Friday, July 19, 1996
Oktoberfest deal leaves a bad taste

The Cincinnati Enquirer

What is this world coming to? The Downtown Council - part of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce - went to Trenton for 1.5 million beer cans commemorating the 20th anniversary of Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati.

We don't have a brewery in Cincinnati?

Last time I checked, we did. Hudepohl-Schoenling is the 14th-largest brewery in the nation. It's certainly capable of filling 1.5 million cans with beer.

Tuesday was can day at the Hudepohl plant in the West End. They put beer in 20,000 cases of cans. The Oktoberfest run of 1.5 million cans is 62,500 cases.

''We could do that,'' says John Toerner, Hudepohl's plant manager. ''It'd be three days' work.''

Hudepohl - which co-sponsored Cincinnati's first Oktoberfest in 1976 - was never approached about bidding on the run of commemorative cans. The job went to Butler County's Miller plant. The 1.5 million cans were filled with Miller Lite and should be in stores Monday.

''We didn't know anything about it,'' said Hudepohl President Kenneth Lichtendahl. ''I'm sure it's tied into some sort of package.''

And it's wrapped in green.

Miller muscle

Miller paid more than beer money for the right to put the Oktoberfest logo on 1.5 million cans of its tastes-great, less-filling brew. And Miller's promotional largesse goes much further. The Milwaukee-based brewery is a ''presenting sponsor'' of Oktoberfest, Taste of Cincinnati, the Gold Star ChiliFest, Parties in the Park and Rock the Square concert series.

''Miller Brewing is a major underwriter,'' reports Lori Lobsiger, the chamber's manager of sponsorship development. ''They are up in the six figures.''

She expressed her appreciation with three words: ''I love 'em.''

She's not alone. Miller Lite is the No. 3 seller at the 92 stores in Kroger's Cincinnati-Dayton division. Bud Light is No. 1. No local brews are in the top 10.

Lori Lobsiger is ''wild about'' the Oktoberfest special. ''With the can,'' she notes, ''Miller is saying: 'Hey Cincinnati, we belong to you.' ''

The way the money's changing hands, I'd say it might be the other way around.

Brewing history

I can't knock Miller's advertising strategy. I just wish Cincinnati breweries were doing well enough to serve our own festivals and extend the city's long, proud brewing tradition.

Maybe future sponsors are among the growing number of local microbreweries, including Fort Mitchell's Oldenberg Brewery and Over-the-Rhine's BarrelHouse Brewing Co. and Main Street Brewery.

The out-of-town deal with the Oktoberfest cans makes Bob Wimberg, Cincinnati's top brewery historian, groan. ''I know it's a matter of money. The big breweries have it. Hudepohl doesn't. It sounds artificial for a local event to go with a foreign beer.''

To the author of Cincinnati Breweries, anything not brewed within walking distance of old-time street-car lines in Greater Cincinnati is ''foreign.''

That's what out-of-town brews have traditionally been called at the 116 breweries that have made beer in the area over the past 184 years.

A century ago, Cincinnati had 29 breweries, and only one sent beer outside the area. Cincinnatians liked their beer.

In 1896, average beer consumption was 40 gallons per person. Since few women and children touched the foamy stuff, men were drinking about 70 gallons a year. That's just over two 12-ounce cans of beer a day.

''Beer was viewed as the sofa pop of alcoholic beverages,'' said Mr. Wimberg. ''If you wanted to get drunk, you drank whiskey. To be refreshed, you drank a beer.''

The beers of 100 years ago would not taste all that different from the beers of today. ''A beer from 1896 would taste smooth, not bitter,'' he said. ''It was a lager, so it would not be as filling or as thick as a dark beer.''

The color of these lagers may have been light. The alcoholic content was not.

''Sometimes it would go up to 10 percent,'' he says. ''But that was not strong. Remember, beer was a workingman's drink. If you haul bricks all day, you perspire. You need a beer.''

Don't mind if I do. Make sure it's made in Cincinnati.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.