Tag Archives: Beer

Saint Patrick’s Day

The first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City took place in 1766, and was organized by the Irish members of two British Regiments that were stationed there, organizing themselves into The Society of the Friendly Brothers of St. Patrick.

Their observances included military men and civilians, who would toast the King (of England, damn it!), as well as the prosperity of Ireland — at least until the American Revolution started.

As the Irish population grew in New York, the celebrations spread to various parts of the city, and yes, to bars and taverns. The “Marching Tradition” took hold when different Catholic parishes around the city organized processions from their churches to the original Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, which was downtown on Mott Street.

Interestingly, the old cathedral was once attacked by Know-Nothing nativists, which led to a number of riots and other physical exchanges. Part of what led to the friction was a book supposedly written by a young, mentally challenged woman (I’m not making this up), who had converted to Catholicism and purportedly was forced by nuns to have sex with priests for the purpose of providing newborns for some kind of bizarre sacrificial ritual.

Like the Know-Nothings of today, no evidence was required for believing these ranting, leaving them to conclude that the only logical course was to attack the cathedral. They didn’t reckon that the parish fathers might resist, which they did — firing their muskets through holes hastily cut through the church’s outer walls. To keep a watchful eye on the premises, soon afterward the Ancient Order of Hibernians set up headquarters across the street.

It was the Hibernians who In 1891 laid out the parade route that’s still followed, which runs up Fifth Avenue to Central Park, and passed in front of the new St. Patrick’s cathedral in midtown.

Even though there are no floats, autos or exhibits, over 150,000 people march. That would be like lining up every man, woman and child in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and marching them a couple of miles — many in bizarre costumes, some playing archaic musical instruments while others dance. To top it off: they get it done in about six hours.

I’ve gone to the parade before, but usually watched for only a little while because I was supposed to be doing something else — like working.

This year, I decided to make a special trip and bring the camera. The scale of the parade really is astonishing, and it’s amazing that it goes on while all other business in New York proceeds with little disruption.

This year it was very cold, and despite some shivering, I managed to get some interesting shots of the marchers, and a few of the LGBT protestors.

The parade allows no political groups to march, so in effect they ban any group that isn’t concerned in some way with Irish Heritage. I’m not sure they’ll ever change these rules (as the Irish are known for being a bit stubborn), but it is ironic that the parade has become as much a platform for dialog over inclusion, as it is for being a fine way of displaying one’s Irishness.

Here’s the slide show:

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Everything Reminds me of Something Else

I included a picture of New York City landmark bar, P.J. Clarks. Part of my plan was to stop in on my way home for a Pint of Guinness, which would be keeping with a tradition of at least having a pint of Guinness (but not necessarily at P.J. Clark’s).

Alas, the bar was packed to the rafters with similarly minded revelers and I just wasn’t in the mood for fighting my way to the bar. Instead I partook at another pub over on First Avenue, which I would not have done had I known that it would be served to me in a plastic cup.

A beautiful Pint

A beautiful Pint

Guinness Stout is never to be served in a plastic cup, but if there is one day above all others when it should not be, that day is St. Patrick’s day — and they charged me eight bucks, too, which really got my Irish up (which believe me, is none too fearsome).

Did you know that a true vegetarian will not drink Guinness Stout, no matter what kind of glass it’s in? It’s true.

When brewing beer, there’s a process called fining where unwanted solids are removed. To quicken the process, certain agents which are called finings are added to the brew (it’s done in making wine, too), which absorb these solids and are then filtered out of the final product.

I’ve written before how a recipe change can sink you in the brewing business, and this is especially true of a product like Guinness that has a near mythical aura surrounding it. Wisely, the brewers of the product are in no rush to make any changes, so they’ve been making it pretty much the same way since 1759.

The fining Guinness uses in its beer is called isinglass, which is made from dried swim bladder, which is an internal fish organ that helps the creature regulate its buoyancy in water. As a result, a really, really dedicated vegetarian will avoid drinking Guinness Stout.

It hasn’t kept me from having a Guinness from time to time (alright, probably a bit more often than from time to time), but I’m not a vegetarian. I try not to think about the isinglass, as its image wants to crowd out the normal, pleasant evocations brought forth by the black, white-foamed brew, and dampen them with disagreeable memories of cutting bait.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Joe

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Shaefer Beer

There was a joke that used to go something like this: What kind of beer did the Doctor recommend to the woman who was going to have twins? Answer: Schaefer, because it’s the one beer to have when you’re having more than one.

If you’re of a certain age and lived in the New York Metropolitan area, you remember this little bit of advice because it was oft repeated in highly polished ads like this:

In the nineteen sixties and early seventies, it was the rare New York bar, deli or restaurant that didn’t display a neon Schaefer sign. They promoted on television and magazines, using movie stars and celebrities. Schaefer sponsored the Brooklyn Dodgers before they left the borough, and there was even a Schaefer pavilion at the World’s Fair in 1964.

What happened to it?

Schaefer History

Brothers Frederick and Maximilian Schaefer started brewing in Manhattan in 1842. They started small, but stepped it up when they moved to what was then considered the “sticks:” Fifty-first Street and Park Avenue. In 1915, Maximilian’s son, Rudolf, realized they were sitting on a real estate fortune and sold the property — part of which was to Saint Bartholomew’s Church, which is still there and became the focus of a high profile, potential real estate deal and ensuing controversy.

