Michelob Over Time: Part VI

Restaurateur/Beer Historian in Upstate New York

Michelob in the days 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 as often as they liked.

But taste appreciation cuts across social-economic lines, 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, the general category mentioned in my last Part, defined finally 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 wanted just a premium name, to increase the prestige of their brand.

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

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

This market can be identified by the drinks list, or sometimes the tone of advertising.

Hank’s Tavern between 1935 and 1940 in Cobleskill, New York placed news advertisements unusual for the time, in stressing, at length, the qualities and heritage of Michelob. A brewery might do that to a degree, but it was unusual to see prolonged narrative in retail advertising, 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 site of an Ivy League university.

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

Hank’s was owned by Henry Cooke as a 1935 ad shows:*

 

 

Ads also show 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.

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

 

 

The part shown is not the whole ad: it stretched the full length of the page (a little faded in the scanning but certainly readable).

It states the beer is “pure malt”, and that years earlier the patriarch of Anheuser-Busch went to the town of Michelob, formerly in the Austrian Empire and by 1937 in Czechoslovakia, to bring back the yeast and formula for Michelob.

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

Now, one wonders if a disquisition on Michelob history bemused town residents of F.D.R.’s America 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 imparted likely came from the Michelob distributor, but Cooke still had to be motivated to use it in advertising.

By the 1930s sophisticated distribution facilities existed in the state. As this story (1940) in Glens Falls, further upstate, noted, a distributor there had extensive refrigerated facilities to store and deliver beer in optimum condition.

This was especially important for a delicate product like Michelob. Its fine Saaz character could disappear with indifferent handling, in particular.

Michelob and Ballantine were carried by the Glens Falls distributor, so quite possibly he supplied Cooke. Glens Falls is just 80 miles away. His 10-truck fleet could easily traverse that distance.

Or if not from Glens Falls, a similar distributor in the state capitol of Albany likely supplied Cooke. The Glens Falls company, according to the 1940 story, was one of a number in the state with similar facilities.

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, clearly. If you lived in Champlain, New York and there was no Michelob, you might hop in the Ford with a friend for a 15-mile jaunt.

Finally, 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 somewhat incongruously at the foot of the 1937 ad. But Cooke is not an Italian name. Spaghetti was good old American eating by the 1930s.

No, Cooke just wanted to carry the best lager and ale he could find, because he knew that would resonate with many regardless of their background. He catered to the beer lover, end of story.

The next part will cover another beer haunt, of different type and locale, but sharing the trait of appealing to the beer-aware market.

….

*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

Two Specialized Markets for Michelob, Postwar 

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 generally upscale, ethnic, or what might be termed generic beer enthusiast.

Acerbic author and critic H.L. Mencken, the “Sage of Baltimore”, was an example of the last, although his German-American heritage likely played a role.

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

The two instances in this post are examples of a prewar Michelob demographic that continued well into the postwar period.

European Ethnic Market

One of the first ads for Michelob out of the gate, in 1896, was in a Baltimore German newspaper, by 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. This paper continued to publish until 1967.

 

 

To appreciate the context, a broader range of ads is shown. There is an appeal to a specific community, but otherwise at large. That is, there is no idea here of enticing a particular social-economic segment.

Budweiser and Michelob were vaunted for their premium image, at the time, and European heritage. These beers, especially all-malt draught Michelob, stood out from the American norm. A German ethnic community, still relatively close to its roots, might be expected to appreciate this.

Similar ads were placed by Lake Beverage Co. in the same paper until at least 1965.

Also in August (beer month), but in 1973, Try-it Distributing Co. placed an ad for Michelob, Budweiser, and Schmidt (from Philadelphia) in Deutscher Wochenspiegel, another German paper in Rochester – it is surprising how many there were.

We can assume similar advertisements appeared in other American media oriented to Germany or other Central European countries, regardless of publication language, in fact.

University Partisans 

The Greek letter societies were strongholds of Michelob affection. Earlier in the series we saw an instance from 1911, 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.

I include, again, other items from the same page to help appreciate the context, both as related to beer and not:

 

 

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

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

A non-fraternity or Ivy League setting where Michelob featured was the student bar Wigwam in 1952, adjacent to The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The university was built on public land and is associated with two adjoining cities, Champaign and Urbana. The Wigwam Bar opened in ’52 with suppliers and contractors greeting the arrival in a full page spread in the college paper, Daily Illini.

