 the Michelob hitherto reserved for out of state would be sold locally, and draft Budweiser could rise to 5% abv.

While the gravity and strength of Budweiser had been altered before the change, it was a matter of legislative fiat, or not sell (draft) in California at all.

Outside Drenik’s, one of the few ads I found for Michelob during the war was this one in Northport, New York, in January 1945. The Skipper, a seafood restaurant and tavern, advertised “Michelob – King of Draught Beers”:*

 

In that month and year it was not a certainty when the war would end.

If Michelob was, as seems the case, unchanged in gravity and strength, I would think there was not a great abundance of it, which may explain the paucity of ads. It is conceivable, on the other hand, that normal supplies were available and the ad paucity resulted from lack of need to advertise. Demand for beer was high and production kept climbing to meet it. But the former case seems more likely to me.

As well, that would help produce more Budweiser.

In terms of WW I, as late as July 1919 Michelob was available in some markets. A box ad may be noted from North Side Turner Hall in the Chicago Eagle. Michelob was touted along with draft Blatz:

 

 

This Michelob was presumably 2.75% abw, or 3.4% abv, a national limit imposed in 1917 as a war measure by President Wilson.

At least at that time, Anheuser-Busch must have brewed across the board on this basis to keep in business, just as it brewed 3.2% abw draft Budweiser in California until September 7, 1955.

(When 3.2% abw beer was legalized by federal law from April 7, 1933 St. Louis Budweiser would have complied with that as well).

As to what hops were used in the latter stages of World War I and World War II, I do not have this answer currently. It may be in the Krebs-Orthwein book, or another of the Anheuser-Busch histories.

I have been checking, and if the information appears I will do a supplement to this post.

Part IV follows.

Note: source of 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.

…..

*A Skipper’s pub carries on today, in the same location.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michelob Over Time. Part II.

Mencken und Michelob, Fazit

Author Henry L. Mencken came from a prosperous German-American background. His family owned a cigar factory in Baltimore. He may have encountered Michelob in ethnic bars like Cafe Berlin early in his newspaper days:

 

 

This ad appeared in the Baltimore German press in 1896, one of the first known for Michelob, as it was introduced that year.

Mencken is generally considered a satirist à la Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain. The sobriquet “Sage of Baltimore” was probably a mocking, as much as a complimentary, reference, but it shows his influence in this period.

By mocking, I mean that many in the cultural establishment considered Mencken a stylist, not a deep thinker, at least not a consistent, persuasive one.

The educator and cultural critic Irving Babbitt once typed Mencken, in The Harvard Crimson, as a producer of “intellectual vaudeville”. His opposition to American entry in World War I did nothing to endear him to received opinion, certainly.

In my view, Mencken was more high-level gadfly and iconoclast than penseur, but few have equalled his writing ability. And his comments on beer are of good value as social history.

I referred to Mencken earlier – at his most scintillating – in connection with German bock. I mentioned him as well in Part I of this series where he sentimentalizes, still satirically, Michelob and summer evenings. He had yet more to say on Michelob.

The Literary Digest in New York in 1923 published an anonymous article on Mencken, not attributed. It quoted Mencken in a recent article where in typical fashion he orated on matters alternately serious and frivolous, on a broad range of topics.

Mencken’s enfilade allowed that “Michelob beer” was a notable product of American civilization together with “Mount Vernon” (a rye whiskey) and the Bronx cocktail.

Pistols for two (1917) is a mock biography of Mencken and his collaborator and co-editor, George J. Nathan. Nathan is remembered for his magazine work with Mencken and sparkling New York theatre criticism.

Ostensibly the book was authored by Owen Hatteras, but really was penned by Mencken and Nathan.

Mencken (surely it was he) stated of himself, at p. 23:

He drinks all the known alcoholic beverages, but prefers Pilsner to any other; a few seidels make him very talkative. In the absence of Pilsner, he drinks Michelob.

From Pistols for two again, p. 26:

Every Saturday night he spends the time between 8 and 10 playing music, and the time between 10 and 12 drinking Michelob.

Mencken met with Baltimore friends from academe, journalism, and medicine in their Saturday Night Club to play musical instruments, drink beer, and smoke cigars.*

From Pistols a last time, p. 39:

Next to Pilsener and Burgundy (or, in wartime, Michelob), his favorite drink is city water direct from the tap – no ice.

Even here he digs at American culture, its penchant for ice water at table.

Part III continues this series.

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*Marion Rodgers, a Mencken biographer, wrote a superb essay on the family cigar business and H.L.’s relationship to it.