Michelob Over Time. Part I.

The Arcs of a Brand and its Marketing

Beer has always been the drink of the people. It’s a truism, but now under question.

Craft beer, the long-term growth of wine consumption, and recent spike in hard seltzer have dented the traditional market for beer.

Be in 1948, the truism never held firmer. From a United Press story, July 16, 1948 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel:

Brewers of the nation’s beer love the common man, Eberhard Anheuser of St. Louis said here [Seattle]. Anheuser, here for a meeting with fellow brewers, said his statistics show that persons earning less than $175 a month drunk 53 per cent of all the beer produced.

Another 32 per cent goes down the throats of wage earners of up to $400 monthly.

But as incomes go up, beer consumption drops to a trickle.

The upper social echelon, therefore, spent little on beer. Imported beer had a certain appeal, but sales were minor.

Still, niche categories – it never came close to rivalling Budweiser – can make money, and justify their existence. That was Michelob’s space in the U.S. beer market.

I speak of course before Michelob Ultra, when apart a couple of variants – Michelob Light emerged in 1978 – Michelob meant a full-calorie beer with an emphasized European pedigree.

In July 1985 an article in Orange Coast magazine stated Michelob held 75% of the “super-premium” category. Super-premium meant the top domestic category, imports had their own category.

Would-be challenger Lowenbrau, then domestically made, had only 10%.

But Michelob had a precipitous fall, as NBC News reported in December 2012:

From 2006 to 2011, sales declined from 500,000 barrels to 140,000, with a 20 percent drop between 2010 and 2011 alone. No other beer on this list sold less than Michelob. The next-lowest selling beer, Amstel Light, still sold 200,000 barrels more than Michelob last year. The brand has not always struggled …

Since then, Michelob qua brand has rebounded greatly via Michelob Ultra, released almost 20 years ago. While the trade mark Michelob is the connecting factor, the two beers, Michelob and Michelob Ultra, are almost separate products.

It’s a rare case where a name associated with richness, full flavour, and import quality becomes associated successfully with a rather different type of beer – light, hydrating, low-calorie, but this happened with Michelob.

Bud Light is not really the same thing, in my view, since full-calorie Budweiser was not known typically by the abbreviated name.

Bryan Roth of Good Beer Hunting explained how Michelob Ultra gained its outsize success in a podcast some years ago.

Regular, old-fashioned Michelob is still made, in fact was returned in 2007 to its original all-malt grist, but sales remain small. If we look back to its glory days, advertising for the brand evolved with the years.

In the 1960s laconic ad copy was a frequent gambit for consumer products like beer, 10-words or less that generally said little of product attributes. Fly now, pay later, say. I’d like to buy the world a Coke.

Jay Brooks compiled a series of late 60s-early 70s Michelob ads a few years ago, which you may see here. The headlines are often coy, e.g., “putting on the dog” with a barbecue in the backdrop.

One ad reads (1968), if you want to know about Michelob, you can get a beer book or speak to a brewmaster, but better to drink one and come to your own conclusions.

It used more words than the trend afoot, but in a way to separate the consumer from technical beer appraisal.

Today, a billboard ad for Michelob Ultra might read “Superior Light Beer”. Another, promoting a marathon in New York, shows the bottle and the words, “16.8 miles to beer”.

Anheuser-Busch took a more literal, earnest approach in the late 1930s, one craft brewers would use 50 years later. It talked about ingredients and skill, as many competitors did.

One ad disarmingly opened: “What – who ever heard of tasting SKILL?”. Answering its own question (see poster for sale at ArtsDot.com), the ad stated:

CERTAINLY you can! Under a top hat of snowy foam . . . with a fragrant, elusive bouquet … a cool, gratifying taste . . . dancing, natural carbonation and brilliant, golden clarity! . . . Suppose that you outbid Anheuser-Busch and got the choice of the barley harvest. And, suppose you paid another premium price for richly scented hops from Saaz, which produces the costliest of Bohemia’s famous hops. Could you make Anheuser-Busch MICHELOB? Not unless you possessed another ingredient—experience . . .

It goes on for as many words again. This is polar opposite to advertising styles of today, which continue the brevity trend of the 1960s. If anything, headlines seem even briefer now given the demands, and influence, of online platforms.

Of course, the punchy ad slogan predates the 1960s, including for brewing. “Guinness is good for you” is an example. But the lapidary style seems largely to have replaced the extended narrative, especially for large-scale enterprise.

The beer judging prose of 1930s ads has not disappeared, but has relocated so to speak. It can be found in some company websites. Or consumer beer books, which barely existed in the 1930s.

Blogs and podcasts are another example. The rating service Beer Advocate reports drinkers’ opinions of Michelob Ultra and thousands of other beers.

Yet, at day’s end, the long lyrical 1930s ads have an ineffable quality. They were written by the best minds of Madison Avenue, and have a sophistication seemingly irretrievable.*

Michelob ads similar to the one quoted appeared in Country Life, a Doubleday magazine originally designed for rural dwellers. In the 1930s it pivoted to serve urbanites aspiring to a country lifestyle, hence the focus on interior design, architectural styles, and furnishings.

The readers were, in a word, an upscale group, one that could be expected, said the ad, to exercise discrimination in taste. Some may have attended events of nascent food and wine clubs.

Some may have been wine amateurs, and could see a similar opportunity for beer.

Michelob had literary imprimatur as well. Author, editor and critic Henry L. Mencken recalled the beer with sentiment in his 1920s Prejudices: a Selection:

… Michelob on warm Summer evenings, with the crowd singing “Throw out the Lifeline” …

For someone who considered real pilsener of Bohemia the lit beer of all time, that’s warm praise. (No puns intended).

Michelob wanted acceptance by the “bon ton” and largely succeeded, given the share of the super-premium market it gained by the 1980s.