These extracts show the beer advertisements.

 

 

 

 

New Jersey-based Champale was owned by brewery entrepreneur Louis Hertzberg, as I mentioned earlier. The bubbly light Champale was billed as a wine-like beverage, and preferable for some to the “brown October brew” – an odd phrase, perhaps a 19th century survival.

There wasn’t much brown October beer in America in the early Nuclear Age.* Given the context, maybe the copywriter simply combed old poetry for beer references.

Lowenbrau of Munich proudly offered both light and dark lager – clearly some Munich breweries ramped up sufficiently for export trade, only seven years after WW II.

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

Milwaukee’s Blatz also appeared. Interestingly, as we saw earlier it was bracketed with Michelob on another occasion in Illinois, in a late (1919) pre-Prohibition ad. Perhaps the same distributor represented both breweries.

What is notable here, apart the specific context for Michelob, is the broad import range – in the rural Midwest, in 1952.

The college setting explains everything, as taken with the faculty it implied an international community, of people or at least interests, thus an extension of the usual national taste.

The same thing continued in later years as the import palette widened.

The onset of craft brewing, with its variety, continued the process further, as students were early proponents of craft beer. Geography and its appeal were less patent than in the days 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 under different incarnations. An alumni webpage of The University of Illinois explains the arc, and that urban redevelopment finally cleared the block.

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 that bottling and extended promotion of Michelob opened the door to greater import sales. The earlier formulation competed with import quality, while the new lighter version was more American in nature.

The opinions on Michelob I reproduced of famed author and beer fancier H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) bear this out. To adapt an old slogan viz. Champagne and Munich Lowenbrau, when you are out of Czech pilsner, bring on the Michelob.

That was then, but Michelob remained virtually alone in the super-premium, or highest-priced domestic category. That would change partly when Miller introduced the self-same Lowenbrau in 1975 as a domestic brew.

Even then, Michelob dominated super-premium sales for years to come, as earlier discussed.

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 introduced in 1978.

So this outlines Michelob’s ascent in the space age. In the next post I will give examples of where Michelob was available, and the different audiences to which it was marketed. The scope widened as the beer sought newer demographics.

Before 1961 Michelob might be found at an Ivy League or other college setting, seafood restaurants, the country club set, and better hotels and bars. In general an upmarket image prevailed, with some ethnic groups a specialized market.

Beer nerds also sought the beer – they weren’t invented with craft brewing, you know.

The ad above shows one target group of the new strategy: D.C. politicians, drawn from all over the country, and diplomats of the world and staff. Good thinking, Gussie.

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

As purchased 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

I posed a simple question to myself: did Anheuser-Busch produce Michelob during World War II? So from December 8, 1941 until May 7, 1945 when Germany surrendered? Not Japan, that came later, but just taking the war’s end in Germany as a bookend.

I would have thought no, because, as I discussed earlier, and see Greg Casey’s article referenced there, 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 – 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 is 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. This 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

Even before WW I Michelob had cachet in some upper echelon circles. From a standing start in 1896, when it was released as a draft-only beer of superior quality, it gained a niche market while never rivalling Budweiser as the mainstay of Anheuser-Busch.

So important were Bohemian Saaz hops to the beer, that early in the European war Anheuser-Busch ran regular ads to assure the public it had adequate supply both for Budweiser and Michelob.

This ad is one of many in the period, from the Ogden Standard in Utah in 1915 (via Chronicling America):

 

 

To take one example of Michelob’s “society” status, in 1911 an association of Delta Kappa Epsilon members met at Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel, now an architectural landmark, for a “Bohemian dinner”, according to The Deke Quarterly that year.

Michelob was the featured beer, no other was mentioned.

Michelob was also promoted from inception in German ethnic communities. A May 1896 ad in Der Deutsche correspondent of Baltimore is an example. The Cafe Berlin on West Lafayette Street advertised both Budweiser and Michelob:

 

 

The author, editor, and critic Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956) mentioned Michelob numerous times in his work, more than any other domestic brand by my rough count.

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

Mencken is generally considered a satirist à la Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain. His 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 of the cultural establishment considered Mencken a stylist, not a deep thinker, at least not a consistent, persuasive one. His opposition to American entry in World War I did nothing to endear him to received opinion, certainly.

