Iron City Bob

Not too long ago the deaths of Carrie Fisher and her
mother, Debbie Reynolds, reminded me that in my large
collection of 1950’s and ’60’s LPs were some of their
respective father’s and ex-husband’s recordings. I put
them on the turntable, grabbed a brew , Great Lakes
Turntable Pils, and sat back to enjoy his rich, resonant
tenor. And what a voice he had! No wonder he was the
biggest recording star of the early fifties. “If I Ever
Needed You”, “Anytime”, and “Lady of Spain” echoed
throughout the house as I sipped my brew, listening
happily and wondering what in hell ever happened to
melodic pop music. One of his biggest hits, “Oh My
Papa”, recorded in 1954, brought to mind my own
father, the greatest man I have ever known.

My old man never achieved fame, a large financial
portfolio, or any of the other measures by which
modern society defines success. He didn’t finish high
school but was never without a book or crossword
puzzle in his hand. He was self educated and knew more
“stuff” than anybody I ever knew. But even that is
relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things. A
wise man once said “It matters not how much money or
fame one has achieved. A man will best be remembered
by whether or not he made a difference in the life of a

Pop sired six of us between 1948 and 1960 and
certainly made a difference in our lives. His refinement,
grooming, work ethic, responsibility, patriotism and love
of his children were passed on to all of us. No doubt my
five siblings have their own particular ideas of how Pop
impressed them, but what molded me the most were his
loves of New Jersey, baseball and beer. I couldn’t live
anywhere but the Garden State, and starting in late
October I actually start counting down the days until
Mets spring training opens. My passion for all things
beer related speaks for itself.

I owe that love to my father. From the time I was old
enough to remember anything, I recall him coming home
from work (as an insurance man, he always worked
evenings) with some brew. He would sit at the kitchen
table and have a few with cheese and crackers. In the
early days it was invariably Hensler’s beer, brewed, of
course, in Newark, and on special occasions Ballantine
XXX ale, also brewed in Newark, appeared on the table.
The darkest year in Pop’s life must have been 1957,
which saw both the closing of Hensler’s brewery and the
defection of his beloved New York Giants and Willie Mays
to San Francisco. For the next few years Krueger’s,
brewed  of course in Newark, was his brand until that
brewery closed in 1960.  Until the Mets (sponsored by
Rheingold, brewed in Orange)were launched in 1962, his
only venue for baseball was the hated Yankees, but they
were sponsored on TV by Ballantine, so at least he
could listen to Mel Allen yelling about a “Ballantine Blast”.

At some point in the late fifties Pop started a beer
opener collection. These were generally passed out free
of charge by retailers who had been given a supply by
distributors as an advertising ploy: you can’t drink a
beer without opening it and what better way to open a
bottle of Knickerbocker than with a Knickerbocker beer
bottle opener. He amassed scores of these things and I
well remember him sitting at his desk/workbench in the
cellar sorting and polishing them, always with a frothy
stein close at hand. The collection was passed on to me
and thanks to Pop’s influence, has been enhanced to
over 400 and grows each time I visit a brewery, beer
fest, antique store or garage sale.

From Pop I learned to NEVER drink a beer from it’s
original container. At least I never saw him do so. Again,
thanks to Pop, over 400 beer glasses of various types
take up space in my house and I always think of him
when filling one up.

Having six kids under the age of twelve and a stay-at-
home mom, we were the typical 1950’s family: split level
home in the suburbs, Ford station wagon in the
driveway and generally a larger version of “Leave it to
Beaver”. Of course Ward Cleaver would never even
THINK of drinking a beer, so in that aspect of 1950’s life
we somewhat differed. The other difference was six kids
as opposed to two. The larger number demanded a limit
on how much household income could be afforded for
suds. But in the early 1960’s Pittsburgh Brewing
Company infiltrated the metropolitan area with Iron City
Beer and it’s three quarts for a dollar marketing
strategy. Pop took immediate advantage of this
tremendous money saving opportunity, even though it
wasn’t brewed in New Jersey.  His devotion to Iron City
was enhanced by the fact that they sponsored the
Pirates, and instead of listening to Mel Allen’s “Ballantine
Blasts” he heard Bob Prince’s “Pour on the Iron” when
Bill Mazeroski put the final nail in the despised Yankee’s
coffin and ended the 1960 World Series.

After my brothers and I became involved in a mummer’s
band, Pop, who couldn’t play anything, joined as
quartermaster, taking care of equipment, costumes,
instruments and icing down the post-parade brew. I don’
t recall exactly who it was, but someone in the band,
knowing of his preference for IC, coined the nickname
“Iron City Bob”, and thus he was known even though
Pabst Blue Ribbon, of course brewed in Newark, later
became his beer of choice. (“Pabst Bob” doesn’t quite
have the same ring, and nobody ever thought of “Blue
Ribbon Bob”.

But back to Iron City. Beer and baseball have always fit
well together. There’s nothing like a cool draught during
the 7th inning stretch (or 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or
6th innings as well). Sorry no 8th or 9th inning brews,
due to the stupidity of those who rule major league
baseball. But today, too many nouveau, “designer”
beers flood the market. Who wants to watch baseball
with a footed pilsner of gueze in hand? Or a cooler full
of mentholated porter? No thank you!  Iron City was
and is the perfect style for the National Pastime, and I
know that if he were still around, Iron City Bob would
like nothing better to relax in the Garden State,
watching the Mets with an IC close at hand.

And there’s never been anyone I’d rather share one and
the Mets with!



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