Popular Beer in the 60s – A Rich Cultural History!

It’s a sad fact of life, but many of the things we love often come and go, even our favorite beers. Many of the beers your dad may have been drinking in the 1960s are now gone, all but defunct apart from a few half-hearted attempts by today’s brewers to revive some for nostalgic reasons.

I’m actually quite sad I never got a chance to try the Falstaff or Burgermesieter beers my dad speaks so fondly of.

The swinging 60s were a time of change for beer lovers on both sides of the pond. Here in the US, the major national brewers were starting to take hold of the market, and, through a series of mergers and acquisitions, many of the smaller regional brewers were starting to disappear and in some cases their beers too.

In the UK, on the other side of the big pond, beer drinkers were moving away from draught mild which had previously been the most popular beer in British pubs to keg bitters. It wasn’t until the 1970s that lager beers which were more common in the US would gain wide-scale popularity in the UK.

We all know the great music of the sixties but let’s take a look at some of the beers your folks may have been sipping while enjoying this era of revolution, free love, and flower power.

The Biggest Beer Producers of the 1960s

The start of the sixties was the period when Anheuser-Busch would first move into the number one position as the largest brewer in the US, a position they have maintained ever since.

Although Falstaff may have been their competition for the largest brewer in St Louis, the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company with their popular nationwide beer Schlitz was their closest competitor across the whole country.

However the total barrage of Anheuser-Busch still only accounted for roughly 11% of the overall US barrels of beer sold, a share which would increase to nearly 15% by the end of the sixties and keep rising to today’s staggering 40% share of the market.

Top 10 Popular Beer in the 60s

1Anheuser-Busch, Inc.8,477,099
2Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co.5,694,000
3Falstaff Brewing Corp.4,915,000
4Carling Brewing Co.4,822,075
5Pabst Brewing Co.4,738,000
6P.Ballentine & Sons4,408,895
7Theo Hamm Brewing Corp3,907,040
8F&M Schaeffer Brewing Co.3,202,500
9Liebmann Breweries2,950,268
10Miller Brewing Co.2,376,543
TOTAL BARRELAGE IN 196087,912,847

Data courtesy of Beerhistory.com & Beer Marketer’s Insights

If you followed our previous post about the Popular Beers of the 1950s (link to Beers of the 50s post) you will have noticed many of the top 10 breweries of 1960 are the same as in 1950.

The only major change is the rise of Anheuser-Busch to the top of the list and the percentage of market share growth – a sign of the slow emergence of Budweiser as the nation’s dominant beer brand, King of Beers!

Perhaps the most significant change in the early 1960s to the way we consumed beer was how the beer was packaged, in particular, the cans it came in.

The Ever-Changing Beer Can of the 1960s

Opening a beer can with a "church key" type can opener, early 1960s. The usual way to open canned beer and sodas 1930s - mid 1960s.
Image from Wiki Commons

Although we take ring pulls and aluminum cans for our beer for granted these days, it wasn’t always the case that they were so easy to open and convenient to carry.

Prior to 1958 beer cans had almost all been made out of steel and you had to push them open with a church key can opener. (One of the cool things about a church key can opener was it also had a bottle top opener on the other end – BONUS!)

Hybrid cans which used a steel body with an aluminum “soft-top” were first introduced by Schlitz beer in 1960, who also innovated the first pull-tabs/ring pulls in the “Pop top” can of 1963.

Steel cans were phased out throughout the 1960s in favor of aluminum or hybrid cans and just remain a distant memory for those who may have been drinking beer before 1960.

The significance of the change from steel cans to aluminum shouldn’t be overlooked. Not only was aluminum found to be more hygienic but there was also a significant cost reduction which created a boom in the canning of beer which remains to this day and in today’s craft beer market.

By the end of the 1960s in 1969 canned beers actually outsold beer bottles for the first time.

Our transatlantic cousins in the UK still had plenty of catching up to do with beer canning technology as cans of beer had only started to emerge in the UK in the late 1950s. One of the very first canned beers was Ind Coope’s Long Life which picked up on consumers’ concerns over the quality of cask ales and how long they would last in a can.

Ind Coope claimed Long Life was brewed especially for the can and would last much longer. Although canned beer sales rose throughout the sixties they would not become an important part of the UK beer scene until the 1970s with the Watney Party Seven playing a key role as a new take on canned beer. (A take-home-and-party large can or mini keg which contained seven pints of beer!)

The Rise of Kegs in the UK

The major change in the way beer was packaged in the UK was a move to the sales of keg beer. Traditionally beer drinking in the UK involved an old-fashioned beer pump which was connected to a wooden cask of beer and gravity fed to serve a customer draught beers.

First introduced to the UK in the late 1950s, keg bitter was pasteurized to prevent any further fermentation. Carbon dioxide would be added to the beer to give it that extra beer sparkle and with the pressure of the carbon dioxide drawing the beer up from the cellar there was no longer any need for those traditional long-handled beer pumps.

