Archive for the ‘beer’ Category

A little thematic music.


This is the 167th post I’ve written for this blog. And after two-plus years of writing about grandchildren, cookies and retirement, I finally get to write about some debauchery.

Well, some very well-mannered and proper debauchery. But debauchery nonetheless, by Hope Street’s buttoned-down standards.

So slip your flask in your side pocket, travel back to the end of the Summer of Love, and get ready to kick out the jams …

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The story starts with my dad’s lifelong best friend, Louie Chiappetta.

(Faithful readers will remember Louie playing with my dad’s college band, Oedipus and the Mothers, in this earlier post, and — appropriately enough — drinking beer in this one. He’s known my dad since junior high and is still putting up with him today.)

Less than two months after my parents got married, Louie and his bride, Kathy, also tied the knot in Stamford.

Louie was such a close friend of the Blumenau family that my grandparents and great-grandma got invited to the wedding, along with my mom and dad.

And there was no question that everyone would attend. It was on the calendar, after all:

September 16, 1967.

September 16, 1967. The Yankees are three-hit by Sudden Sam McDowell.

Everything went fine until the wedding party and guests arrived at the San Souci for the reception. There, they were greeted with one of those pieces of mood-harshing news that isn’t supposed to happen on a wedding day: The reception hall chosen by the newlyweds had been double-booked and was still in use by another couple.

The managers of the San Souci, no doubt sweating furiously under their business suits, made the Chiappettas an offer they couldn’t refuse:

If the stranded wedding party and guests would be willing to wait in another, smaller room for a while, they could have all the free booze and hors d’oeuvres they could hold down. The Chiappettas and guests could move into the main room as soon as it was empty and clean.

(“As I recall this was at least an hour and a half, maybe pushing two hours,” my dad recalls.)

By my dad’s telling, the parents of the groom were understandably displeased by this snafu on their son’s special day. They quietly urged the guests to load up at the San Souci’s expense.

Many of them — including my grandpa — gladly complied.

And at the peak of the celebration, with a strolling Italian wedding band with clarinet and accordion working the room, my dad saw something he had never seen and would not see again:

My grandfather, feeling no pain, twirl-dancing with one arm around my grandma and the other around a support post in the middle of the room.

“This was the only time I ever saw your grandfather even remotely under the influence, and he was a very happy and sociable drunk,” my dad says.

It was, according to my dad, completely in keeping with the event. Nobody got pushy or obnoxious or loud on the San Souci’s booze; everyone was loose and friendly and having a good time in their own way.

By the time the formal dinner rolled around, my grandpa had sobered up, and probably felt no ill effects the next morning.

“All things considered, it was quite a successful wedding …” (my dad again) “… everyone was quite happy, there were no problems, and the establishment provided a reasonable solution to an untenable situation (double-booking weddings).”

Louie and Kathy’s wedding day worked out fine in the long run. The guests had a good time; the San Souci paid for its mistake; and the newlyweds are still married all these years later.

I wish I could have been there. It sounds like a swingin’ time.


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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:

My dad-to-be with the Champagne of Beers.

My dad-to-be with the Champagne of Beers. Is there a sweeter sight than a nearly-full mug of beer?


Not sure whether the cans pictured are flipped upside-down because they’re empty, or whether it was the Thing to Do to open them upside-down. (If you’re using a church key, you can go either way, no?)

But Miller High Life wasn’t the only brew there … and that’s where things get historically interesting.

The can in my dad's hand is probably a Miller, though it looks vaguely Schlitzy. But more importantly, what's that brown can -- Gabl-something?

The can in my dad’s hand is probably a Miller, though it looks vaguely Schlitzy. But more importantly, what’s that brown can — Gabl-something?

Another brown can in the hand of my dad's best man, Louie Chiappetta. Looks like we can complete the name: Gablinger's.

Another brown can in the hand of my dad’s best man, Louie Chiappetta. Looks like we can complete the name: Gablinger’s.

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.

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This post has nothing whatsoever to do with my grandfather or his calendars. It’s just a semi-historical personal musing I’m posting here because it won’t leave me alone, but I have no other place to put it. If you choose to skip it, the next regular calendar-based entry will be along on Monday.

Time is a remarkable intoxicant. Given enough of it, the stuff of long-ago loathing becomes the stuff of warmth and nostalgia.

Take Genesee beer. Growing up in Rochester, N.Y., I understood from an early age that the local beer was commonly presupposed to be horse piss.

That isn’t my own assessment, either. Two well-traveled witticisms of my youth, familiar to any native Rochesterian, both likened Genesee Brewing product to equine waste.

There was the hoary old joke about the guy who sent a sample of Genny to a lab for analysis and was told, “I’m sorry, sir. Your horse has diabetes.” Meanwhile, critics of Genny’s 12 Horse Ale brand never failed to ask how they got all 12 horses lined up above the bottle.