Part II follows.

….

*From the 1930s until the mid-1990s Anheuser-Busch’s advertising agency was D’Arcy & Co. based in St. Louis. The firm had a New York office in the 1930s, but I use the term Madison Avenue broadly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Budweiser Van Nuys: Born of the Years

In June 1954, the Budweiser, or Anheuser-Busch brewery at Van Nuys, California opened its doors. A ceremony was held in its hospitality room, the Rathskeller. Important executives of Anheuser-Busch were present, as I discussed yesterday.

The word Rathskeller was brought to America by German immigrants. It recalled the atmospheric cellar bars and restaurants of German towns. With the war over by nine years in 1954, such prewar terminology was being revived in American brewing and hospitality.

The brewery was built on a large plot in the San Fernando Valley, between 1952 and 1954. A good idea of the “as-built” scale and exterior can be seen in this Flickr image.

Images shown below were taken at the site in 1952 during the groundbreaking ceremony (source: USCLibraries Digital Collections).

 

 

The plant contributed to a postwar economic and population boom in The Valley. The growth was driven by an expanding freeway system, consumerism, and suburban modes of living.

The brewery was cubic-functional, in plain white, but windowed towers at one end recalled the iconic Budweiser pile in St. Louis, Missouri.

In contrast to the plain exterior, the Rathskeller and lobby interiors reflected the emerging “Southwest” style. Its influence in American architecture and interior design has only grown since.

It’s a soft, natural look, an amalgam of Indigenous, early Spanish, and American West influences. Southwest is well-explained in The Spruce, a home design and decor site. A hallmark is “earthy color palettes and rustic accents”.

In 1954, photographer George Szanik captured warm, evocative images of the lobby and Rathskeller, even as he used black and white. A naturally dry climate can mute colour, or at certain times of the day, so his technique worked perfectly.

Five photos may be viewed in Architectural Digest‘s online archive. To see them, click on nos. 152-155, then on “print”. They fill the screen with detail.

Behind the reception desk we see a mural or large painting. A team of Budweiser Clydesdale horses is drawing a Western-style wagon laden with boxes and barrels.

 

 

In the Rathskeller, a painting depicts what seems miners with a pickaxe. A floor vase holds tall, bullrush-type plants. Metal “cowboy” brands are affixed to a bar covered with white granite or marble.

Atop the bar are draft fonts, with bottles of Budweiser spread strategically around. We also see porcelain mugs – a Southwest natural touch perhaps, but evoking German beer Keller too.

The flooring is polished wood planks, pine or other. A low armchair with recessed back is in plaid, while bar stools seem covered in mottled rawhide. The ceiling is exposed beams with white daubing or textured drywall between.

The ceiling perhaps was inspired by Adobe (Viga) design, but evokes to my mind a European timbered look, Tudor or other.

In 1978 Busch Gardens Van Nuys, the related entertainment facility, was closed so the brewery could expand to make Bud Light. Public tours of the brewery ceased for the next 40 years but recommenced in 2018.

A Daily News report in 2018 shows Bud Light being poured in what is clearly the Rathskeller of 1954. It is now called Bud Light Tasting Room. Embedded in the news story is a video in which resident master brewer Jeff Jenkins describes the tour in lively fashion.

The clip pans onto the tasting room. We see again the old Rathskeller, looking rather ordinary these days, the stylish Southwest motif just a memory.

In 2010 a video was posted to YouTube in commemoration of an employee at the brewery who had passed away; it is still up 11 years later. Some parts briefly show the Rathskeller, e.g. the same exposed beams as in 1954.

A wrought iron lamp also seems from 1954, and a painting or two. In 2010 the room was probably used for employee recreation, or other internal purposes.

The video shows the lobby area as well. The desk looks similar to the 1954 original but less stylish, perhaps remodelled. The Clydesdales and beer-laden wagon are still there on the wall, this time we can appreciate the colours.

Beer and the brewing industry have changed significantly in the last 67 years. But Anheuser-Busch Van Nuys is still active, still providing an economic boost in The Valley.

The video on YouTube focused on the people: friends and colleagues of the departed employee. At the end we see his work gloves and safety glasses framed. His name was Jack.

His co-workers in the film worked in production, lab work, or supply chain, the parts of a brewery that make things happen on the ground.

The video description states it is a “small” tribute. It is not small, it is big-hearted. It enlarged my understanding of American and Anheuser-Busch brewing history, and gladdened me besides.

 

 

 

The Boss Budweiser Pour

Pour in ’54

A brief sketch at Britannica will remind those of the arc of Anheuser-Busch Breweries. Today it is affiliated with Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Belgian-Brazil powerhouse based in Leuven, Belgium.

Eberhard Anheuser, originally a soap manufacturer, founded the empire by taking over a small brewery in St. Louis in 1860. Adolphus Busch, a vendor of brewing supplies, dealt with him and ended joining the business.

The two, mainly Adolphus in succeeding years and heirs, built the brewery into the world’s largest by the year 2000.

Descendants of Anheuser were also engaged with the business including a grandson of Eberhard with the same name. Eberhard Anheuser (1880-1963) had a long and fruitful career with Anheuser-Busch. A memorial site describes his achievements in and outside the brewery.

In my series just completed on early beer events of the Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles, I mentioned the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Van Nuys, California, opened in 1954. It was the third brewery in the group, the second had opened in Newark, New Jersey a few years earlier.

A ceremony was held on June 24, 1954 in the new brewery’s Rathskeller to herald the latest Anheuser-Busch expansion. Both Eberhard, then Chairman of the Board, and August A. Busch, Jr. (“Gussie”), its President, were on site to raise a toast.

 

(Title: “Brewery Opening”, 1954. Source: The Valley Times Collection, Digital Collections of the Los Angeles Public Library, via Calisphere, the University of California).

