Saturday, June 23, 2007

The End of an Era?

We visited a local downtown tavern, the Shamrock Pub, last weekend for the express purpose of enjoying some of their Utica Club on draught. It was fresh, and very good for what it was; a crisp, refreshing, light yellow lager with a bit more flavour than the adjoining Bud or Busch taps could ever hope to offer. The only reason it is offered is that the owner is a nostalgic sort. He once spent nearly forty five minutes trying to show us that his 50's era Budweiser tavern lamps were still in working order (they weren't, at least on that occasion). He came in after we had been there awhile, and was noticeably beaming when he saw that we were enjoying the beer he had made an extra effort to make available to his customers. He said that U.C. is difficult to get, and he has to pay the same as he does for a keg of Budweiser, meaning he has to charge $2 a pint. It is difficult to get people to drink it anyway, even among the 50 and over set that tends to frequent the place and should gravitate toward a beer that was so popular in their youth.

Utica is only about an hour from here, but finding an opportunity to "join the club" is a rare thing, to say the least. Saranac products made by the same brewer, F.X. Matt, in the same facility, are not uncommon, but the Shamrock is the only place we can think of that offers draught Utica Club. Bomber's Burrito Bar in Albany used to offer it among their dozen or so taps, but has recently switched to offering it in cans only. Slick's Tavern ("Famous for sandwiches since 1974") used to offer Matt's, the "premium" cousin to U.C., as one of their two draught options until a couple of years ago when, according to Slick's owner Mike Naumoff, it became impossible for him to get when his distributor dropped Matt's from their portfolio of beers. Not one to give up so easily, Naumoff offered to drive the 70 miles to Utica and pick up the kegs himself. He was given a long, convoluted explanation as to why this could not be allowed. It involved, among other things, state liquor laws, the three tiered distribution system, global warming and the fall of Communist Russia. He relented, and switched to Rheingold. Then Molson Export. Pabst Blue Ribbon currently occupies the "economy" tap at Slick's. Regulars have adapted, but another small piece of our heritage crumbled that day.

We were thinking of the plight of Utica Club and Matt's as we read this story on the demise of another popular beer of that era, Schaefer. "The one beer to have when you're having more than one" was founded in Brooklyn in 1842, and was for a time the most popular draught beer in the country. At it's height, it was brewed in Broolyn, Baltimore, Cleveland and Albany. The brand has stumbled in recent years, first being brewed by Stroh's, then Pabst, and now Miller, and largely becoming an afterthought. Any day now, the last draught's of Schaeffer will be served up in the Northeast. It will still be brewed by Miller and available in cans, but it won't be the same. Maybe it hasn't been the same for years. Still, something makes us want to go out and enjoy a couple pints of that Utica Club while we still can.

No comments: