Like most young people, my first memories of beer took place with my father and grandfather. As a young boy I remember my father opening a Miller beer can in the kitchen one day with a church key opener and he let me smell the hops escape. I had a sip and can still vividly remember the taste. Around the same time, my grandfather took me to a bar off Camp Bowie road in Ft. Worth of which he owned a small portion, and I remember sitting on a bar stool while he sipped on a Pearl Beer on a hot summer Texas afternoon.
In recent weeks, the industry has been buzzing over articles that have criticized the craft beer industry for their apparent lack of concern regarding how their beers are named. It has been touted for many of the crafts that the name of the beer, or the graphics on the can, suggest the brewer is deliberately marketing to underage kids. It has been claimed that this illustrates a double standard in the industry, meaning the big brewers have “toed the line” with graphics and yet the crafts do not.
After reading these articles one might get the impression that the big boys have a higher ethical standard than the crafts, yet might be losing sales because of this standard. It was also been stated that the TTB has approved these labels. What is the issue if these labels are considered to be legal? An unfair playing field perhaps?
One of the attractions of buying the Schlitz distributorship in the Rio Grande Valley was that the territory included South Padre Island. During the early 1980s, SPI was regarded as the second best spring break beach in the US, only behind Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Every year in March, thousands of kids from Texas and the mid-west, flooded the island all looking for a party.
All the big brewers, AB, Schlitz/Stroh, Miller, Coors, etc. spent millions on the island. Teams of brewery sales people conducted events including major concerts, wet t-shirt contests, on premise promotions, free giveaways with all kinds of wearable items, music vans, and almost everything you can imaging. I remember the display contests between the rooms on ground level at many of the hotels on the beach. The kids would build the displays with the empty cans and cases of beer just outside their rooms. Some were very creative.
When the LDA changed back to 21 in the early 80s, it did not deter either the kids or the breweries. In fact, SPI continued to grow. While all the breweries claimed to be only supporting events to include LDA kids, it was clear that they all were after the soon-to be LDA drinkers who were also everywhere. AB’s Spuds Mackenzie was at the fore front of this marketing which soon became highly controversial as critics claimed this was nothing more than targeting underage drinkers. AB eventually dropped the Spuds Mackenzie ads which soon became frogs and lizards. Go figure….
There have been beer labels which some considered over the line for years, including those early ones of Flying Dog Brewing Co. of Colorado. After all these years Flying Dog is still around just like SPI and spring break, so when I read about craft breweries targeting underage drinkers and having an unfair advantage over the big boys all I do is LOL!