Sometimes one is struck by the “little things”. In the picture, each is holding a glass of Budweiser. August holds the bottle in the other hand. Eberhard’s glass is half-filled with foam. August’s glass, in contrast, has little foam.

The rings in August’s glass show it was filled near to the top with a small head.

Now, if anyone knew how to pour a beer in America, it was these men.

Each apparently preferred his glass as shown, unless a bartender filled them, but the iced display suggests the executives poured their own. Also, I think a bartender, especially in that environment, would have taken care to fill each glass the same way.

In any case, we see these different ways to pour. Serving chilled draft raises a similar question. I set aside cask-conditioned beer, which pours with a light head only and thin carbonation, and some wheat beer styles.

In the pre-craft era, the question “how to pour” much exercised beer fans. Even the great beer writer Michael Jackson (1942-2007) reviewed it in his early books.

Today, it seems much less a preoccupation, at least of “hard core” craft circles. Yet advice is not wanting. A quick search shows many instructional videos, articles (e.g. in Vinepair and Thrillist) and forum discussions.

Before WW II many photos in America, Germany and elsewhere show a glass filled half or more with foam.

A modern example is Trappist Chimay in this image at Global Beer Network.The foam fills almost half the glass. This is meant to release part of the absorbed carbon dioxide, so the beer’s flavour is fully released and it won’t be too gassy.

For draft beer, this is affected too by the need to give full measure, not always attained of course. Today, the average pour is probably 25% head, maybe less, but it varies with place and person.

Eberhard in 1954 was 74 years old, and perhaps he found it easier, or always did, to drink his product with much of its gas released.

Maybe August, Jr., younger or with a different preference, preferred a more fizzy beer. He seems to have taken small sips, and maybe the carbonation is absorbed more easily that way.

It’s all down to how you like it, and two scions of a famous American brewing clan had their way.

The Rathskeller at Van Nuys was beautifully designed. I will link striking period photos in the next post. The brewery still exists, and the same room is still used for tasting, but likely it looks different today.

Concluding Part

Note re image: Source of image 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early Beer Tasting by California Epicures. Last Part.

Octoberfest Dinner in Camelot America

The dinner* was served on October 23, 1961 to a gathering of the L.A. Society at Anheuser-Busch brewery in Van Nuys, CA, built in 1954. The brewery still operates, with another in the state of 1970s vintage, at Fairfield.

 

 

One difference from the menus discussed earlier is the “member cook” feature, which is self-explanatory. I would think the dishes were brought to the site and heated or chilled as needed in the hospitality room kitchen.

The Event

A Feierliches Fest means, to my understanding, a celebration event or party. In Munich in 1961, Oktoberfest was held from September 23 until October 8. See the (fabulous) poster with dates displayed in a Jay Brooks blogpost, here.

The L.A. Society elected a seasonal fest later in October, at Anheuser-Busch. Many North American celebrations inspired by Oktoberfest take place through the month of October.

There was a preliminary tasting in the “Brew Room”. I’m not clear exactly what that was, whether an actual production area, or the hospitality room.

As reported in the Los Angeles Daily News on June 26, 1954, an event to host the press on opening of the brewery was held in its Rathskeller.

The same term appeared in the caption to a 1955 photo (via Calisphere) showing American Legion members at the brewery.

Although the Society’s menu did not use the term Rathskeller, perhaps the dinner was held there, after tasting beer in the Brew Room.

The Beers

 

 

At the time, Anheuser-Busch brewed Budweiser, Michelob, and Busch Bavarian, the price brand now called simply Busch. The light and other iterations came later.

Since Budweiser and Michelob were served with dinner, what other “selected beer” might have been tasted in the Brew Room, apart Busch Bavarian? A Michelob Dark perhaps, as a 1958 menu of the Society mentions it next to “light” Michelob.

Maybe Budweiser, Michelob(s) and Busch Bavarian were first tasted on draft, with bottles served at dinner. It needs to be emphasized that Michelob in particular, but also Budweiser, were considered top quality then, among the best in America next to some imports.

A chance to drink Michelob at will would be ardently embraced by beer fans of the day. Michelob was first bottled in the year of this dinner, 1961. A business story on August 24 that year in Washington, D.C.’s Evening Star stated the new format would appear “before long”.

I’d think by October 23 it was available in Los Angeles, particularly as Anheuser-Busch had a brewery there. The distinctive lava lamp look had to impress the group even as the lamp dates from 1963.

(Design trends seem to be of an era, with precise origins rarely ascribable to one example).

An ad from the Plattsburgh Press-Republican in 1963 (via NYS Historic Newspapers) shows the original bottle.

Bottled Michelob, and the draft henceforth, used some rice in the mash.

As beer historians know, Michelob had been draft-only and 100% barley malt prior to this change. Today, regular Michelob is all-malt again.

I was not wowed by it on release some years ago but am interested to try it again.

The Food

 

 

The meal started with oysters and cold meats. While today one does not associate Germany with oysters, research suggests that the German North Sea at one time abounded in the flat European oyster.

See Return of the native: Survival, growth and condition of European oysters reintroduced to German offshore waters” by Verena Merk, Bérenger Colsoul, and Bernadette Pogoda (2020).

Today, the beds are fallow although proposals have been floated to restore the stock. Facebook discussions attest to a tradition among some families of Prussian or Russian German background to eat oyster stew on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve.

Some think it is a spin-off of American immigration, others say there is no consensus.

As oysters with beer is a North American tradition, and October is a good month to obtain them, perhaps that explains bivalves on the menu. Society menus seem to have stressed oysters, especially on the half-shell, over the years.

The beer soup was a good inclusion, and there are many types in Central Europe. I suspect it had a cream base although we cannot know at this distance.

