Sipping a Generation
Regional breweries used to dot the Rand McNally like Starbucks does today.
Today, as the European and US beer markets become more consolidated, are we destined to let our fathers’ beer go the way of Checker cabs, Studebaker, Oldsmobile and Nash?
Years ago, when dad traveled on business, sometimes the one saving grace of being away from his loved ones was the chance to delve into the locally brewed beers. When business would take the breadwinner to Omaha, he could order a Storz. Instantly, a mutual friendship was made. The Storz Brewery operated until 1972, turning out Storz Premium and Storz Triumph. Two hospitality rooms at the brewery, the Frontier Room and the Trophy Room, were used for after-tour samplings and numerous civic functions. About the last five years that Storz was in operation, it was owned by Grain Belt Breweries of Minneapolis, a strong regional throughout the upper Mississippi River valley.
This brewery still stands today and is an architectural wonder. The front facade has four different styles of architecture, each representing one of the four companies that merged in 1891 to form the Minneapolis Brewing Association. In 1963, Grain Belt took possession of a junkyard adjacent to the brewery and created a wonderful park that includes a large fountain as the centerpiece.
Animated Icons and Celebrity Voices
For most of us, the greatest character we know has to be our father. It did not take long for the advertising and marketing types to realize this. TV and radio created characters and images to appeal to these working men, and those images can let us know the beer today, even though the flavors of many of those grand old regionals are gone.
Grain Belt used animation, like many of the regional breweries, to advertise its beers. It created Stanley and Albert, two sign painters who appeared in numerous Grain Belt TV and print campaigns.
Another Twin Cities brewery was also famous for animation. To this day, the Hamm’s bear is considered an advertising icon. This black and white figure took an upper-Midwest regional brewery to national status almost overnight. Many a beer drinker can still sing the praises of the beer “from the land of sky blue waters.”
The Theodore Hamm Brewery operated in St. Paul from 1865 until 1975 when Olympia Brewing Co. of Tumwater, WA, bought it. Since 1975, the brand has had a checkered history. Hamm’s is now owned by Miller Brewing and is sold as a price beer.
Another very successful animated campaign ran in the tri-state area around New York City. ‘Bert and Harry Piel’ took a weak brand and propelled it near the top spot. Bert and Harry were somewhat bumbling, somewhat sarcastic, and above all, true pitchmen for Piels Beer. The pioneering radio pair of Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding supplied the voices for Bert and Harry, and the success of Piels helped boost their careers.
Also in the metro New York area, a brand with a strong following in post-war times was Rheingold, the “Extra Dry” beer. Many an argument could be overheard in the tavern over whom to choose as the winner of the “Miss Rheingold” contest held each year. The women in the running enjoyed a touch of celebrity throughout the tri-state area, and some of the winners of this contest went on to stardom.
In upstate New York, in the small berg of Utica, another pair of pitchmen was gaining popularity. Two talking mugs known as ‘Schultz and Dooley’ told the virtues of Utica Club beer. The stein with the likeness of a German kaiser was Schultz and the mug with the shamrock in the center was Dooley. A deciding factor in the success of this campaign was the choice of Jonathan Winters to be the voices of these talking heads.
In the Saint Louis area, comedian Jim Bakus did some great ads for Stag beer. The slogan, “Join Mr. Magoo in a Stag brew,” gave this regional brand a boost in Budweiser’s backyard. In Baltimore, the National Brewing Co. used animated characters to distinguish National Premium and National Bohemian brands, its two similar sounding brews. Mr. Pilsener sold National Premium and Mr. Boh sold “Natty Boh.”
Brewers chose animation for their beer ads for three reasons. Number one was that animation cost less than a full live production with human actors. Number two was the fact that the brewery retained ownership of the characters.
And lastly, we are a very visual society. These characters brought us more tangible ways to associate with the brews they represented. With the advent of color TV, not all homes had this new advanced version, so the animated ad campaigns had to work equally well in color or in black and white.
In Chicago, Meister Brau’s ad campaign used a spunky little guy wearing lederhosen and a hard hat. Brauzer, as he was known, gave this brand the tough guy image that the brewery wanted. The slogan stated that Meister Brau “gives you more of what you drink beer for.” (Ironically, Meister Brau was the brewery that first brewed light beer.)
Another classic slogan along these lines was for Schaefer beer of New York, “the one beer to have when you’re having more than one.”
The Peter Ballantine Brewery of Newark did not want you to run out of brew. One of their ad campaigns invited you to “Tote’m home plenty.” The ad’s use of totem poles and cartoon beer glasses played up the idea of buying lots of beer at one time.
The Genesee Brewery of Rochester actually issued a license plate that read, “Don’t worry, Dad, we’re drinking Genesee.”