In my own house, my dad rarely drank Genny products aside for an occasional acceptance of Genesee Cream Ale,  probably the brewery’s most fondly regarded product in the court of public opinion.

(I remember going to a Rochester Red Wings game with my dad when I was 10 or 11 years old. He bought a cup of Genny at the ballpark, and commented on the way home that it was high time the ballpark beer stand cleaned out its tap lines. This led to a discussion that created my first understanding of how draft beer differed from bottles or cans. My dad never got around to telling me about the birds and bees, but he covered the stuff that really mattered, and for that I am grateful.)

Summer 1972. My dad playing piano on a gig, enjoying the local brew.

In the ’70s and ’80s, before the microbrew revolution, Canadian beer was considered as good as you could get unless you really wanted to dig for fancy foreign stuff. So, when my dad felt like stepping up from Old Milwaukee, he would get something like Molson. But the products of the hometown brewery were not commonly on his menu.

The pro-import, anti-Genny bias was reflected and codified around 1990, when my high school garage band recorded a song about beer. The lyricist shall go unnamed, but he looked a lot like me:

Molson tastes
Sweet as a kiss
But Genny Cream
Tastes just like piss.

I liked my hometown more than I liked its beer, in those days. (Even when I was a high-schooler, illicitly buying beer with my lawn-mowing money, it was understood among my group of friends that Genesee was not worth bothering with. We drank Piels. God knows why.)

The suburbs of Rochester were a nice comfortable place to grow up. But I had the not uncommon desire to get out of them and see something more of the world. So I made a point of applying to colleges that were out of state; had the good fortune to choose a school in one of America’s great cities; and embraced that area for a number of years.

Somewhere along the line, though, I began to look back on Rochester with increasingly greater fondness.

I have always steered clear of flash and glamor; and Rochester, a ragged notch in the Rust Belt, is a little bit unglamorous the way a Ferrari Testarossa is a little bit red.

I have always liked underdogs, too … and Rochester is nothing if not an underdog, cold and gray and out-of-the-way, a place where few visit and still fewer stay.

Rochester’s brutal weather was a badge of honor in the outside world. As a native of western New York, I inherited a Get Out of Snowstorms Free card, or at least a right to scoff as I watched other drivers fishtail hopelessly onto people’s lawns.

And my geographic upbringing came with an accent. Or so I was told by people from Manhasset and Natick and Bethlehem, who detected in my voice some mysterious thread that they traced everywhere from Chicago to Toronto — but never to its true wellspring. (The “Rochester accent,” marked by pinched nasal Midwestern “a” sounds, really does exist; but I am ill-positioned to diagnose its presence in my own speech.)

Genesee ad from a Rochester Red Wings program, summer 1982.

It appears that, 20 years after I ditched Rochester for Boston, nostalgia has come to an unexpected turn: I have embraced Genesee beer.

A few weeks ago, the Genesee Brewery — which has battled through declining sales and changes in corporate ownership — rolled out a “Heritage Collection” case.

It features eight bottles of classic Genesee beer; eight bottles of Genny Cream (more than enough to give one the “Genny Screamers“); and eight bottles of newly reintroduced 12 Horse Ale. And, in a really cool touch, the beers come in old-school rotund “stubby” bottles with labels straight out of 1980.

Yes, the historian in me was charmed by the idea of drinking a beer that some janitor at Kodak might have hoisted 30 years ago.

Yes, I bought a Genesee Heritage Collection case. And yes, I am enjoying it.

Years ago I adopted the term “beer soda” to describe yellow beer that is characterless and not actively offensive (I happened to be drinking this stuff at the time.) And Genesee beer, no matter which brand, is beer soda in excelsis.

Drinking Genny is like watching “Kojak” or listening to the Stones’ “Black and Blue” album, both longtime lowbrow favorites of mine.

As I drink Genny Cream or 12 Horse, I am nagged by the thought that I should be consuming something more critically approved — in much the same sense that I could be watching something more nuanced than Telly Savalas, or listening to something more substantial than “Hot Stuff.”

But I don’t care. My body is no temple; my time is not precious; and I’ll wallow in lowest-common-denominator if I damn please, especially if it’s a roots move.

Maybe I’ll think I was foolish ten years from now for buying Genesee products. But for now, each stubby beer-grenade reminds me a little bit of Rochester, and of a place and time when life was free and limitless, and good things were waiting to break open — even though Genesee beer was almost totally absent from that actual period in time.

A community gets the beer it deserves, I suppose. And so do its expatriates, scattered to the four winds with their memories, susceptible to nostalgia and well-crafted illusion.

How do you suppose they get twelve horses over the bottle, anyway?

November 2011. What, me worry?

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