Two Specialized Markets for Michelob, Postwar
In this and parts following, I survey communities or places where Michelob was typically consumed from the 1950s until the mid-’70s, based 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 intended by the marketing.
The two instances in this post are examples of a prewar Michelob demographic that continued well into the postwar period.
One of the first ads for Michelob out of the gate, in 1896, was in a Baltimore German newspaper, from 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. The 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.
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.