The trout in wine sauce sounds excellent, many recipes can be found online. The next dish was rabbit stew and sauerkraut with potato pancakes, which sounds excellent too. Hasenpfeffer is an iconic German dish, often featuring vinegar and strong seasoning.

To finish, German cheesecake and coffee. A capital meal by any description.

Final Thoughts

Unlike before World War II, by 1961 American beer was not strongly associated with German culture and traditions. Most early menus of the Society where beer figured (1938-1961) did not offer German food, although a couple did.

The non-German menus featured North American cuisine (often BBQ or steak), mixed European dishes, and on one occasion, an Indonesian dinner.

For October 23, 1961 an evident attempt was made to pair beer with traditional German food, perhaps as the Society had not done this very often. The evening was surely a success.

*Menu extracts are copyright of the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, reproduced with its kind permission. No further reproduction or use is authorized without its prior written consent. Newspaper extract is via NYS Historic Newspapers as linked in text, and all intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable; used for educational and research purposes, all feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

 

Early Beer Tasting by California Epicures. Part IX.

The 1944 Spring Beer Festival Menu

Phil Townsend Hanna, see our Part VIII, was a long-time editor of Westways, the L.A.-based magazine for automobile travellers. The Franklin Library at University of Pennsylvania offers a helpful biographical note.

A 2010 blog entry of the Los Angeles Times gives further background. It explains how Hanna transformed the magazine into a more general cultural and travel resource, partly through his eye for quality art.

Bohemian Life, the publication of Bohemian Distributing Company, was edited by Hanna under pseudonym. It similarly had a deeper focus than the typical corporate newsletter. Some of its contributors included the writer Idwal Jones and famed culinary author M.F.K. Fisher.

A May 1940 issue of Bohemian Life in the collection of the design museum Cooper Hewitt, has a bright piece on Riesling, noting contemporary California examples. Also preserved at Cooper Hewitt: an issue from July 1940 on al fresco dining.

Both are well-written with an authoritative ring. The design elements are most appealing as well, conveying an elegant period look. The newsletters occasionally come up at auction.

The late Vance Gerry’s The Weather Bird Press in Pasadena issued a collection some 20 years ago.

In the July 1940 issue original pit barbecue is distinguished from later versions of BBQ, which seem even by 1940 to have become the rule. The term “barbecue” for the grilling equipment, placed in quotations, is already established, and paraphrasing it is noted everyone has one.

The Society’s 1938 pit barbecue event I discussed recently was an attempt to recover the original tradition.

Of the June 1944 menu, mainly I had the impression of mixed European influences. The canapés were inspired by foods of Norway, Strasbourg, and apparently of Poland.

 

 

That employees were not available to do oyster shucking attests to wartime conditions, when so many were in military service or engaged with essential war work.

Relishes, it is stated, replaced a salad due to “streamlining” required by the times. This is interesting given California’s long reputation for fruit and vegetable culture. How wartime conditions impacted exactly is hard to say. There was no rationing for vegetables, I believe.

Conversely, meat rationing seems not to have affected the ability to get a small pig for roasting.

A 1948 (non-beer) menu iBohemian Life, preserved at UC Davis, gives an example of salads served at Society events in normal times. This was an Italian-theme luncheon, with the insalata course certainly lavish.

The 1944 dinner featured roast piglet. Such a dish is known in numerous places: Spain (Lechon), England, former Spanish colonial territories, and so on. The Society seemed interested to continue old Spanish culinary traditions, perhaps we see an example here.

Sauerkraut in Champagne seems Alsatian more than German perhaps, due to the wine type specified.

Brown Derby, a former chain of mid-market restaurants in southern California, supplied the cheesecake dessert. One Brown Derby still operates today, in Florida at Disney World Resort.

Grapefruit cheesecake was, still is at the Florida restaurant, a specialty of Brown Derby. The Disney Food Blog has a nice picture with notes on Brown Derby history; perhaps it was this version the Society enjoyed in March 1944.

The Florida Brown Derby’s menu appears in a Disneyworld website. The description of cheesecake is certainly appetizing:

Grapefruit Cake

Vanilla Sponge Cake with Grapefruit Syrup, Grapefruit Cheesecake, and Grapefruit Jam. A Brown Derby Original!

Cheesecake is emblematic of numerous culinary traditions, and this version seems, finally, more American than anything else.

Even if 1944 Acme Beer, due to wartime conditions, was unusually light-bodied, that may have suited the rich food better than a full-bodied beer. It all seems to have worked out in the end.

The menu states the dinner was “streamlined” due to absence of things like freshly-opened oysters and salads. By any measure today, the meal was a standout nonetheless.

The Last Part of this series follows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early Beer Tasting by California Epicures. Part VIII.

Tasting Acme Lager in Full Flush of War, 1944

Skyscraper Page is a discussion forum for the study of historic structures. Just recently good-resolution photos were posted showing Acme Brewery and the Sequoia Lodge next to it in Vernon, Los Angeles.

They appear just below images of Ed Byrnes, the good-looking actor who starred in the TV detective drama 77 Sunset Strip.

The exterior of the Lodge is shown, and another shot depicts an event held in its main hall, in 1942.

I will describe another event held two years later in that same hall by the Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles.

The Lodge was the hospitality centre of both Acme Brewery and Frank Vitale’s and J.S. Foto’s Bohemian Distributing Company. Bohemian had sole distribution rights for Acme beers and a close association with Acme otherwise, possibly via ownership or a joint venture in Acme Brewery.

The name of the Lodge is clearly explained by the striking log structure shown. Perhaps the dramatic sloped roof evoked a northern ranch effect, despite the southern locale involved.

