Post-Prohibition Return of Bock
A 1937 issue of the trade journal The American Brewer contains a classic instance of American merchandising thinking (via Hagley Digital Archives):
The author, Schuyler Patterson, noted that March bock beer had been returned successfully to American brewing, as a seasonal specialty. This was due in part to effective merchandising.
Articles on brewing theory and practical applications, and of course supplier ads, typically appeared in The American Brewer. But there was also strong emphasis on marketing, more than I’ve noted in contemporary U.K. and Continental journals.
Nor did it result, or solely, from the need to recreate the American beer landscape after Prohibition. U.S. journals had emphasized sales and marketing even before WW I, as I’ve discussed earlier.
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.
Brewers applied promotional techniques to extend 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 events from 1940 until the 1960s. It is noteworthy that California, even southern California, was the locale for this.
A relatively newly-settled state, it lacked the strong Central European influences that implanted lager – bock is a lager – in the Midwest and Northeast. Nonetheless advised circles in Los Angeles took notice.
Apart from the merits of a good bock, which were likely to interest open-minded gastronomes, savvy business practices were at work here. Any industry needs this to grow and thrive.
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 take inspiration from bock beer to stimulate interest in dark beer generally during the colder season.
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 thought, why not create a Brown October Ale tradition, one the college and football set could get behind? Brown October ale, or nut brown ale, also October beer or ale, were old concepts in Britain but of little or no commercial application by the 1930s.
As sometimes happens though, ideas abandoned in metropole proved of influence in the ex-colony, at least vestigially.
A few October ales (or beers) were made in early post-Prohibition brewing. Haberle Brewing in Syracuse, New York made a Brown October Ale. The following ad appeared in an Ogdensburg, NY newspaper in mid-November 1940 (via NYS Historical Newspapers):
While his seasonal brown ale idea didn’t take, Patterson’s prescience is shown by modern craft brewing. Various seasonal traditions are associated with craft beer, pumpkin ale and wet hop beers in particular with fall.
Indeed American I.P.A., while (usually) not quite brown, validates Patterson’s vision of a robust addition to the standard beer palette.
Ironically, craft brewing never fully embraced the March bock season. I discussed this in “Restoring the Bock Beer Season”. Maybe it was too redolent of pre-craft times, when a consolidated industry had ironed out the palate of beer.
Part VI follows.
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