Saturday’s holiday ad is for Ballantine Ale, from 1954. “Is this something special? It certainly is … that’s Ballantine Ale.” There are three people at this tree-trimming party (note the three bottles of Ballantine) but only one person appears to be doing any work. The woman’s glass of beer sits unsipped on the silver tray, while the man on the left has started drinking his and the man on the right looks as if he’s just topped himself off. The woman is looking back at the the two dudes with an expression that says “you lazy chuckleheads.”
Friday’s holiday ad is for Blatz Pilsener Beer, from 1945. A woman in a red dress looks longingly up at a sprig of mistletoe, while a bottle of beer sits peacefully in the corner. I think she’s hoping for someone to walk by. Perhaps the beer is bait? Although it does seem to be just hanging in the air, so maybe it’s a magical bottle of beer.
Thursday’s holiday ad is for Ballantine Ale, from 1938. It’s an extremely odd Christmas ad, with all of the adults standing around the decorated tree, beer in one hand, and with the other, well, holding up the “ok” or Ballantine ring sign. They almost look like they’re part of a cult, don’t they? Merry Christmas. Hail Christmas.
“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”
— Calvin Coolidge
‘Twas Christmas broach’d the mightiest ale; ’twas Christmas told the merriest tale; a Christmas gambol oft could cheer the poor man’s heart through half the year.
— Sir Walter Scott
The original image, which I doctored, was the cover of a 1950 issue of Guinness Time, “a quarterly publication by the Guinness company [that] was distributed to all Guinness staff.” I found it at Bygone Bodiam, a very cool website covering old time Bodiam, a hop growing area in England. There are also a number of great nostalgic photographs of the local hops industry back in the day.
Wednesday’s holiday ad is yet another one for Carling Black Label, this time from 1955. It’s a simple ad showing a bottle of Carling Black Label, a full glass of beer and a small yule log with a candle burning on it, with some Christmas balls and grass surrounding it, and a scroll with the following on it. “May Your Christmas be merry, your New Year full of happiness …” and then it’s signed “from all your friends at Carling’s.” It’s also one of those magic bottles common in ads at that time. Even though the bottle is only about one-third empty, the pilsner glass is filled to the brim. So either it’s a ginormous bottle or a tiny glass. It can’t be both, can it? Happy Christmas Eve. May Your Christmas Be Merry.
While not widely known, St. Nicholas, among his many patronages includes brewers. He is a patron saint of brewers. The way we think of St. Nick in America begins with the publication of Twas the Night Before Christmas: A Visit From St, Nicholas by Clement C. Moore in 1823. So with my tongue firmly set in my cheek, I decided to rewrite Moore’s masterpiece, moving his visit from the home to the brewery. Hoppy Christmas. Enjoy. For more detail on how this came about, and about the original poem, see below.
Twas the Beer Before Christmas:
A Brewery Visit From St. Nicholas
‘Twas the beer before Christmas, when down in the brewery
Not a bottle was stirring, not a mouse dared to scurry;
The hoses were hung by the kettle with care
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would drink there;
The bottles, like children, nestled snug in their beds,
While visions of candi sugar fermented their heads;
The brewers, in hoodies, gave just the impression,
They’d all settled down for long winter’s session,
When outside by the tanks there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the brewery to see what was the matter.
Away to the rollup I flew like a flash,
Tore open the lock, the door flew up with a crash.
The moon on the breast of the newly-paved tarmack
Gave the lustre of stout looking velvety black,
When, what to my sobering eyes should appear,
But a miniature delivery wagon, and eight kegs of beer,
With a little old brewmaster, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than fermenting his brewers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
Now, Busch! Now, Rheingold!, now, Pabst and Carling!
On, Schlitz! on, Schmidt! on, Miller and Yuengling!
To the top of the jockey box! To the top of the cask!
Now drink away! drink away! drink away the whole flask!”
As dry hopping that before the wild bittering fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, toast a drink to the sky;
So up to the brewery-top the brewers they flew,
With the wagon full of Beers, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, glasses tinkling, I heard on the roof
The toasting and drinking of each little goof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Out the fermenter St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in red, from his toes to his top,
And his coveralls were soiled with spent grain and hops;
A carton of Beers he had flung on his back,
And his rubber boots squeaked as he opened his pack.
His besotted eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were all rosy, like New Glarus cherry!