Sales of keg beers steadily increased throughout the 1960s in the UK with about 1% of the beer market in 1960, steadily rising to about 7% by 1965 and finishing the decade at 18% of the total beer market in 1971.

Popular with the younger generation, keg beer was a natural choice for the new theme pubs and disco bars that popped up in the 1960s.

However, forever the traditionalists, there was a backlash against the rise of keg bitters and beer lovers of traditional cask ales founded the Society for Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW) in 1963.

Although not the catchiest of names, the many members of SPBW wore black ties with pictures of wooden barrels emblazoned on them. Apparently, they were mourning the death of “real” traditional beer. If traditional cask ales were available within a half-mile walk or a five-mile drive, the Society forbade its members from drinking a keg ale.

The Often Gone but Not Forgotten Beers of the 1960s

The swinging 1960s were a time when you could crack open a six-pack of your regional brew on a hot summer day while listening to the groovy music of the time in your backyard with the boys.

Although the emergence of the multi-national brands had started the major beer corporations had not yet taken a stranglehold on the market, normally the beer you were drinking would be produced in the state or at the furthest maybe two states away.

Many would argue the defunct beers of the sixties were some of the finest ever produced, but without the finance for extensive marketing campaigns, many of the brands went out of business. Here are some of our favorite beers which don’t exist anymore, what are your favorite defunct beer brands?

Falstaff – The Original Rival to Budweiser

Beer sign ("Make Mine Falstaff") inside Lil' Red's Longhorn Saloon in the Stockyards District of Fort Worth, Texas
Image by Wiki Commons

Falstaff beers can actually be traced back to 1838 in St.Louis and acquired their Shakesperean name in 1903. (Sir John Falstaff is a heavy-drinking character in Shakespeare’s Henry IV series of plays!)

After surviving Prohibition Falstaff constantly did battle with Anheuser-Busch to be the top dog in St Louis. Although they were the third-largest beer brand in the 1960s (they hit their peak of production in 1965), trouble was just around the corner for this popular brewery.

A 1965 acquisition of the Narragansett Brewery of Rhode Island became the subject of an antitrust lawsuit brought forward by the State Government of Rhode Island. Although the Supreme Court eventually ruled in Falstaff’s favor in the case of United States vs Falstaff Brewing Corp in 1973, the company never financially recovered.

Throughout the late 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, Falstaff endured a long and steady decline and finally stopped producing their beers altogether in 2005.

Many remember Falstaff beer fondly as a permanent fixture at ballparks and backyard barbecues in the 1960s.

Rheingold, The Dry Beer

Although we touched on Rheingold as one of the two Brooklyn beers in our look at beers of the 1950s, it was the sixties when Rheingold Dry really became a dominant force in the New York beer scene.

In the days before imported pilsener or beers like Molson Dry and Michelob Ultra, Rheingold was a delicious drink full of hops that was so popular they even funded their own beauty pageant, the “Miss Rheingold Beauty Contest”.

Brewed in Brooklyn, which at the time had a large Irish and Italian population, this beer was found all over the New York State area in the 60s.

If your dad grew up in the Northeast in the 60s there’s every chance he popped open a tin of this bad boy at some time or another.

When the major brewing corporations took over the national stage in the 1970s, Rheingold went out of business and closed its brewery doors. However, the Rheingold brand is heading back to stores thanks to a licensing deal with Drinks America.

Jax Beer of Florida

Marie's Bar, Burgundy Street, Faubourg Marigny, New Orleans.
image by Wiki Commons

The premier drink of folks in the Southeast of America, Jax beer was actually named after where it was first brewed, in Jacksonville of Florida. Local legend claims Jax beer was the first beer that was available in a six-pack although many would dispute this claim.

This popular brew, especially in the Southeastern states, reached the height of its popularity in the late 1960s but had shut the brewery doors for one final time by 1974.

Even though the beer stopped being produced in the early 1970s the brewery still stands in Jacksonville and is open to visitors. If you’re in Florida swing by, maybe there’s a six-pack still hidden somewhere waiting for you.

Although they may have pioneered the six-pack (or sack), J.F Ostner, the owner of Jax Beer, actually blamed the demise of Jax on the disposable cans that became more commonplace after WWII.

The cans would often come in at a higher cost than the product and although National companies could absorb the costs by charging them to freight companies, smaller breweries could not compete with this practice.

In an effort to beat the disadvantage of not having disposable cans, Jax Beer went out and bought 100,000 durable sacks from Towers Hardware which they then placed 6 cans of Jax in, negating the need for more expensive shrink wrapping or elaborate packaging.

Schmidt’s – The Sportsman’s Beer

Schmidt's of Philadelphia Logo
Image by Wiki Commons

Often referred to as the “sportsman’s brew”, this cold can of hoppy beer was the official beer of soldiers in WWII (I’m not sure any beer would get those accolades today, especially the beer of “soldiers”).

