I don’t drink much beer now (unless it’s gluten-free), but I definitely associate specific beer jingles and brands with different ages and stages in my life. Early on, my dad’s tastes covered a variety of inexpensive domestic beers – what he drank was probably whatever was on sale. I remember a commercial with a guy in an armchair calling out (presumably to his wife), “Hey Mabel, Black Label!” and when Carling’s Black Label appeared on our table, we kids would echo that command. Another similar brand that graced our table was Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Extensive advertising was associated with every major brand, with all the media represented – radio, TV and print ads galore. In keeping with the musical tastes of the time (at least the over-30 tastes!), most of these tunes were recorded by Mitch Miller-esque men’s choruses, which guaranteed them to be very catchy.
I could sing lots of jingles (and can still recall all of the words to a few of them), and was happy to perform with no prompting. I’m not sure my mom was thrilled to hear me croon at eight years old,
My beer is Rheingold, the dry beer
Think of Rheingold whenever you buy beer
It’s not bitter, not sweet – it’s the extra-dry treat
Won’t you try, won’t you buy Rheingold beer!
Another favorite of mine was the Schaefer beer jingle – “Schaefer – is the – one beer to have when you’re having more than one….” It wasn’t the words, or even the usual tune that attracted me to that one, but a specific incarnation of it, that I loved the sound of, and which seemed to go exclusively with a particular event. The Schaefer Music Festival, a series of concerts by internationally renowned music stars, took place every summer in Central Park from the late 60’s through the mid-70’s, and its theme was a lazy, country-flavored version of the Schaefer beer song played on pedal steel. As excited as I was to see some of these acts (at the bargain price of $2 a pop if you wanted great seats, free if you sat up on the big granite outcroppings outside the stage area – my kids are astounded at this!), I also looked forward to hearing that pedal steel, and would linger to hear it played again as the place was clearing out after a concert. (I was completely spoiled by the bargain basement ticket prices, and almost boycotted an Allman Brothers concert when I was away at college because the tickets were an astronomical $22 – luckily, my roomies talked sense into me!)
I actually developed a taste for beer at a young age thanks to the encouraging advertising, but also due to a multisensory experience that took place right in my own home. Every night, my father had a beer (or two) with dinner, and whoever was setting the table would set out one of the four pilsner glasses with the dark, jewel-colored bases – these seemed very exotic to me, and were the first element of attraction to the beer-drinking ritual. The cans were made of heavy tin at the time – no convenient aluminum pull-tabs – so Da would retrieve his church key from the utensil drawer and begin the second part of the ritual, cutting triangular holes in the top of the can, and pouring the effervescent brew down the side of the tipped glass so that the head was high enough to be attractive, but not enough to waste. The metallic crack of the can top, pop and hiss of gas being released, and fizzing as the beer was poured into the glass made a very satisfying sound combo.
We kids enjoyed this ritual so much that it was hard for us to resist. Though we certainly weren’t allowed to imbibe our own cans of beer, my dad sometimes retrieved a few samples from his seemingly vast array of shot glasses, and as soon as the can was opened, we would hold up our little glasses with a collective chorus of “Beeeeeer!!” and be rewarded with an inch of the golden elixir. I really savored the whole experience.
I wasn’t until I got a little older that I realized not everyone’s father bought the same brands of beer as mine, and was even older and more well-traveled before I knew that the beer one could purchase varied not only by price, but also by the part of the country you lived in. When I was a teenager, some friends who had driven cross-country returned home with a case of Coors, which they might share with a few lucky guys as they watched the Yankees game on TV. Before anybody ever put lips to can, this brand had immediate allure, being associated with a “Rocky Mountain High” popularized by John Denver.
The whole regional market idea was really brought home to me one day when one of my brothers was visiting me in my upstate college town. We were strolling down the short commercial strip of the neighborhood I lived in when he spied a neon sign flashing in the window of the bar across the street.
“Hey – let’s go have a beer in Matt’s,” he suggested, which caused me to lapse into uncontrollable giggles. Matts was not the name of the bar, but a local beer – he’d never heard of it.
I spent a summer in the Adirondacks working at a wildlife refuge, with a six-week break to attend the local summer field camp attached to my forestry program. This introduced me to yet another beer – Old Vienna, which we called OVs. These came in small, clear glass long-necks with blue labels, and we’d order them up with a shot of peppermint schnapps (even the guys, who originated that combination).
Cranberry Lake Field Station was located in the Five Ponds Wilderness, a vast roadless area accessible only by boat – once you were there, you were pretty much locked in, unless you caught the college-owned launch at scheduled times (weekends only), or hiked out. Some people might consider this to be like prison, but not those of us who lived and studied there – we experienced it as a kind of paradise. Monday through Friday our days were full of field studies and labs, frequently miles of hiking, punctuated sometimes with breaks to swoop down a natural rock slide and waterfall – other than homework, we had evenings and weekends pretty much free.
The director of the camp, one of the most popular professors at the college, realized that being marooned in this wilderness school could give people a bit of cabin fever, so the flotilla of canoes that we had at our disposal were allowed to be taken across the lake to an old haunt called Hoppies – as long as you signed out your destination and had some designated paddlers, you could go to Hoppies and down some OVs with some of the locals, who were pretty tolerant of us. Hoppies is apparently long gone – too bad – I don’t know what the students at the field station do now. (Of course, drinking beer is illegal for most current students – at the time I was there, the legal drinking age was 18.)
As my parents’ financial situation improved (with some of us kids living out of the house), and with their kids’ wide-roaming influence, my dad’s taste in beer also became somewhat elevated. We would bring six-packs of imported or craft brews for him to sample, and for a while, his favorite was Labatt’s Blue. Six months ago, I was waiting for him to be released from a long stay in a rehab facility to hospice at home, and I had several bottles of Corona and some limes chilling in the fridge to celebrate his return. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be – Da went into a coma the night before he was to come home. But he wouldn’t have wanted good beer to go to waste, so we repeated the old rituals, and toasted to his memory.
Here’s to you, Da.
May neighbors respect you,
Trouble neglect you,
The angels protect you,
And heaven accept you.