His droll little mouth was beseeching our pardon,
And the beard of his chin was as white as Hoegaarden;
The end of a zwickel he held tight in one hand,
While the other held Watermelon Wheat that was canned;
He had a beer belly, that bent two stumpy legs,
That shook when he laughed, like a half-emptied keg.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old brewer,
And I drank when I saw him, for what could be truer;
A wink of his eye as he poured generous heads,
Soon gave me to know he would join us instead;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And emptied the bottles; then sat with a smirk,
And raising his glass, he gave the first toast,
Then each brewer, in turn, drank to his own riposte;
Then he sprang to his wagon, to his brewers gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like a hop torpedo missile.
But I heard his last toast, ere he drove out of here,
“Hoppy Christmas to all, and to all drink good beer.”
In late 2009 — a Saturday night — I read Porter and Alice, my two kids, Twas the Night Before Christmas: A Visit From St, Nicholas by Clement C. Moore. Whenever I read something I know to my children (which happens a lot, kids love repetition) the writer in me edits as I go. I change words as if it was my work, I flatter myself I’m improving it or correcting mistakes. A scatterbrained scheme was hatched as I again read them what’s probably the most famous Christmas poem.
First published in 1823, according to Wikipedia, “it is largely responsible for the conception of Santa Claus from the mid-nineteenth century to today, including his physical appearance, the night of his visit, his mode of transportation, the number and names of his reindeer, and the tradition that he brings toys to children. Prior to the poem, American ideas about St. Nicholas and other Christmastide visitors varied considerably. The poem has influenced ideas about St. Nicholas and Santa Claus beyond the United States to the rest of the Anglosphere and the world.”
As I’ve written about before, St. Nick is also a Patron Saint of Brewers. So with my tongue firmly set in my cheek, I decided to rewrite Moore’s masterpiece, moving his visit from the home to the brewery.
As it happens, there are a lot of different versions of the poem, with incremental changes having been made over the years. I used, for no particular reason, an edition from Trans-Pacific Radio. Enjoy. Hoppy Christmas. You can also compare the two versions side by side, which also includes the brewers names I’ve used in previous years. The plan is to change those each year.
Feel free to share my version of the poem, with credit if you please, plus a link back here is always appreciated.
UPDATE: Georgia’s Sweetwater Brewing also did their own beer-themed version called Sweetwater’s Night Before Christmas. There’s also another beer-themed one I shared last year, Twas the Brewer’s Night Before Christmas. For many more parodies, check out the Canonical List of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas Variations, which contains 849 different variations on the poem.
But pub landlord Steve Bowen may be my new favorite bartender.
Apparently in Great Britain it’s a common occurrence for people who don’t regularly drink in pubs to visit them over the holidays. I suspect it’s much like every Irish-themed pub fills up each St. Patrick’s Day here in America, or is similar to people who attend church only twice a year, on Easter and Christmas. Essentially, such people are not regulars and often are unaware of the proper protocols or etiquette that more seasoned pub-goers follow. Five years ago, I did a similar list about my Top 10 Festival Pet Peeves about the same phenomenon at beer festivals.
Earlier this month, Bowen posted his tongue-in-cheek “Rules” for proper pub behavior over the holidays. It’s hilarious. Perhaps even funnier is how many people missed the point and complained about the list, meaning they’re most likely the people he was talking about, so definitely take a look at the comments, too. Below is his rules for the seasonal drinker. Enjoy.
XMAS AT THE STOKE INN, PLYMOUTH
It’s that festive time of year when decent, honest boozers are plagued by non-drinkers. And not real non-drinkers, not people who don’t ever drink, they’re fine. We’re talking about people who don’t go near a pub for 11 months out of the year, the kind of awful human beings who buy their beer from supermarkets with the weekly shop, people who consume such a laughable quantity of alcohol that they can only be designated as “non-drinkers”.
Whether it’s the Christmas Work’s Do or a Festive Drink With Friends, you are ruining pubs for the rest of us. Everyone hates you. Every actual drinker in the pub hates you and all the serving staff hate you. You’re awful. Here’s a guide on how to not be quite so awful
DO NOT APPROACH THE BAR UNTIL YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
• The bar is an intricate machine full of separate-yet-interconnecting cogs. It is NOT the place to think or choose or decide. The engine only works if everyone knows their place and performs their function. Do you hear that collective groan as you ask the Bartender if they’ve got Cranberry Juice? Or as you turn around to ask Barbara what she wants to drink? That groan is you single-handedly sucking life away from your fellow drinkers. Make a decision first, then go to the bar and order what you’ve selected. Just like ANY OTHER FORM OF COMMERCE!