On March 17, 1944, about one year before the war in Europe ended, the L.A. Wine and Food Society gathered for its customary spring beer event, to taste the new Acme bock. March 17 was then the traditional start of bock season in California.

This time though, there was no bock at their event. The menu, shown below, stated:

In lieu: ample quantities of Acme Pilsener-type beer, direct from the brewery and served under ideal conditions, – before, during, and after the dinner.

 

 

 

The American beer industry was operating under severe malt usage restrictions, particularly considering that demand was rising for civilian and military needs.

In his superb article American Beer (1941–1948): Years of Myths, War, and Famine published earlier this year in the Master Brewers Association of America Technical Quarterly, Greg Casey, a retired master brewer and brewing scientist who is currently supervising production of a multi-volume history of American beer 1840s-1940s, wrote:

… the War Production Board issued “Order M-288” (58). Implemented “in order to conserve the use of malt and malt syrups for the manufacture of industrial alcohol,” it required brewers using over 70,000 bushels of malt in fiscal year 1942 (i.e., March 1, 1942—February 28, 1943) to “not use during any three month period more than 93 percent of the quantity of malt syrup or of malted barley, wheat, rye or other malted grain that they used in the corresponding three-month period in 1942,” while “limiting” to 100% the four three-month quotas in fiscal year 1943 for brewers who used less than 70,000 bushels in 1942 (3). With molasses supplies inconsistent at best during this phase of the war for reasons previously mentioned, Order M-288 essentially distilled down to America’s malt supply joining the war effort … [T]hese 93 and 100% quotas remained basically unchanged for all but the last few months of the war …

Another factor to be noted is, all brewers were required to consign at least 15% of production for military purposes. See this announcement by Altes (Tivoli Brewery in Detroit)  in 1943, in the Daily Monitor Leader.

Given these restraints, how did brewers meet the increased demand? Greg Casey shows how, for 1943 but the pattern was similar the next year:

In a January 10, 1944, speech given by United States Brewers Association (USBA) Secretary C. D. Williams at the 68th Annual Meeting, the “less with more” theme was front and center when he said (31):

… in sum total, the amount of brewing materials used was about the same, say 2% more than in 1942. And you sold almost 13% more beer! Brewing materials went further as alcoholic strength was reduced by reason of the Army allotment, and the trend toward lighter civilian beers.

For perspective, relative to the “lighter civilian beers,” J. E. Siebel Sons’ Company reported that in 1943 the average original extract value of American ales and lagers declined from 13.4 to 12.9P and 12.1 to 11.2P, respectively (32).

Military beer was restricted to 4% abv. Tables included by Casey show that in 1944 average alcohol strength of American beer was 4.1% abv – in 1941, 4.47%.

His tables also show that in 1944, malt adjuncts (so raw grains like rice, barley, corn, etc.) accounted for 45.4% of brewers’ extract. In 1941, 33.36%.

So, more adjunct and lower alcohol yield produced the greater amount of beer needed. National barrelage in 1943 was 71,018,257. In 1944, 81,725,820.**

Now, this is industry wide, across the board – it does not speak to an individual brewery’s beer, whether all the beers or any one brand. Still, it paints a picture for what Acme and other American brewers were facing.

As Casey notes, corn and rice, the traditional substitutes for malt used in American brewing, were very short in 1944 due to war-related factors. Eg. much corn went to feed pigs to help Britain with food under Lend-Lease.

Brewers turned to other substitutes, including ones not used earlier in American commercial brewing like potatoes, and especially sorghum in different forms.

In 1942, it is clear Acme was still making beer from malt and rice. An ad appearing on April 22, 1942 in the Tacoma Times states the grist (“malt, some rice”):

 

 

Greg Casey in his paper makes clear that 1942 had no impact on American brewers’ use of traditional materials like malt, corn and rice; the challenges arose in 1943-1945, and for some years after.

Acme was the top-selling beer in California leading into the war: San Pedro News Pilot, July 30, 1942. In fact by that year it rated very respectably nationally, as reported in the Coolidge Examiner on April 9, 1943: 10th nation-wide @ 26 MG in 1942.

So the formula in April 1942 must have been prewar, or something very close.

But as beer drinkers may have put it in March 1944 – while no doubt still grateful to get any beer – “what have you done for me lately?”. Well, we don’t know the answer, as it would require an examination of Acme’s brewing logs in the period.

But in August 1946 an Acme ad in the Coolidge Examiner, while using the same I.Q. hook as 1942, does not mention the beer’s grist. It notes simply the brewery uses “seedless hops”.

And we do know that there was adverse consumer reaction to Acme beer in the latter stages or aftermath of the war. The Brewery Gems history of Acme Brewing Co. states:

Sales were slipping in the late ’40s and the company updated its packaging, and continued with their heavy advertising, but they were having difficulty living down their reputation for making bad beer during the war. Their brewmaster … [made] an attempt  to compensate for the shortage of rationed brewing ingredients [when] he tried Manioca meal (also called Cassava), as a cost saving adjunct. Consumed at the proper temperature the beer must have tasted alright, but the troops in the Pacific lacked the capability to properly chill the beer. This resulted in what they described as a “skunky” brew. “I’ll have a beer, anything but Acme,” was often heard in taverns after the War.

According to Greg Casey’s tabular data, American brewers did not use cassava until after the war, when the grain supply problem continued to be acute for some years. But whether it was cassava or sorghum or another adjunct, and whether in 1944-1945 or 1946-1948, clearly Acme was under the kind of constraints most American brewers faced in those periods.

The beer had to be impacted, at least according to the Brewery Gems account. Matters were fixed up by the end of ’40s for Acme, but I return to the Society’s event at Sequoia Lodge on June 17, 1944.

How did the beer rate? Well, we don’t know. If deficiencies there were, they dang were made up by the meal served. I’ll turn to the meal in my next notes.

