Bock Is Back

Today is the March 2017 edition of The Session.  Jon Abernathy of The Brew Site is hosting it. I decided to post an excerpt from Brewing Battles.

Figure 13: Photo courtesy Modern Brewery Age.










Modern Brewery and its contributors advocated bock beer ad campaigns as one response to the need for advertising which reflected this new social environment. Bock beer originated in Bavaria as a special brew for Easter. Brewmasters roast the malt, producing a darker, brown beer richer in flavor than lager. Because bock means male goat in German, the billy goat became the symbol for the drink.[1]

On the eve of Repeal, Modern Brewery was looking forward to “the first Bock Beer Time in 15 years.” By March of 1935, brewers had almost two years of legal production under their belt, and advertising continued as a prime issue of concern. Modern Brewery advocated cooperative advertising as a strategy for increasing beer sales. The USBA had developed a “Bock Beer” advertising program which the journal supported, stating that “Bock Beer Season affords a splendid opportunity for brewers to get together to stabilize prices and to start thinking in terms of profits and dividends instead of large volume sales. After all, the purposes of operating a brewery are first to brew a good beer and second to make money.”[2]

The USBA felt that a bock beer campaign would increase sales in both the short and long term. “Historically Bock has been a beer on which brewers made money because they met a natural demand.” The proposed ad copy stressed the optimism and frivolity of spring which apparently was the essence of beer, particularly bock.[3]

Looking forward to the future of the renewed brewing industry, leaders continued to stress the issue of public relations and their proposed solution of “cooperative advertising.” In 1938, Herbert Barclay used the example of the “allied trades” to point the way. “The glass bottle, copper and brass products, wooden barrel, steel barrel and other industries . . . have shown how such programs can be developed and operated successfully.”[4]

In promoting bock beer advertising campaigns, the editors of Modern Brewer and the USBA were seeking cooperation on several levels. Brewers would have to agree to produce bock beer for distribution at the same time. In 1936, they apparently failed since Modern Brewery noted that “Brewers in New England, New York, Chicago, and other places have been selling Bock Beer ignoring the agreed dates. This is a serious fumble and ruins any effort at cooperative action.”[5]

Modern Brewer could not overemphasize the importance of establishing a specific “Bock Beer Day.” According to the journal, the day “opens the beer season. It should be a festival time, the welcoming of spring.” The impetus for the work required by sales executives and advertising men was that the day would “increase beer sales, not just for the short Bock Beer Season, but … through out the year.” Apparently the task of promoting bock beer was an easy one because “connected with Bock Beer are ancient legends, traditions and folklore-tales that many Americans have never heard-presenting an unexplored mine of material . . . .”[6]

The editors felt that setting a specific date to begin the season was imperative. “On that day, every Bock Beer campaign should break — break like the first crash of thunder announcing the awakening of Spring! Festivals and displays should be timed to start with and follow the opening blast.” The possibilities for events and advertising were limitless and included potential nationwide Billy Goat contests which would culminate in the crowning of “King Bock.” New York City held such a contest in 1936 and was the model for this proposal.[7]

Modern Brewer had suggestions for other products to help with sales in the winter months. English style dark beer was the answer. In 1933 British brewers had undertaken an advertising campaign linking heavier darker beer with winter. This resulted in an increase in sales over seven per cent. There was precedent for American brewers initiating a similar campaign. In 1914 brewers produced 9,200,000 barrels of dark beer in America. Since estimates for 1936 indicated that production of dark beer would be a little over one million barrels, Modern Brewer presented this as another challenge. “Salesmen, advertising men … Is it in your power to regain 8,000,000 barrels of dark beer sales? Can you … in the period starting with the first of November and ending the thirtieth of April 1937?” Modern Brewer had the whole year covered.[8]

Modern Brewer persisted in presenting bock beer as the ideal brewery promotion. In 1937 the journal detailed a campaign undertaken by New Jersey brewers to hold a “Bock Beer festival” in early March. The plans for the festival were apparently very elaborate since the New Jersey Brewers Association had a “16 foot float . . . (with) a full-sized keg from which runs a spillway and down this appears to be a constantly flowing stream of Bock Beer. The base of the float is elaborately decorated with an arrangement of Spring flowers.” The plans also included a Goat show in Newark.[9]

Once again, not all brewers were as supportive of the endeavor as Modern Brewer. Apparently some brewers jumped the gun, and placed bock beer on the market in February. This action indicated that they were ignorant of the fact that “Bock Beer was still the harbinger of Spring, the ancient votive offering to the Goddess of Plenty, the brew that more than 400 years ago in the city of Einbeck was christened “Bock Beer.”[10]

In 1939 Modern Brewer reiterated that the promotional campaign was supposed to “sell the retailer and the public on Bock Beer as the traditional spring drink-and you don’t drink a spring drink in the middle of February.” Because every year was different, the journal proposed that “Bock Beer Day should be set for a definite day in the middle week of the month of March. It should be the same day every year and it should have the backing of every brewer’s association in the country.”[11]

Brewers in the greater New York City area apparently agreed and in February of 1939 announced plans for a joint campaign for bock beer. The proposed copy would run in all New York and New Jersey papers for ten weeks. At the same time the United Brewers Industrial Foundation planned a national campaign that would emphasize the “economic value” of beer.[12]

The type of ad campaigns and promotions Modern Brewer and brewing trade organizations advocated were simultaneously old-fashioned and modern. Their fascination with the Germanic properties of bock beer spoke to a disregard or denial of the problematic nature of associating beer and Germans. The campaign’s emphasis on the craft aspects of distinct beers ignored the standardization occurring due to mass shipping, national markets, canned beer, and the increase of off-premises sales. Not until the late twentieth century, with the revival of craft brewing and an increased interest in home brewing, would bock beer and other specialties once again became a focal point for brewers.

[1] Modern Brewer, March 1933, 21; Downard, Dictionary, 25.

[2] Modern Brewer, March 1935, 19, 37.

[3] Ibid..

[4] Modern Brewer, January 1936, 32.

[5] Modern Brewer, February 1936, 19.

[6] Modern Brewer, December 1936, 18.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Modern Brewer, December 1936, 19.

[9] Modern Brewer, March 1937, 31.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Modern Brewer, February 1939, 18.

[12] “Bock Beer Bungs Pop Officially March 13,” New York Times, February 9, 1939, 32.


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