Hamm’s In San Francisco

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A friend and regular reader sent me this old photograph of the Hamm’s brewery sign at night, taken in San Francisco around 1954, the year the Hamm’s Brewery opened. It’s a nighttime shot of the iconic Hamm’s sign on the roof of the brewery that was located at 1550 Bryant Street. When it was built, “it was the largest commercial sign on the West Coast.” The brewery closed in 1972, and sign taken down three years later, in 1975. According to Wikipedia, it was a “20-by-80 foot sign, with a 3-dimensional 13-foot beer chalice on top, [and] appeared in the first Dirty Harry film. In the early 1980s, the beer vats were first squatted and then rented out to punk rock bands. Known as “The Vats,” the brewery was a center of San Francisco punk rock culture with about 200 bands using individual vats as music studios. The building was renovated in the mid 1980s and converted into offices and showroom space.” In 2012, the Chronicle did a piece about the sign’s fate, What happened to the Hamm’s Brewery sign?, that included additional photos taken during the day, but the sign looks most impressive at night, and it was even animated, with neon rings of beer turning on and off in sequence, so the glass of beer looked like it was emptying and then filling up again.

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Talking About Hops & History In San Francisco

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Last Thursday, I helped the San Francisco Brewers Guild put together a fun event at the Old Mint with Flipside and the San Francisco Museum and Historical Society called Hops and History. My part during the event included being the moderator of a panel discussion about opening and running a brewery in the city of San Francisco.

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Shaun O’Sullivan (21st Amendment), Shaun’s son Ryan, Dave McLean (magnolia), Keith Greggor (Anchor) and me. Below is the audio of our discussion.

One of my favorite parts of the evening was a gallery showing of local breweriana, provided by my friend Ken Harootunian, along with some pieces from Anchor Brewing and some labels from SF Brewers Guild executive director Brian Stechschulte.

Below are a few highlights from the gallery:

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The gallery room.

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Acme Beer.

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Steam Beer wooden sign.

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More Acme Beer artifacts.

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The original artwork from a Lucky Lager ad.

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Items from Rainier, Lucky Lager and Regal Pale Beer.

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Lucky Lager. Ice Cold.

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An old, pre-Prohibition, wooden keg and taps from Anchor, along with some additional steam beer artifacts.

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Another Acme pin-up ad.

Next Session Explores Whether You Can Judge A Beer By Its Cover

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Our 55th Session takes a look at Label, Coaster and Cap Art. Our host, Curtis Taylor at Hop Head Said …, expounds on his topic Label, Coaster and Cap Art, and describes how to participate:

On September 2, bloggers from around the world will converge at HopHeadSaid to write about the fabulous world of beer art found on coasters, labels and caps. I am guessing that I am not so different from other beer enthusiasts – I like to collect beer labels, bottle caps and coasters. I think they are perfect souvenirs from beer travels or drinking sessions. Judging by the size of my collection you could say that I have had many enjoyable drinking sessions over the years!

Now it is time to dig through your stash and share your favorite label, coaster or cap art.

Posting Directions:

  1. Choose your favorite label, coaster or cap art.
  2. Scan, download or take a picture of your label, coaster or cap art.
  3. Write a paragraph that explains your affinity to your entry. Your explanation can be as shallow as or as deep as you want.
  4. If the brewery name or beer name is obscured be sure to label your entry to give credit where credit is due.
  5. Please limit your entries to commercial examples. Homebrew labels will be a topic for another session.
  6. Extra karma points will be awarded to those who write about two or more categories (label, coaster or cap art).
  7. Post your blog entry on or before Friday, September 2, 2001 and e-mail your link to curtis [at] hopheadsaid [dot] com.
  8. Alternate posting method: Post your picture and explanation on my HopHeadSaid Facebook page and I will copy your post to the “official” location.
  9. I will collect the entries throughout the day and post them on this page: The Session: Label, Coaster and Cap Art.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but what about a beer by its label, crown or coaster? Let us know what you think for the next Session on Friday, September 2.

Session #52: Collectibles & Breweriana

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Our 52nd Session is hosted by Brian Stechschulte, from All Over Beer. He’s chosen the topic Beer Collectibles & Breweriana, which he explains as follows:

I’ve decided not to focus on the substance of beer, but 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. The majority of highly prized objects are from the pre-prohibition era, but ephemera from every period in brewing history, including craft beer, finds a home with each beer drinking generation.

So what old or new beer related items do you collect and why? It’s that simple. This is your opportunity to share the treasured objects your wife or husband won’t let you display on the fireplace mantle. You don’t need to be a major collector like this guy to participate. In my mind, just a few items constitute a collection. Maybe you have mementos from a beer epiphany or road trips? You can focus on a whole collection or tell the story behind a single item.