DON’T START DRINKING AT 4PM
• You’re NOT a drinker. We haven’t seen you all year. You’re an amateur, so don’t start out with a Marathon. You can’t just rock up to the Premier League one day saying “I’m Match Fit, lads!” This is why you’re puking and crying before nine o’clock at night.
YOU ARE IN A ROUND
• I don’t care who you’re with, how many of you there are or how well you know them. You are in a Round with all the people you came in with. That’s how it works. You see those twenty-five loud, burly, drunken Rugby Players on the other side of the pub? They are a pleasure to serve compared to you. They order eight pints of lager, eight pints of Guiness, six pints of bitter and three Jack Daniels, then they pay the bill in one fell swoop. Your group orders ten drinks one-at-a-time and then pays for them all one-at-a-time as the rest of pub creeps closer to Death’s eternal grasp waiting for you to finish, despite the fact nine of you are drinking the same fucking drink and the last person, THE LAST PERSON, wants a Guiness putting on. Every single person waiting to get served wants your group to die in a complicated house fire.
KNOW WHERE YOU ARE
• Look around you. What kind of drinking establishment are you in? Is it a pub or a bar? If there’s 85 lads watching football on the telly, stop trying to be a drunk, flirty attention-whore because it won’t work. If the walls are cluttered with offers of 6 Shots Of Neon Sourz For A Fiver, don’t try asking for that Single Malt whiskey you memorized from Mad Men. Equally, if it’s a pub adorned with wood furnishings and hand-pulls, stop trying to get the Landlord to make that shitty cocktail you saw on Sex And The City
HOT GIRLS GET SERVED FIRST
• Welcome to Western Civilization.
• Okay, the music isn’t great. It’s nothing to write home about. But it’s been specifically selected to offend the least amount of people. It’s background music. If you want anything else, then you want to be at a club or a gig. If, however, you’ve decided to“do the pub a favour” by blaring out a playlist from your iPhone, then you are a twat. A prize, prize twat. Other expletives come to mind. Likewise don’t get offended if the barman politely gives you a pound and rejects all six Abba songs you paid for.
• Newsflash: You are NOT next. You might have been in the bar queue longer than anybody else, but that doesn’t mean you’re next. Do you know why? Because there are no “Official Rules Of Queueing At The Bar.” The Bartender is 100% in charge of who is next. So do not piss them off. Yes, they can see you. You do not need to bang your change on the top of the bar. You do not need to wave your money around in the air, as if you’re the only person in the room with a tenner (unless it’s a Strip Club). You especially do not need to click your fingers like a Parisian Cafe prick or whistle like a Shepherd herding his flock. These tactics will only achieve one outcome: no matter how long you’ve been waiting up until this point, you’ve just moved yourself to the back of the queue.
• If an old bloke sat at the bar gets served before you do, and the Bartender knows him by name and even seems to know what he’s drinking before he orders it, just shut the fuck up. That’s Bob. Bob drinks here all the time. Bob drinks here five times a week, every week. Bob’s custom pays the bills. Bob and the other Regulars keep the pub open eleven months of the year whilst you’re having dinner parties and bulk-buying booze from the supermarket. Yes, they get preferential treatment. Accept it and shut the fuck up.
TIME IS TIME (sometimes)
• Pubs don’t stop serving because they hate you (that’s a lie, sometimes they do) or because it’s funny or because they get bored of selling beer. It’s a legal requirement for them to stop serving at a designated time. Once Time is called, they are legally unable to sell anymore beer. You cannot cajole them into selling more, because it’s a legal requirement. You cannot bribe them into selling more, either with the promise of drinks or money, because it’s a legal requirement. You cannot reason or argue them into selling more, because it’s a legal fucking requirement. “Who’s gonna know? There’s nobody around, I won’t tell anyone.” THAT’S HOW THE HOLOCAUST STARTED!
See you in twelve months, you fucking pricks.
I think the Stoke Inn is my new favorite pub. Happy Holidays.
Tuesday’s holiday ad is another one for Carling Black Label, this time from 1958, also during the “Hey, Mabel” years, but when they transitioning to “People try it … and they like it!” as a tagline. But I especially love the festive beer glass with the Christmas tree painted on it, complete with presents underneath. Happy Christmas Eve Eve.
Saturday’s holiday ad is for Pabst Blue Ribbon, from 1941. “Isn’t Christmas Fun?” A frazzled husband responds. “Could Be! If You’d Only Give Me A “33 to 1″ Chance!” Eventually his wife understands, and he enjoys a beer before turning into a decorating demon, prompting her to suggest he may be getting a whole case of PBRs on Christmas Day.