Let's Get Crafty, Wining & Dining

Super Bowl Is A Perfect Opportunity To Support Your Local Brewery!!

By Timothy Long

In 1991 I was in graduate school and bartending at the Fish Market in Old Town Alexandria. It was the beginning of my love for what would become my adopted hometown. The Fish Market in those days was owned by a man affectionately known as Mr. Ray.  Ray was a short, loud, stocky, gruff man and not always the easiest person to work for. If you followed his rules and did things the way he asked, you were fine…usually. Conversely, he could be quite charismatic and charming. And he was an astute businessman. Mr. Ray was quite a colorful character. I learned a lot from him during my time there.  The Fish Market was, and still is, famous for its schooners of beer. A schooner is a large, thick 32-ounce glass supported by a short stem. The schooners were served chilled and were to be poured in a way that allowed for a 2-inch head on the top. Mr. Ray thought it was important to have a good head on a beer, and he was right. A good head on a beer releases the aromatics of the brew and makes for a better overall presentation. It also ensures that there are a couple less ounces of beer in the glass. Mr. Ray would walk up to your bar to check the beers you had just poured, holding two fingers up to the head to make sure it was correct. This could be a little unnerving, Mr. Ray had big fingers.

The Fish Market today serves a large variety of craft beer. But in 1991, they only served draft and the beer was not a craft beer. It was labeled Fish Market Beer, but we all knew what it was. It was Schlitz. Schlitz was at the end of its run, a beer in decline. And Mr. Ray was able to convince the company to let him label their beer as his own. This was at the very beginnings of the craft beer movement and the marketing move fooled many of the guests into thinking the beer was brewed especially for the Fish Market. To this day, the Fish Market still has their own draft beer. But trust me, the beer with their name on it is not Schlitz. They have a great variety of draft, bottle, and can beer. It’s a fun place for a beer lover.

Schlitz was once the great American beer. It was a bitter lager, as were most of the original large brewery beers in the U.S. These lagers ruled the market until the mid-1960s, when brewers like Anheuser-Busch began to sweeten their beer to appeal to the younger generation. By the time the decade of the 1970s was ending, these beers had become “old man” beers. They were the beers of your dad and grandfather, not brands cool or hip to be seen drinking.

Like most of the older breweries, Schlitz was dying and struggling to hold on during most of the 70s. But at the beginning of the decade, they were still a force to be reckoned with. Schlitz holds the distinction of being the first beer to buy advertising during the Super Bowl.

According to a great article on BrutalHammer.com, “Super Bowl XV Was the Last Call for Schlitz”, the company had run neck-and-neck with Anheuser-Busch for beer supremacy in the U.S. for decades. They were running Super Bowl Ads well before Anheuser-Busch ever considered doing so. But as their business declined, Schlitz made a series of advertising blunders. These culminated in 1981 in a commercial shown during Super Bowl XV between the Raiders and the Eagles. As the article states:

Its position deteriorating by the year, Schlitz had one more Super Bowl splash to try, the Michelob/Schlitz Great American Beer Switch. MC’d by an actual NFL referee in zebra stripes, 100 people sampled the beers off air, and when the commercial went live, (each participant) pulled a lever to indicate their preference. An electronic football scoreboard tallied the results: 50 Michelob drinkers “switched” to Schlitz. Of course, macrobrew was no better in 1981 than it is now, and by the law of probabilities any random group of people were just as likely to find any other pair of macrobrews indistinguishable. Schlitz spun it as a win — at the then-staggering cost of $1.7 million for 60 seconds of airtime.”

Schlitz fell to the wayside in the U.S. market. And Anheuser-Busch became the dominate brand led by their flagship beer, Budweiser, the so-called “King of Beers”.

My suggestion for this year’s Super Bowl is no different than my everyday suggestion when it comes to mass produced beers, don’t drink’em. Yes, we all grew up drinking them during the Super Bowl. It’s become a tradition, almost like turkey at Thanksgiving. You’re at a party and feel like you must consume a Bud Light or Miller Lite for old times’ sake. Well don’t. Support your local breweries. Local brewers are becoming as common as local pubs once were and are great economic generators for your community. Most people live within 10 miles of one. So, if you are planning on consuming your share of the 325 million gallons of beer guzzled on Super Bowl Sunday, get your beer from your favorite local brewer. Support their great efforts, their contribution to your community, and celebrate the Super Bowl with a great beer that actually has good taste.

And what bourbon and cigar should you enjoy during the game?  Bulleit Bourbon is perfect for a Super Bowl party. The nose has vanilla and caramel. You get vanilla again on the palate, along with a peppery oak flavor and some cinnamon. This bourbon is smooth, delightful, and very affordable. Perfect as a host gift for a party, or as the house bourbon at your party. For your cigar, I recommend the Camacho Connecticut. It’s a mild-mannered cigar, but with great flavor. You can give it to your “buddy”. You know who I mean. The guy who claims to like cigars but has probably never smoked a cigar and wants one for the Super Bowl. It’s a smooth cigar with a bold spicy kick that doesn’t overpower. Perfect for watching football.

Shortly after I started working at the Fish Market, Mr. Ray switched from Schlitz to Shaefer, another old American bitter lager. I once asked Mr. Ray why we served only one older beer instead of carrying a variety of newer beers on tap. It turned into 20 minutes of my life that I will never get back. He was either teaching me or yelling at me, I’m not sure which. With Mr. Ray it was sometimes hard to tell. Still, a helluva guy.

About the Author: Timothy Long is an educator, writer, consultant, and experienced restaurant operator. Email: tlong@belmarinnovations.com. Instagram and Twitter: @wvutimmy. Blog: What is that fly doing in my soup? http://whatflyinmysoup.com

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