|Vince Capano is a two time winner of the prestigious Quill and Tankard
writing award for humor from the North American Guild of Beer Writers.
Vince's column is now a regular feature of beernexus.com
Check back often for the next installment of
Vince's Adventures in Beerland
| Retro - Retro
by Vince Capano
When’s the last time you saw your neighborhood bartender dressed in a crisp,
spotless, impressively pressed white shirt with a classic (albeit clip-on) black
bowtie? Right, me neither. That is until yesterday. No it wasn’t a short visit to the
Twilight Zone Pub but something that turned out to be equally bizarre – a retro-
retro themed meeting of my beer club.
The bartenders in question appeared, by actual count, 24 times, in the
appropriately retro VHS tape of beer commercials from the early days of TV. The
video was projected on The Giant Screen, sometimes called the back wall, of our
meeting room at the Gaslight Pub. Spread out between those tap pulling men of
beer (no females allowed behind the bar in retro land) came numerous animals,
mountains, rivers, cartoon characters, and more than a few dancing bottles, each
pitching their own unique version of liquid nirvana. This went on for almost three
hours. And you thought Avatar was long. Still, each and every commercial had a
happy ending – someone drank a beer.
The insightful viewer soon came realize that in addition to hawking their beer each
commercial also taught a variety of essential life lessons carefully disguised as
slogans. Feeling a bit down today? “When you need a lift, move up to Schlitz.”
Need a mantra to increase your inner confidence? Just repeat the Blatz Beer
slogan over and over –“I’m from Milwaukee and I ought to know.” Don’t worry; it
works even if you’re from Sheboygan. The Carling Black Label commercial
made a heartfelt pitch for self education when it told viewers to “read a can of beer
tonight.” At the very least it’s guaranteed to be shorter than War and Peace.
For young drinkers who are just learning to count and read at the same time, the
Ballantine commercial provided a better lesson than Sesame Street ever could -
“all it takes is just six words- bolder, keener, more to the point”. Too bad retro land
didn’t have the Surgeon General’s warning– counting and reading all that would
definitely help a beer swilling student to easily skip a grade.
Stag Beer taught us that striving for excellence takes repeated effort. After all,
their beer was proudly “extra brewed”. Piels, promoted organic living by
proclaiming that their beer’s foam head was “a flavor lid”. And here I thought the
only way to keep my newly poured beer fresh was to just drink it quickly.
Schaeffer stood up for individual rights when it took the neo- prohibitionists to task
as their commercial shouted “after your thirst is gone, Schaeffer is still the one to
have.” Utica Club did them one better when they proudly boasted that “we drink all
we can, the rest we sell.” Working for Utica Club is now my dream job.
Some commercials even foreshadowed the vocabulary of today’s beer reviewers
when describing their product’s taste. While they may not have used descriptive
modern terms such as mildewed meadow, stale tobacco, dirty grass, and
decayed bark, they nonetheless got the message across. Hamm’s asked us to
“feel the freshness.” Simple, clear, and to the point. Valley Forge Lager boasted
they were the “beer with the wonderful flavor.” Not much more I need to know after
that. Pfeiffer said they were the great beer that “grandpa brought home in
buckets.” Hey, who doesn’t trust their grandpa? Rainier Beer was the “beer with
more light”. Now I’m not quite sure what that means but I’m positive it’s better to
have a single beer with more light than to curse the darkness.
As the retro cinematic masterpieces rolled on the tasting part of our meeting
began. We selected nine of the very same brands from the commercials to go
head to head in a blind taste test. This truly was going to be a retro-retro day. The
lineup was a who’s who from the grand history of beer – Ballantine, Schlitz,
Schmidts, Piels, Schaefer, Old Milwaukee, Carling Black Label, Rolling Rock, and
Pabst Blue Ribbon. To be fair to history, these beers are not quite the same as
when the commercials were made. Rolling Rock is now owned by Anheuser-
Busch which brews it in Newark, NJ, not Latrobe, PA. Carling Black Label is now
a Molson-Coors product. The other seven legends of suds are all brands currently
owned by Pabst. Really. And if that’s not strange enough, Pabst, is a “virtual
brewery”. It does not physically brew beer, including the ever popular PBR itself.
Miller brews everything for Pabst. It’s a long story, and fortunately for you and me
both, not one that needs to be told for this article.
Let the tasting begin! Ten 3 ounce clear plastic glasses filled with yellow liquid
were placed in front of everyone at the meeting. Immediately the conversation
turned to which of the beers had the most color. In this case, a discussion on how
many angels fit on the end of a pin would have been more productive. Each beer
had the identical fuzzy yellow tint. One character seated at the back table claimed
glass number 4 was ever so slightly darker than the rest. His evaluation was
quickly discredited since his eyesight is so bad he drives with one hand on the
wheel and the other hand on the road. And besides, holding the glass up to his
black sweater might also have had something to do with it.
As the tasters moved from glass to glass each of their faces seemed to have the
same bland, weak, dulled expression which, come to think of it, also describes the
beer we were drinking. The Schlitz tasted like the Carling which tasted like the
Schaefer which tasted like the Old Milwaukee which tasted like the Piels which
tasted like, ah, you get the idea. They were all a watery mess of colored water
with hints of corn and rice. Of course some of the more educated palates among
the tasters claimed they could name the exact state, county, and farm where the
corn and rice came from. No surprise, these guys also fancied themselves as
Each beer was dutifully rated and the scores tallied. A near consensus last place
was Rolling Rock. I guess that shows you can take the beer out of Latrobe but that
takes the Latrobe out of the beer. Old #33 was now a zero. At the top of the list
was Ballantine XXX ale. Well, someone had to win. Essentially tied for every
other place were the rest of the brands. Not a shock since they probably all came
from the same Pabst-Miller vat; the names were changed to protect the guilty.
For the record this was one of the few club meetings that had beer left over. Don’t
worry; our beer club is as environmentally conscious as anyone. Since we’re a
waste not, want not group, we decided to have a short trivia contest with the
remaining retro beers as the prize.
First place won one six pack, second place had to take two.
|Retro - Retro