Bohemian Life was a newsletter issued by Bohemian Distributing to promote interest in its lines, and food and wine generally. It was edited by Phil Townsend Hanna (1897-1957), a key early figure in the L.A. Wine and Food Society.

He was the Savarin St. Sure of the newsletter title, a pseudonym. More on him soon, too.

See Part IX which covers meal served.

….

*Menu extract is copyright of the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, reproduced with its kind permission. No further reproduction or use is authorized without its prior written consent. Extract of Tacoma Times is via Chronicling America, as linked in text, and all intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable; used for educational and research purposes, all feedback welcomed.

**Altes in its announcement stated it would not change its formula to boost production.

 

 

 

 

Early Beer Tasting by California Epicures. Part VII.

An English Dinner, Los Angeles, 1942

On November 2, 1942, an “English Dinner” was held by the Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles. No beer was served, but one dish did contain beer, Welsh Rabbit. The menu compels in any case, on grounds of restaurant, food, and beverage history.

 

The Venue

The dinner was held at The Cock and Bull Restaurant in Los Angeles. More typically it was styled the Cock ‘n Bull Restaurant, or Cock ‘n Bull Pub.

The pub was located at 9170 Sunset Boulevard, and opened in 1937. It closed a full 50 years later, in 1987. The founder and long-time owner was John A. Morgan, Jr. (1899-1974), a former MGM scriptwriter who turned to the restaurant trade.

Numerous websites and other sources describe the pub. From inception it was a popular movie industry haunt, and became an institution. Judging by surviving photos, the decor evoked the historic English wine tavern or inn, more than a public house per se.

An upscale pub, is another way to look at it.

In 2017, Alison Martino in her Vintage Los Angeles site wrote a good, latter-day account of the bar. Photos are included with a sample recipe of its trifle. One can see the house dish, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, arrayed with other dishes in a buffet.

The carpeted dining room featured wood tables and chairs, a beveled glass partition, oak ceiling beams, and half-panelled, light-hued walls.

Older pictures may be viewed in author Martin Turnbull’s blogpost on the Cock ‘n Bull in 2015. A table fronts a mock fireplace decorated with the lions rampant. A recipe for the pub’s Welsh Rabbit is included, which seems taken from a rare cookbook it issued in the 1970s. For details of the book see this listing at Cookbook Village.

Finally, George Geary’s book L.A.‘s Legendary Restaurants: Celebrating the Famous Places Where Hollywood Ate, Drank, and Played (2016), has a good sketch of the Cock ‘n Bull and John Morgan.

The pub is well-remembered. Google searches bring up many other resources, with pub memorabilia regularly offered at auction sites.

The Dinner Menu 

The following menu was served.

A relish, probably a pickled vegetable or mixture, something to nibble on with sherry before the main event, along with the olives and celery, a very English vegetable.

The Cock-a-Leekie soup and clear consommé were certainly traditional British. Roast beef with Yorkshire pudding followed, and steak and kidney pudding, also typical British eating.

Oxtail and noodles and braised pork knuckles were also offered. These last two do not sound particularly English, or other British. Oxtail with noodles can be an Asian dish, especially Chinese or Korean, so can braised pork shank.

Maybe the knuckles were cooked in a German way, but there is no obvious connection – especially then – to British foodways.

The atypical dishes likely were meant to extend the choice for attendees, as surely one person could not eat everything, unless perhaps buffet-style allowed this.

Vegetable marrow was the striped, thick-skinned type long popular in Britain although of New World origin (it is a squash). String beans and garden peas speak for themselves. So do the salad, trifle, and berries dish.

I could not parse “Crumrarebit”. The chef George Crum invented, so it has been handed down, potato chips at Saratoga, New York in the 1800s. Could this have been a Welsh Rabbit garnished with chips? The cookbook of the pub may offer more information.

The rarebit was served as a savoury, the salty, spicy course that followed the dessert in Victorian and Edwardian practice. Cheese as such, next to a heated cheese dish sounds unusual, but again probably the idea was to offer a choice.

A solid meal of English type with a few “guest dishes” to add interest.

The Drinks

The group started with a Dubonnet, the French wine-based aperitif or cordial that by this time had been chic in both the U.K. and U.S., as period ads in both places show.

Except, this Dubonnet wasn’t French strictly, the menu called it “American Dubonnet”. Dubonnet was manufactured during the war in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A 1942 Ebay ad states this clearly on the label.

The Duff Gordon Fino Coquinero was Spanish sherry, the full designation meaning a style mid-way between classic Fino and Amontillado. Today Osborne, of which Duff Gordon has long been part, markets the same style.

The red wine was three vintages of the classified Graves Chateau Pape Clement, from 1900, 1920, and 1929 – this was a wine Society after all, and some big guns were pulled out.

Hugh Johnson, in his 2018 Pocket Wine Book, states of Chateau Pape: “dense, long-ageing reds”, awarding the winery his four star rating of “grand, prestigious, expensive”. The estate is the oldest in Bordeaux, and was long church-owned, until the Revolution.

Finally, the orange-flavoured brandy drink, Grand Marnier – American-prefixed again. And this is because during the war it, too, was manufactured in America, in Alladin, PA. A news item confirmed it on September 11, 1941 in the New York Times.

The fact that no beer was served is not unusual – by the 19th century, the practice of serving it at genteel meals had fallen out. I discussed this in February this year in my notes, “Beer on the English Table“.

No doubt the Cock ‘n Bull through its history offered a good selection of British beer, or American beer in that style. Details must await another day, should a bar menu surface.

The “Missing” Drink

The Cock ‘n Bull pub will forever be famed for inventing, in 1940 or 1941, the Moscow Mule, a mixture of ginger beer, vodka, and lime, served in a copper tankard. It would be satisfying to know that the 1942 Wine Society dinner served the drink, but as we see, it did not.