Obviously, in today’s P.C. climate, these campaigns would not pass muster.
The Drewrys Brewery of South Bend, IN, promoted its Canadian heritage with the use of a Mountie on its label. This brand had a very strong presence in Indiana, Michigan and Chicago, though the slogan, “Less Filling, More Satisfying” sure sounds like the tagline used by that low-calorie beer from Milwaukee. Just after WWII, Drewrys issued cans that told about your zodiac sign. Another series from Drewrys featured sports scenes like bowling, fishing, hunting, golf and baseball. Bowling and other sporting events, along with TV, had big roles in promoting beer to dad.
Many brand extensions that came about in this era had a resurgence in the late 1980s and early 1990s when they were marketed as “Draft” or “Genuine Draft” and “Dry” or “Extra Dry.” Our fathers were drinking beers brewed and marketed this way back in the 1950s and 1960s.
Falstaff Brewing Corp., based in St. Louis, MO, reached national distribution without ever building a brewery. The company purchased many regional breweries across the country. Shortly after the acquisition, it began to brew and market Falstaff in the new territory. This company began as the Lemp Brewery in Saint Louis, where it also had ties to the Griesedieck Brewery, affectionately known as “Slippery Richard.” Falstaff brewed a packaged “draft beer” and was an early player in the “low calorie” market.
Blatz from Milwaukee was also very successful with a “Draft Brewed” formula. Draft brewed basically meant that the same beer used for kegs was used for the bottles and cans except that it was heat pasteurized. Blatz advertising used a group of three guys to promote this idea—one guy had the body of a keg, the second had the torso of a can, and the third took the shape of the bottle.
The Wiedemann Brewery of Newport, KY, in the greater Cincinnati area, successfully sold Wiedemann’s Genuine Draft. This product was cold filtered or, as it was described back then, micro filtered. The appellation allowed the brewery not to have to heat pasteurize the beer.
Beers for He-Men and Her, Too
Many breweries promoted the fact that men were the main customers of their brands.
The Bavarian Brewing Co. of Covington, KY, promoted Bavarian’s Old Style beer as “A man’s beer.” About a year into this campaign, there was something of a rebellion by the brand’s women drinkers. Quickly, Bavarian introduced the “Hers too!” slogan as a new marketing tactic. Similarly, the Henry F. Ortlieb Brewery of Philadelphia promoted its Ortlieb’s Premium as the “he-man brew.” This slogan quickly became “Ortlieb’s, the he-man brew that gals love, too.”
When light—as in low-calorie—beers came on the scene, Joe Ortlieb issued his version of light beer by placing three bottles of Ortlieb’s Premium into a six-pack along with three bottle of water. This was his idea of a do-it-at-home light beer kit.
Carling’s Black Label had a long-running, successful ad campaign in which a man would shout, “Mabel!” then whistle and say, “Black Label.”
One television commercial I recall had a husband arriving home and heading for the hammock in the back yard. As he unwound from his work day, his wife went into a flurry of activity that included getting his paper, slippers, snacks, and, of course, his Carling’s Black Label beer. As Carling’s grew as a national brand, the slogan became, “People try it and they like it.”
A tough town like Pittsburgh had two rugged-sounding beers to help the locals quench their thirst. Duquesne Brewing Co. produced the brand, Duke. The slogan was “Even sounds like a man’s beer.”
Pittsburgh Brewing Co.’s Iron City brand used an average Joe Pittsburgh character known as Al Luccioni. Al had the look of about five fathers that I knew growing up. The use of Al as a spokesman helped to strengthen Iron City’s presence around town. To prevent offending either sex, Iron City was advertised as “The Beer Drinker’s Beer.”
And, seeking to appeal to all beer drinkers, Stroh’s from Detroit was for beer lovers. Stroh’s used to toast their beer “from one beer lover to another.”
Beers of Hollywood
Out west in California, the brand dad drank probably was Lucky. The slogan, “It’s Lucky when you live in California,” was extremely successful. Lucky was also advertised as the “Age Dated Beer.” This was one of the early attempts at “born on” dating.
In the Pacific Northwest, the three best-selling beers were Olympia from Tumwater, Rainier from Seattle, and Blitz Weinhard from Portland. Olympia used the slogan, “It’s the water.” Rainier promoted itself as “mountain fresh.” Blitz, advertised as “since 1856,” was the oldest brewery west of the Mississippi.
Our fathers got to drink beer when John Wayne was still alive and aroma therapy was not even invented. This Father’s Day, sit down with dad and enjoy one of his beers. Have one like Iron City, Schaefer, Hamms, or Grain Belt—not a raspberry wheat or a Zima. Tell him you how much you appreciate the shared knowledge. Then tell him not to worry because you’re drinking Genesee.