June 3, 2011

Session #52: Beer Collectibles & Breweriana

It's Beer Blogger Friday and we pick things up with the Session #52: Beer Collectibles & Breweriana. This month's Session is hosted by Brian Stechschulte at All Over Beer. Brian asks that we write about:
...the material that plays a supporting role. Bottles, coasters, cans, labels, ads, tap handles, church keys, hats, t-shirts, tip trays, glassware and signs have been collected by fanatics ever since beer has been sold. These objects constitute the world of breweriana, a term that surfaced in 1972 to define any item displaying a brewery or brand name. 
Milwaukee Macro Beer c1950

I no longer have any formal collections that I actively curate such as beer cans or LP records. These items have been donated as community property to a Northern Arizona vacation garage bar that I am graciously allowed to frequent.

Things still seem to come my way and stay.

I seem to gravitate toward brewery items that are functional and still retain sentimental or historical value.

Since I grew up in Milwaukee, many of the items reflect big beer in an era before craft or even quality imports. These vintage shorty tappers dispense homebrew now, but they fondly recall an era in Milwaukee that I barely caught the tail end of. The beers have changed considerably over my lifetime, Gettelman had sold to Miller before I was born and although someone retains the rights to the name, it's no longer in production. Schlitz, Blatz and Pabst are all contract brewed. There hasn't been a brewery in Milwaukee for any of these products in years. Pabst has moved from San Antonio, to Chicago and now soon to Los Angeles.

If I can bring this back to a local focus, I have two items that have relevance to the valley from the defunct Rio Salado Brewing Company. Rio Salado started sometime in 1998 and was notable for featuring craft lagers-- something that you don't typically see with any regularity in craft breweries even today. It was a favorite brewery of mine for the beers and because of the homey tasting room. I've even patterned my own homebrew logo with some color and elements that borrow from Rio Salado.

Rio influenced homebrew logo
Several years after the brewery closed in 2005, I happened to be in the basement tasting room at Sun Devil Liquors looking through the bottle case. I noticed several bottles had fallen to the floor and had become wedged against the cooler wall and the bottom shelf. Among the recovered bottles was 4 Rio Salado Kolsch Ales.

The last full bottle of Rio Salado???

Coincidently, the shift bartender that day was Kat Scropos, a former Rio employee. We cracked open the 3 year old ale and it was apparent that time had not been kind. Just a touch of tartness, yet still drinkable. I bought the other three and have had one every year as some sort of ritual to keep the old brewery alive. I'm down to the last and I haven't decided what to do.

Rio Keg: Keggle? Maibock? Dunno.

Also in limbo is a fully functional Rio Salado Sankey keg with the brewery name spray painted on the side. I picked it up a few years ago with the intention of making use of it either as a homebrew boiler or tun or perhaps even re-connecting with Rio's Tim Gossack and getting his Maibock recipe to fill it.

So how do these items relate to the actual drinking of beer, the central point of all of this? I think they bear reminders of the humility of the process of brewing beer. Each of these breweries made award-winning and well regarded beers. All brewing is compromise. Sometimes that changes the beer for better or worse. Brewers like to think that the flavor of the beer is the bottom line, but I would argue that one has to consider all aspects of beer enjoyment to have a truly great product that sees longevity. These items remind me that every beer has a story and I like to think about the entire process when I try a new beer or an old favorite.

From @DesertSailBrew:

 From @FooBrew

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