Michelob Hour of Excellence TV Spot
In a c. 1965 black-and-white TV spot, actor, director, and writer Hal Holbrook promoted the “Michelob Hour of Excellence”. The new hourglass-shape bottle is shown.
Holbrook, who passed away only recently, is remembered especially for his stage reenactment of Mark Twain.
The upload description states “1958” but it had to be later. The bottle was only introduced in 1961. In 1965 the newspaper North Countryman in Rousses Point, New York described the Michelob Hour of Excellence as “new”.
Using trans-Atlantic tones, Holbrook explained how a great American beer, now in bottles, would sponsor a series highlighting American excellence in one-hour programs. Theatre, sports, and music would be covered among other areas. The flying Wright Brothers were scheduled for one program.
In the North Countryman, this weighty production was advertised:
Holbrook’s introduction and The Hollow Crown production were highbrow or upmarket in tone. Contemporary Budweiser pitches by Ed McMahon, long-time sidekick of the Johnny Carson Show, are more everyman, by contrast.
This reflected the relative market positioning of the beers.
Witherill Hotel Bar, 1961
The Witherill Hotel in Plattsburgh, New York was built in 1868 and lasted a full 100 years, closing in 1968. Plattsburgh is in the “North Country”, not far from the Canadian border.
The hotel was owned for most of its existence by the Howell family. In 2015 Susan Howell Hamlin, a descendant of the owners, was interviewed by the local Press-Republican for a retrospective on the hotel.
Hamlin, who wrote a book about growing up in the hotel, discussed its history including the bar-restaurant Fife & Drum, which opened in the hotel on July 4, 1940.
Evocative photos accompanying the story show a dignified, 19th century pile. It was altered over the years but never lost its Victorian mien. Today such a building would likely be preserved but in 1970 it was torn down to make room for a branch of the State Bank of Albany.
A striking eBay listing shows the Fife & Drum in its 1940s glory. Revolutionary War themes mingle with modern red leather banquettes, black Formica tables, and tile flooring.
For most of its career the hotel enjoyed a carriage and business, as well as high-end tourist trade. This emerged from numerous accounts including in Kelly Julian’s (2012) Plattsburgh, a history of the city. See discussion and photos at pp. 37-38.
In June 1961 the Fife & Drum advertised in the Press-Republican, mentioning draft Michelob and Lowenbrau:
The beers were consistent with the high standards that characterized the Witherill. The bar did not bill itself as a beer destination, as Brothers Hofbrau did in Phoenix in the same period. It did not vaunt beer expertise, as Hank’s Tavern did elsewhere in New York in its 1930s ads.
The Howells simply made sure to offer top quality in this amenity, as they did for the hotel in general.
Description of Last Parts
Through the 1960s and ’70s, assisted by its new bottle and perhaps its revised recipe, Michelob sales grew considerably, as I discussed earlier.
The marketing was now broader including Ebony and other magazine spreads, and standard TV commercials. Some commercials were themed “Weekends are Made for Michelob”.
I’ll consider these in the next part. After 1980, sales of regular Michelob started to drop as craft and imported beer became an increasing focus for beer fans.
Hence, I won’t consider 1980s promotions such as “The Night is Made for Michelob”, with its association to rock legend Eric Clapton and other performers.
In the final part (so two more coming), I’ll discuss opinions of Michelob by beer and wine writers, ca. 1980. They are particularly interesting in light both of early Michelob history, when it was all-malt and perfumed with Saaz hops, and the craft revolution that ensued since 1980, which revived interest in that level of quality.
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