Rheingold’s return is for the birds

30 Aug

NEW YORK — When I was a kid out on post-WWII Long Island, my next-door neighbor, a jolly, beefy Irishman named Marty, made a living driving a delivery truck for the Rheingold brewery.

I remember a lot of things about Marty — how he’d sneakily help me with my mowing chores by taking care of part of our lawn with his power-mower while I was sweating over the hand-push device on the other side of the house; how he never was too tired to chat with a kid even after a hard day manhandling heavy kegs of beer; how he got the humor when I tossed my stepfather’s empty Budweiser cans over the hedge onto his lawn when he was hosting a barbecue with family.

But, I also remember one thing he hated was pigeons. Those big fat, city pigeons that made some of the loading docks and stone doorways he had to navigate in the course of his rounds slippery with their never-ending streams of guano.

Imagine, then, his reaction had he lived to see this day. The revived incarnation of Rheingold has designated the New York Pigeon the face of its product.

The original Rheingold was founded in 1883, and quickly caught on. It was New York City’s top-selling beer and had more than one-third of the state beer market in the 1950s, when Marty was delivering it from the brewery in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. Everyone knew the words to its theme song (“My beer is Rheingold, the dry beer …”), voted in the annual Miss Rheingold contest, and collected various Rheingold paraphernalia. It was the first beer to prominently feature people other than mainstream Caucasians in its ads — mixing Nat “King” Cole with John Wayne, Jackie Robinson and the ethnic rainbow of the New York Mets.

Despite its regional popularity, Rheingold couldn’t match the marketing power of the national giants, and closed its last facility in 1976. The label was revived in 1998 when rights were purchased by a partnership called Mitaro’s Rheingold Brewing Company LLC. It then was purchased in 2005 by a company called Drinks Americas, which has such pop brands as Trump Vodka and Dr. Dre Cognac.

In an effort to really emphasize their re-formulated beer’s city roots, the Drinks Americas people are branding it with both a pigeon and the subtitle “the New York beer” rather than the old “the dry beer” wording. Whatever the reason, and perhaps only in Marty’s memory, I call bullshit on the decision. Just saying.

Here’s a look at one of the old black-and-white TV commercials for the original Rheingold:

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Posted by on August 30, 2010 in Brewery, Marketing, NYC


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