Schaefer built a new brewery in Brooklyn, but the passage of Prohibition in 1920 put a crimp in their plans. They kept the brewery running, producing “near beer,” and some other stuff like dyes and artificial ice — the latter being cited in most research articles about Schaefer, though how can you have artificial ice is? Isn’t all ice, ice?

When Rudolph passed away in 1923, control of the company passed to his sons, with Rudolph Jr., eventually becoming president. When Prohibition was repealed on April 7, 1933, he had already launched an extensive advertising campaign that solidified the company’s dominance in the New York market.

By 1944, they were selling over 2,000,000 barrels of beer annually, which at the time was unheard of. Beginning in 1950, they expanded out of their home market with mixed results, but their most dramatic move was in 1971, when they built a ultra-modern brewery just outside of Allentown, Pa.

It was so efficient, they no longer needed their other breweries, which they began shutting down. The most noteworthy closing came in January of 1976, when they announced the shuttering of their Brooklyn plant, which brought to a close a 134 year association with NY City.

It was this decision that really sealed the company’s fate. New Yorker beer drinkers — like most beer drinkers of their day — were loyal, but not to out-of-towners. With the geographical connection severed, there was no longer any reason for their allegiance.

At the same time, there were tectonic changes afoot in the beer industry. Large regionals like Schaefer and Rheingold (and Piels, Schmidt’s, Hamms, Old Style, Lone Star, Blatz, etc.) came under attack by the growing national brands like Budweiser, Schlitz and Miller. It was grow or die, and Schaefer was fading. In 1981, it was purchased by a large Midwest brewer, Stroh’s, who hoped that together they could achieve the critical mass necessary to compete. It wasn’t to be and in 1999, Stroh’s was purchased by Pabst.

Still Around

Since the demise of Schaefer and others like it, breweries continued to grow larger through acquisition and merger, with their tentacles extending around the globe. Even US behemoth Budweiser wasn’t too big to get absorbed into beer juggernaut, AB Inbev.

At the same time, craft brewing exploded. Practically everywhere you go, there’s a local brew pub that produces quality beer by the thousands — not millions — of barrels per year. It’s almost a throwback to the days when one of the joys of traveling in America was to sample the local brew.

Somewhere in the middle are the lost brands of yore. As it turns out, after purchasing Stroh’s, Pabst Brewing continued acquiring similar, regional breweries, and producing the beers with their original recipes.

Schaefer Coaster

Schaefer Coaster

Thanks to this company, a twelve-pack of Schaefer turned up in the cooler of my local liquor store, sporting its distinctive logo with the sprig of barely in silhouette in the background.

I made the purchase, noting that it was quite a bit less expensive than the heavily promoted national brands, and to a greater extent than the imports and pricier new domestic premiums like Sam Adams.

It had been a very long while since I’d last sampled this once iconic brew, but if my taste memory is still in tact (and I think it is), it seems to me that they got it about right.

Everything Reminds me of something Else

Orig_Jones_BeachThe Jones Beach Marine Theater opened in 1952, and was one of Robert Moses’s pet projects. It was unique because of the moat that separated the stage from the on-shore audience. This arrangement allowed for “in-water” performances, but made floor seating impossible and created a gigantic separation between stage and audience. The set-up was so impractical, actors and musicians were ferried by barge and dinghy to and from the stage.

It was conceived as a venue for musical plays, with music provided by Moses’s friend, Guy Lombardo and his orchestra. Guy was famous for his very square, televised New Year’s Eve celebrations, broadcast live from the Waldorf Astoria Ballroom. His final concert at Jones Beach was in 1977, and in the eighties, the theater evolved into the major Rock and Roll venue that it is today — newly branded The Nikon Jones Beach Theater.

I don’t recall what I’d gone to see, but it was a musical and Guy Lombardo was playing. This was in the early seventies, so the moat was still there. Even looking through youthful eyes, everything seemed too far away — I mean, the stage was on an island for Christ’s sake! But that was okay, because what I remember really looking forward to was going to the Schaefer beer tent after the show, which was set up for the expressed purpose of dancing and drinking beer — and I repeat: after the show.

What you have to understand about the Jones Beach Theater is that it is on a barrier beach, accessible by crossing narrow bridges that connect to the Long Island mainland. I suppose some people arrived by bus, but my guess is that most theater or concert goers arrived in private automobile, which they would have to drive home after throwing back a few in the tent, and perhaps doing a little dancing to burn it off.

I don’t have an independent memory of actually drinking a Schaefer beer in their famous tent. I remember it being there, but I think it was closed for some reason. It would have been okay for me to order one up, as the legal drinking age at the time was eighteen.

new Jones BeachThe Jones Beach Theater changed a lot over the years. Firstly, the moat was filled in and orchestra seating was added. Secondly, an upper level was added, bringing seating capacity to 15,000. Huge video screens flank both sides of the stage, which is good because there is still too much space between the original seating and the stage. If you’re planning to go, I recommend paying up and sitting where the moat once was.