The educator and cultural critic Irving Babbitt once typed Mencken in The Harvard Crimson as a producer of “intellectual vaudeville”.

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 mention 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 published an article in 1923 critical of Mencken, not attributed. It quoted Mencken from a recent article where in typical fashion he orated on matters serious and frivolous, on a broad range of topics.

In the enfilade Mencken 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, remembered for his magazine work with Mencken and 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) wrote 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.

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.

….

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

 

 

 

 

 

Michelob Over Time. Part I.

Beer has always been the drink of the people. It’s a truism now under question given craft beer and its hipster base, the spike in wine consumption in the last 30 years, and the onset of hard seltzer.

But in 1948, the truism never held firmer. A United Press story dated July 16, 1948 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel stated:

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 middle classes and above, therefore, spent little on beer. Imported beer had a certain appeal, but sales were minor.

Yet, niche categories can make money, enough to justify their existence. This 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 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 began: “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.

Times change. Today, the upscale/plugged worry about health and lifestyle, not Mitteleuropa taste values. Michelob is still there to serve, but Ultra is a different beer than Michelob in the 1930s.

Part II follows.

….

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anheuser-Busch Van Nuys: Born of the Years

67 years ago in June, the Anheuser-Busch brewery at Van Nuys, CA opened its doors. A ceremony was held in its hospitality room, the Rathskeller. Senior executives of Anheuser-Busch were present, as I discussed yesterday.

The Rathskeller term was brought to America by migrating Germans. It recalled the below-ground bars or restaurants of German towns. As the war was 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 scale and exterior as originally conceived can be seen in this Flickr image.

The plant was a major contributor to postwar economic and population expansion in The Valley. Growth was driven by the expanding freeway system, consumerism, and suburban modes of living.

The building as shown was light-coloured and mainly cubic-functional, but windowed towers at one end recalled 19th-century brewery tower construction, and the iconic Budweiser plant in St. Louis.

The interior of the Rathskeller and lobby were, in contrast, designed in an emerging regional style, known as “Southwest”. Its influence in American design has only deepened since then.

This is a softer, more natural look inspired by vernacular styles. Southwest, well-explained in The Spruce, a home design and decor site, is an amalgam of Indigenous, early Spanish, and West European styles.

A hallmark according to The Spruce is “earthy color palettes and rustic accents”.

In 1954 the 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 during 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 appear in good detail.

Behind the reception desk we see a mural or large painting of Budweiser Clydesdale-type horses. They are drawing a Western-looking wagon carrying 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 topped with white granite or marble.

Draft fonts adorn the bar, with bottles of Budweiser placed strategically. There are porcelain mugs, perhaps to accentuate the natural look, but a Germani touch results as well.

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

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

In 1978, Busch Gardens Van Nuys, the related entertainment facility, closed to make room for brewery expansion, to make Budweiser Light. Brewery tours were discontinued for the next 40 years but re-commenced in 2018 (I am not sure of the status post-Covid 19).

A Daily News report in 2018 shows a server pouring Bud Light in what seems, clearly, the old Rathskeller. It is now called the Bud Light Tasting Room. Embedded in the story is a clip from a Twitter account, in which the resident master brewer Jeff Jenkins describes the tour in lively manner.

The clip pans as well on the tasting room. Again we can see it is the old Rathskeller, looking rather functional these days.

In 2010 a video was posted to YouTube to commemorate the passing of an employee at the brewery, and is still up 11 years later. One part briefly shows the Rathskeller, the original exposed beams are recognizable.

In that period tours were not being held and the room was probably used for employee recreation or other internal purposes.

The video depicts the reception area (lobby) as of 2010. The desk looks similar to the original but less stylish, perhaps remodelled. The Clydesdales and beer-laden wagon of 1954 are still on the wall behind, this time we can appreciate the colours.

There have been many changes in American industry, brewing, and beer since 1954. But the Van Nuys plant is still there, still brewing, still providing work and an economic boost in The Valley.

The video at YouTube focused on the people, friends and colleagues of the departed man. Many were in production, lab work, or the supply chain, the parts of a brewery that make things happen on the ground.

The caption to the video states it is a “small” tribute but 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.

Van Nuys is under 20 miles from Los Angeles to the north-west, in “The Valley” (San Fernando) as it is famously known.

 

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).

The ad following is from the Plattsburgh Press-Republican in 1963 (via NYS Historic Newspapers), and 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.