At the time the owners of Schmidt were personal close friends with Franklin D. Roosevelt which led to his endorsement of Schmidt’s being the beer the government used for the troops.

Originally brewed in Philadelphia since 1860, at the turn of the century Schmidt’s was the largest brewer in the state. In the mid-1960s they were one of the first breweries to use computers for production, planning, and inventory control.

When the Christian Schmidt Brewing Company acquired the Old Standard brewery of Ohio from F. & M. Schaefer Brewing Co.in 1964 they boosted their annual output by 450,000 barrels a year and for the first time broke through the 2 million barrels a year production quota.

After a series of acquisitions, not all successful, financial problems began to hit the Schmidt Brewing Company in the early 70s with ever-increasing competition from the national brands and other larger regional brewers.

The ownership of the company passed from the Schmidt family in 1975 and, through a series of mergers, ended up being part of the brewery magnate Heilemans Brewing Group before the brand was sold to Stroh’s where Schmidt’s was slowly phased out of production.

In 2012, though, the impressive Schmidt’s brewery in Philadelphia was turned into a collection of artist’s lofts and maintains the Schmidt’s name, even if it is a poor tribute to what was once a favorite drink of many midwest beer drinkers.

Carling Red Top Ale and Black Label

Carling Brewing Company Building Building/structure dates: 1906 initial construction.
image by Wiki Commons

Originally a Canadian beer brand (I bet that surprises our UK readers!), Carling was created way back in 1840 in Ontario by an English farmer who had emigrated from Yorkshire by the name of Thomas Carling.

In return for the help of his neighbors in clearing his large property, he would supply them with his own brew of lager. With the success of his farm relying heavily on them enjoying the brew, Thomas Carling started selling his Carling Red Cap Ale and later Carling Black Label across Canada in the 1840s.

Carling didn’t enter the American market until 1898 when the Cleveland & Sandusky Brewing Company purchased the right to use the Carling name and produce their beers. However, this deal only lasted 13 years and it wasn’t until after the repeal of Prohibition that Carling saw fit to venture south of the border again a couple of decades later.

A Cleveland brewing company, operating under the name of the Brewing Company of America, acquired the rights to the Canadian Carling brand and began to produce, with moderate success, the famous Red Cap Ale, and Black Label beers.

It wasn’t really until the 1960s that Carling saw the dominance that many associated it with earlier in the mid-50s. At that point, they had changed their name to Carling Brewing Co. and bought or built a further six breweries to saturate all regions of the US with the Red Cap Ale and Black Label beer.

You couldn’t go into a bar in the sixties without seeing the ubiquitous Carling Red Cap Ale.

A clever marketing campaign and a handful of beer ads helped cement the position of Carling as one of the top-selling beer brands in the US. However, they struggled to compete with the more extravagant and concentrated marketing campaigns of larger national and international conglomerates as time went on.

One famous slogan of the Carling advertising campaigns that many remember was “Hey Mabel, Black Label” which was designed to appeal to the folk of the Natick town where they opened America’s most modern brewery.

Citing serious physical difficulties which resulted in excessive operating costs, Carling closed the doors on its original Cleveland Brewery but continued to produce beer at the Natick plant.

Today Molson Coors now owns the Carling brand and, although Carling Black Label sells incredibly well worldwide, Red Cap Ale is no more.

Other Notable Beers and Events of the 1960s

Ballantine party tip. . . you may prefer one, your friends may prefer the other, buy both
image by Wiki Commons

Many of the beer brands we have previously looked at in beers of the 1950s continued to flourish throughout the sixties.

Hamm’s beer with its cartoon bear was still a popular beer across the nation and Schlitz beer’s dominance continued to grow, with Schlitz actually opening a 34-acre brewery in 1969 to cope with the extra demand.

It wasn’t until the mid-70’s that Schlitz, in a cost-cutting operation, would change the formula of their beer and hit financial troubles from the resulting fallout. Beers like Ballantine XXX and IPA continued to be popular in the New York region but couldn’t cope with the restructuring of the beer industry which followed in the 1970s.

Many popular beers of the 1960s fell by the wayside with the brand names being bought by larger brewing companies who have subsequently revived many of the names, if not always the original beer recipes.

Perhaps the most significant event of the late 1960s and a sign of things to come was the change in ownership of the Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco to Fritz Maytag.

Although not obvious at the time, the craft beer revolution was just about to start. Fritz began to brew high-quality beers from the San Fran-based brewery which would appeal to non-mainstream tastes.

The oncoming 1970s may have been a time when we lost many of our favorite beers of the 1960s due to the corporatization of the US beer industry.

However, the future was looking bright with a renewed interest in many forgotten beer styles and the rise of microbreweries towards the end of the next decade.

Roll on the 1970s!

This blog is reader-supported. Posts may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.