For a full discussion of the drink’s history, this webpage in Barina Craft is most helpful, a site that deals with bartending, drinks, and accoutrements. There are various origin stories, reviewed well here.

One states the cocktail originated in New York, at the Chatham Hotel. Another holds the Cock ‘n Bull’s bartender devised it, as a way to use stock otherwise languishing in the cellar.

Barina Craft includes a video clip of English-born John G. Martin (1906-1986), who ran Heublein/Smirnoff in Connecticut for 30 years, stating his version of the origin. He states it was invented at the bar of the Cock ‘n Bull in Los Angeles by himself, John Morgan, and Morgan’s girlfriend who had a connection to a company making copper mugs.

Heublein dealt in wine and liquor, bottled cocktails, and specialty foods. It had bought the rights to Smirnoff vodka in 1938 from a Russian immigrant, Rudolph Kunnet, who had already started production, but had difficulty selling the product.

Of course the Smirnoff brand, originally Smirnov, started in Russia but after the 1917 Revolution was re-established in the West.

Heublein started making it in Hartford in 1939, with sales small but starting to spark regionally. Martin with Heublein helped make vodka a national hit in America. One way it was merchandised was via mixed drinks like Moscow Mule.

Barina Craft states that the first published mention of the drink was by L.A. journalist Edith Gwynn, in her column “Inside Hollywood” in December 1942. The piece is linked in the references.

In the video, Martin states Smirnoff was not made during the war and promotion of the Moscow Mule only resumed after the war. He was in the army for most of that time, so the gap in production and marketing makes sense.

An item in the Tacoma Times on January 2, 1942 stated the Washington State liquor board had raised the price of Smirnoff vodka, and small quantities only were available.  This stock likely was distilled before the war.

Yet, as Barina Craft noted, at least one ad for the Moscow Mule and Smirnoff vodka appeared in 1943, in a Nevada newspaper. It stated in part: “A delicious drink has captivated the West and is moving Eastward”.

The ad set out the established recipe – vodka, ginger beer, lime, ice – adding, “Be sure the vodka is Smirnoff”. Presumably this was still prewar stock, but it shows too that word of the vodka and drink had spread.

Postwar was the era of fast growth for the drink. A 1947 ad in the Portola Reporter (Northern California, 50 miles from Reno, Nevada), exhibits the zeitgeist.

A photo at the Calisphere library shows a bartender making the drink at the Cock ‘Bull, in the 1940s or 50s. The backbar is festooned with the indispensable copper mugs.

Missed Opportunity?

Why did the Cock ‘n Bull not serve the drink at its English dinner for the Society? Ginger beer has strong British associations. Perhaps Cock ‘n Bull had no vodka by November 1942, but perhaps it did, if some Smirnoff was available the following year in Nevada.

Maybe the Society was looking for a traditional approach to the meal, and a mixed drink did not fit. If the pub did suggest the Moscow Mule to the Society, the dinner committee may have thought it too trendy.

After all, few new drinks become well-established; no one could know at the time that one day, the Moscow Mule would be famous.

*Menu extract is copyright of the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, reproduced with its kind permission. No further reproduction or use is authorized without its prior written consent. 

 

 

 

Early Beer Tasting by California Epicures. Part VI.

From the lavish 40-beer tasting and pit barbeque of 1938, the Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles did the ostensible obverse: it tasted one beer, at the Swiss Chalet Tap-room on March 17, 1941.

 

 

The Tap-room was located at the Sequoia Lodge, a building next to Acme Brewery that served as hospitality centre both for the brewery and Bohemian Distributing Company, its sole distributor.

A dinner accompanied, for which steak was centrepiece.

 

 

As true beer fans know, or should know, the number of beers at a tasting doesn’t really matter. A tasting can take many forms. One good beer can be as satisfying as an (inevitable) mixed bag, maybe more so.

(Statements in the paragraphs below have been verified by advertisements or press stories in the California Digital Newspaper Collection, and other research. Citations, where not supplied, available).

Acme in California

When Prohibition ended on April 7, 1933 for 4% abv beer, Acme was ready with its brewery in San Francisco. Its new Los Angeles plant, the one established in partnership with Bohemian Distributing Company, would not be operational until June 1935.

The San Francisco brewery was built before Prohibition from the time Olympia Brewery in Tumwater, Washington established an affiliate in San Francisco. The San Francisco brewery underwent re-organization in the wake of WW I and endured through Prohibition, making near beer, with another in the group, National Brewery.

Both re-opened in San Francisco at end of Prohibition, and as mentioned, a new brewery joined them in L.A. in mid-1935.

Acme Bock

Acme issued a bock beer from 1934 annually until 1942. An ad on March 14, 1934 in the Oakland Tribune announced the first post-Prohibition bock:

 

 

In the city the breweries’ bock beer, those who made one, went on sale officially on March 17. From 1942, production was suspended due to the rationing of malt and grains by the U.S. government for the war effort.

In 1947 bock returned, and was brewed until 1953. In 1954 the Los Angeles and San Francisco breweries were sold to Liebmann Breweries, Inc. of New York, makers of Rheingold beer, who were trying to go national.

But in 1941 Acme Bock was still a paying proposition for Acme, whether produced in L.A. or San Francisco. Members of the Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles attended at the Swiss Chalet Tap-room to taste the just issued bock beer, brewed as the menu stated in the winter of 1940.

Such winter brewing, for aging and release in March, was traditional for many breweries in Germany and the U.S.

The beer utilized “caramelized malts” and evidently was prized by connoisseurs: it won numerous annual awards for best non-wine beverage, as Dr. Marcus Crahan recorded in his 1957 history of the Society I have mentioned.

