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.










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