Craft Beers of Old

Next time you walk into Royal or Tipsy’s or Gomer’s or any of the other beer havens in town, just step back and take in the vastness of their respective inventories. It is amazing how many options we have, and they just keep coming: from new (to our market, anyway) breweries like Firestone Walker, Stone, Green Flash, and Summit to highly regarded, soon-to-debut-pending-label-approval outfits like Deschutes and Nebraska.

As the new kids in town proliferate, stalwarts of the brewing scene like Boulevard and New Belgium continue to push the envelope with their Smokestack and Lips of Faith series. Big beers, sour beers, insanely hoppy beers…there’s always something new to try.

It hasn’t always been this way.

I recently decided to make my first foray into homebrewing (more on that in a future post), but I’m not the type to begin a new hobby by dropping several hundred dollars. I called my uncle to borrow his old equipment, and he obliged, mostly because it hadn’t been used since about 1994.

Included among the buckets and boxes were two cases of empty bottles. A few of them still had their labels. I’m fairly certain that my uncle received them as part of one of those “beer of the month” clubs. Most of these were no-frills amber ales and golden lagers that make today’s beer geeks scoff; they used to be the primary options available from the fledgling craft brewing industry. I did a background check on some of these, which turned up some interesting (at least to me) info. If you saw these in a liquor store today, how many of these would you bother trying?

Katahdin - Golden and Red Ale

Katahdin, which is an Indian word for "great mountain" (according to the label) is a defunct craft brand from Maine. It appears to have been brewed by Casco Bay Brewing from about 1994 to 1996. (Casco Bay, incidentally, was acquired by Shipyard in 2008.) There is one review of Golden Ale from 1995, and it was none too favorable. Speaking of 1995, check the "best by" date:

Shanghai Pale Ale

I can't find any info on this beer or its brewery, Gold Coast Brewing Company (Chambersburg, PA). However, the label does provide a nice primer on what it means to be "Shanghai'd".

Weinhard's Boar's Head Red Lager

Judging from reviews, this beer was still in grocery stores as recently as 2007. However, the Weinhard name goes back to 1856(!) in Portland, OR. In the 1990s, it was owned by G. Heileman, which was bought by Stroh's in 1997, which sold Weinhard to Miller in 1999, who promptly shut the brewery down. However, the Weinhard brand is still contract brewed to 'meh' reviews by Full Sail in Hood River, Oregon. Got all that?

I found the commercial description humorous: "This beer doesn’t have too strong tastes of red beers, so it is recommended for red beer beginners"

Spanish Peaks Black Dog and Sweetwater Wheat Ales

When I first saw these labels, they looked vaguely familiar. So did the "No Whiners" catchphrase. Turns out they still exist, though the "Spanish Peaks" name is no longer prominent:

Look familiar? It's available in Kansas and Missouri, but I can't remember ever having one. Anyway, it appears the original brewery in Montana no longer exists, and the beer is contract brewed in various locations.

Cherryland Golden Rail

Couldn't find much of anything on Cherryland Brewing, Ltd. other than it is closed and used to be in Sturgeon Bay, WI. There hasn't been a review of this beer since 2003, though it appeared to pleasantly surprise a few people.

Red Brick Golden Lager

Though the lager has been retired, the name has not: Atlanta Brewing Company renamed itself Red Brick Brewing and is still alive and kicking.

Texas Cowboy Amber

Yeah, I'm pretty well stumped here, though there was one rating on Beer Advocate that suggests it may have been brewed by Pabst at one time. I can't imagine ever in my life choosing to purchase this beer with this label.

Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale

Now things are looking familiar. Buffalo Bill's is located in Hayward, CA (near Oakland) and has been producing pumpkin ale (billed as the first of its kind) since 1985. You can still find their beers around town today, and it appears they are producing an Imperial Pumpkin Ale this year. No word on whether it will be available locally.

Harpoon Octoberfest

Harpoon is certainly the most successful and renowned of the breweries represented in my uncle's old bottles. They're ranked as the 10th largest craft brewery in the US, just behind our friends at Boulevard. Though Harpoon opened in 1986 (3 years before Boulevard), their growth in territory, volume, and adventurous beers has been strikingly similar (it must be noted, however, that Harpoon hasn't made it here yet while Boulevard just started distributing to Massachusetts last month).

Here's a photo of the neck label:

I find it very cool that they still, some 17 years later, have this same celebration on the same weekend.

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