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So breweriana. Collectibles. I have been plagued my entire life — my wife would say afflicted — with a desire to collect stuff. All kinds of stuff. Stuff as varied as my interests, which run fairly far afield and tend toward the arcane. There was a time when I scoured yards sales and flea markets on weekends, now I troll eBay. I love the hunt, especially when I don’t know what I’m looking for, just something that turns my eye.

People who’ve been to our home recently know that I have not exactly been cured, despite my wife’s best efforts over the past fifteen plus years. The problem is, I tend to imbue each object with meaning, its time and place of acquisition, how it fit into my life and the story it holds. Point to any object in my home — and I do mean any — and I can tell you the tale about how I came to acquire it, including when, why and where.

But I have actually scaled back those impulses significantly and with every move and spring cleaning, I shed more and more of what can best be termed useless possessions. Objets d’art, I would say. Junk is what most people would counter. Ah, well, as the saying goes: “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

That doesn’t mean I’ve lost my obsessions, quite the opposite in fact. I just try and pick more carefully these days. Between work and family, there’s far less time than when I was younger. As for breweriana, I’m not nearly as obsessed with it as some of my other hobbies. But I do have a box of coasters, another box of labels, a handful of cans and bottles along with a number of more unique items. I also have a number of Reading Brewery pieces, because I grew up just outside of Reading, Pennsylvania, and I love their logo. For a time before I was married, I also collected globes, mostly desktop globes but I also had a few larger ones, too. That led me to start picking up some old Schlitz stuff from the time when they used the globe logo.

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For that reason I have more Schlitz breweriana than any other individual brand, though not as much as I once had. I still have a few lighted signs, a couple of bottles and an old label. But the crown jewel, and one of my favorite pieces of breweriana of all-time is this golden Schlitz statue of a woman holding up a stained-glass-like globe. Both the globe and the base lights up. It stands nearly four feet high, around 45 inches. I bought it at a yard sale in San Jose, when I lived there twenty or so years ago. I’d like to say that was the end of the story, but it’s not. See below the statue to learn its ultimate fate.

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As I said, I’d like to say that was the end of the story, and that it happily and proudly sits in my office today, but unfortunately that’s not what happened to it. It was not, sad to say, universally beloved and when my wife Sarah and I first moved in together after our engagement, it held an uneasy place in our new home, a bit like the wagon wheel table in the film When Harry Met Sally. So when I became the beer buyer at Beverages & more, it seemed like the right decision to decorate my office there with the Schlitz statue. And for several years it stood like a beacon on top of the small refrigerator in my office there where I kept samples.

Then one day I had a meeting with my sales rep. from Spaten USA, whose name I’ll omit to spare him any embarrassment. He was not of an inconsequential size, and for some reason while sitting in his chair, kept rocking back so the front legs were off the ground. Nervous energy, I suppose. But at one point while leaning back, he lost his balance and fell to the ground. The chair fell back, knocking into the refrigerator, setting off a chain reaction of falling objects that ended with the Schlitz lamp on the ground with the globe on top smashed into a million tiny shards of plastic. He offered to replace it, but I honestly didn’t even know how since at the time it not exactly something you could go into a store and buy. And so that was the end of my favorite piece of breweriana I’ve ever owned. Every now and again, I see one come up for auction on eBay and often fetches hundreds of dollars. But even if I found one it would not exactly be welcomed back into our house, so this favorite will have to live on only in my memory. But it was a great advertising piece. The few I’ve seen in circulation still look great, sitting on the bar back in a few old bars. It almost makes me want to drink a Schlitz.

Next Session Collects Your Breweriana

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Our 52nd Session takes thing down a notch, and it is a bit easier than last month’s. At least you don’t have to go out and buy anything, although you may want to after reading about everybody else’s collections of breweriana. Our host, Brian Stechschulte, of All Over Beer , has chosen the topic Beer Collectibles & Breweriana, which he explains as:

As host of Session #52, I’ve decided not to focus on the substance of beer, but 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. The majority of highly prized objects are from the pre-prohibition era, but ephemera from every period in brewing history, including craft beer, finds a home with each beer drinking generation.

So what old or new beer related items do you collect and why? It’s that simple. This is your opportunity to share the treasured objects your wife or husband won’t let you display on the fireplace mantle. You don’t need to be a major collector like this guy to participate. In my mind, just a few items constitute a collection. Maybe you have mementos from a beer epiphany or road trips? You can focus on a whole collection or tell the story behind a single item.

So open your closets, your cabinets and cupboards; wherever you keep the tchotchkes, logowear and beer “collectibles” that have piled up in your home since falling in love with beer. You know you have them. Don’t pretend otherwise. It will be good therapy to get your obsessions out in the open, and Brian has offered us the perfect opportunity to lie on his virtual couch and unload your breweriana for the next Session on Friday, June 3.

P.S.: Don’t forget about Session #51.5, part two of the Great Online Beer & Cheese-Off, taking place on May 20.