The following has absolutely no connection with family history. If that’s why you’re on the train, come back next Monday.
I love beer. Adore it, in fact. Nectar of the gods and all that.
There have been beer-related posts here before; and there are likely to be more in the future.
In fact, here comes one now …
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For this past Monday’s post, I found myself looking at pictures of my parents’ rehearsal dinner, held in July 1967 at my grandparents’ house in Stamford, Connecticut.
Many of my dad’s fraternity brothers attended. So it’s no great surprise that beer mugs, cans and bottles are visible in the pictures.
I decided it would be an interesting historical expedition to try to figure out exactly what my grandparents chose to serve on their big occasion.
(I assume my grandparents, as gracious hosts of the party, supplied the beer, and that it was not brought by the fratboys. I am sure my grandparents would have wanted to make sure everyone was happy.)
And what did the hosts with the most offer their guests? For the most part, they served a brand still familiar today:
But Miller High Life wasn’t the only brew there … and that’s where things get historically interesting.
My dad and his buddies might not have realized it at the time, but they were on the bleeding edge of a massive development: Light beer.
Just two weeks before the rehearsal dinner, Time magazine ran a story about how Rheingold, the venerable New York brewery, had purchased a Swiss chemist’s formula for making carbohydrate-free beer.
As of July ’67, the beer had just been rolled out, and was being pushed in the Tri-State Area by a “saturation advertising campaign,” the magazine noted. Perhaps it was that selfsame ad campaign that inspired my grandparents — or somebody — to pick up a sixer of Gablinger’s for the big party.
(The development of lower-carbohydrate beer is also commonly credited to a biochemist named Joseph Owades. Perhaps Dr. Owades, who worked for Rheingold, took the Swiss chemist’s formula and adapted it for Rheingold’s use.)
Gablinger’s print ads stressed that the beer was made the same way as any other brew — except with a mysterious “extra step” that removed carbs, making Gablinger’s a beer that “wouldn’t fill you up.”
Other ads, more directly aimed at weight-watchers, described Gablinger’s as a “diet beer” with fewer calories than skim milk.
Neither pitch connected with the frothing mass of America’s beer drinkers.
Perhaps those people felt that drinking “diet beer” was tantamount to an admission of being overweight. Perhaps, if they were slimming down, they simply chose to cut out beer altogether. Or, perhaps the pale golden brew simply didn’t deliver enough beer flavor and body to win over drinkers.
Whatever the reason, Gablinger’s was a failure, and Rheingold went out of business as an independent brewery less than a decade after the “diet beer” was introduced.
It was Miller — that other brand at my folks’ wedding reception — that finally hit paydirt years later with light beer, using a humorous, jock-filled series of TV ads that emphasized the tastes-great, less-filling angle while playing down the “diet” pitch.
(Using athletes was an ingenious way to connect with diet-shy drinkers: “That’s Mickey Mantle! He can’t be fat; he’s Mickey Mantle. Hence, Miller Lite must not make you fat.”)
And today, light (or “lite”) beer is inescapable. There will be countless rehearsal dinners across America this summer where the participants quench their thirst with Bud, Miller or Coors Light.
Personally, I’d rather have a Sam Adams … or, in a pinch, a Miller High Life.