We can take it that Frank Vitale of Bohemian Distributing Company, with great experience in brewing matters, instructed the group well on bock attributes and history. Of course too personnel of Acme were present to assist, including Karl Schuster, its President.

Food at Bock Beer Festival Dinner

The menu (food) is fascinating, with German or north European preparations like Braunschweiger sausage, smoked goose, and smoked eel to precede, but also dishes from other traditions.

This page from the municipal site of Braunschweig (Brunswick, in north Germany) has good background on the town’s famous product.

Much Braunschweiger, originally a spiced raw minced pork sausage, was canned and internationally exported earlier. Blockade and an export ban enforced by the Royal Navy made it doubtful any was sent to the U.S. since start of the war, or any other German goods.

Also, I doubt a gastronomic group such as this Society would have used a canned food, apart perhaps caviar. Probably it was prepared in the U.S., where some sausage of this type assumed more a liverwurst cast, but at this stage we cannot know.

One way or another, I doubt it was anything other than prima.

A lentil purée follows, perhaps there was a vegan or two in the house. Red cabbage timbales followed, perhaps stuffed with mushroom, which reinforces this inference I think.

Also we see veal wursts, presumably a white weisswurst, which sounds a good pairing with bock, among other beers.

Sillsalad, or herring salad, is served after the char-broiled New York steak. Cheese fondue to end with water chestnuts.

The herring served after the main course of steak, almost recalls the savoury of the Edwardian British table, a salty whet to revive the appetite.

Here we see a kind of early trans-national menu with German, Swedish, French/Swiss, vegetarian, American, Asian influences – fusion before the word was known in culinary matters.

And no other drinks. Bock beer is the beginning, middle, and end – a perfectly constructed beer production if high quality, which I’m sure it was!

The international flavour was likely due, or in part, to the onset of war in Europe, so as not to focus too much on German tradition. The name Swiss Chalet Tap-room would suggest something similar, as our research suggests the Sequoia Lodge was erected in 1941.

In any case, the West Coast kitchen would become increasingly variegated in years to come. Events like this beer dinner made their contribution to that process.

Part VII follows, on an English Dinner in 1942.

Note re copyright: menu extract is copyright of the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, reproduced with its kind permission. No further reproduction or use is authorized without its prior written consent. Source of the other image is identified and linked in text, with all intellectual property therein belonging solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes, all feedback welcomed.

…..

 

 

 

 

 

Early Beer Tasting by California Epicures. Part V.

Post-Prohibition Return of Bock

A 1937 issue of the trade journal The American Brewer exhibits a classic instance of American merchandising thinking (via Hagley Digital Archives).

 

 

The author, Schuyler Patterson, noted that post-repeal brewing had successfully revived the March bock season, as a seasonal specialty. That success was due in part, he noted, to effective merchandising.

Articles both on brewing theory and practical applications typically featured in The American Brewer. There was a strong emphasis on marketing, more than I have noted in contemporary U.K. and Continental journals.

U.S. brewing trade journals had emphasized sales and marketing even before WW I, as I discussed earlier; it wasn’t a special result of the post-repeal brewing environment, in other words.

Angelenos Rock the Bock

In the 1930s, bock beer was here to stay – well, until World War II when wartime grain restrictions banished it for a few years.

As Patterson stated, brewers applied promotional techniques to deepen the interest. One was to sponsor tastings by newly formed food and wine societies.

The Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles held numerous bock tasting events from 1940 until the 1960s. It is noteworthy that California, even southern California, was the locale for this.

As a relatively newly-settled state, it lacked the pronounced Central European influences that implanted lager – bock is a lager – in the Midwest and Northeast. Nonetheless, advised circles in Los Angeles took notice of good beer including bock.

On March 17, 1941, nine months before Pearl Harbor, the Wine and Food Society of Los Angeles gathered to taste what by all reports was a stellar bock, made by the city’s Acme Brewing Co. They ate pretty richly, too.

I will examine the event more closely in the next part.

Taking it to the Limit

Patterson argued brewers should stimulate interest in dark beer generally during the colder season, spinning off from the success of bock in spring.

He gave the example of some German and English brews promoted this way. Indeed some old ale in Britain was pitched as “a fine winter drink” or similar phrasing into the 1960s.

Some stout was marketed this way, as well. In Germany there was Munich’s Salvator, as Patterson noted, and other strong specialties associated with the cold season.

He boldly proposed creation of a Brown October Ale tradition, one the college and football set could get behind. Brown October ale, or nut brown beer or ale, were long known in Britain but of little commercial application by the 1930s.

They functioned if at all as literary devices, or emblems of stage or song, in America as well in the Gilded Era.

Yet, a few October ales (or beers) were made by early post-Prohibition brewers. Haberle Brewing in Syracuse, New York made a Brown October Ale. A somewhat anachronistic ad appeared in an Ogdensburg, NY newspaper in mid-November 1940 (via NYS Historical Newspapers):

 

Prophetic Patterson

His seasonal brown ale idea didn’t take off but modern craft brewing has justified Patterson’s prescience. Seasonal associations characterize for example wet hop beers, pumpkin ales, and Imperial stout.

Ironically, craft brewing never fully embraced the March bock season. I discussed this in “Restoring the Bock Beer Season”. Maybe it recalled too strongly pre-craft days, when a consolidated industry had ironed out the palate of beer.

Indeed most bock in the country before craft, imports apart, were fairly pallid. Still, craft beer would do well to re-examine the possibilities of bock beer, in particular by creating well-publicized spring events.

Part VI follows.

Note re copyright: menu extract is copyright of the Wine and Food Society of Southern California, reproduced with its kind permission. No further reproduction or use is authorized without its prior written consent. Sources of the other images are identified and linked in text, with all intellectual property therein belonging solely to lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes, all feedback welcomed.