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Tim Bissell Tim Bissell
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Three Pint Stance - What's old is new again

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The story of beer in America lately has been all about the resurgence of brewing and the growing number of new breweries opening all around the country. While that continues to be what the majority of people are talking about when it comes to beer, another trend seems to be taking hold - the resurgence of nostalgic beer brands.

The retro beer movement started with the seemingly organic explosion of Pabst Blue Ribbon back in 2008 when it became the official beer of the Hipster.' Being 'not Bud or Coors' but still affordable - coupled with status as a nostalgic beer brand - seemed to be the magic formula for success and Pabst capitalized. Since then, we have seen a few different approaches at trying to capture that beer nostalgia market.

Looking to strike gold twice - this time in a more calculated manner - Pabst announced in 2014 that it would be reviving an old beer brewed originally by P. Ballantine and Sons Brewing in Newark, NJ: Ballantine IPA. Since the IPA has emerged at the dominant style in craft beer, Pabst decided the time was right to re-release one of the few commercial IPAs made in the US before the 1980s. With the original recipe lost, they did their best to build on the historical record and recreate the golden-amber ale. The re-released Ballantine IPA can be found in bottle shops and on draft around the country.

Another post-prohibition brand that never went anywhere but has started to breathe new life is the Utica Club brand of pilsner lager by F.X. Matt Brewing in Utica, NY. Affectionately called 'Uncle Charlie' by fans, Utica Club was first brewed in 1933 and was a popular brand through the 50s and 60s, but as craft beers began to take over the market, Utica Club took a bit of a backseat to F.X. Matt's Saranac brand of beers. Now that retro beers are beginning to pick up steam, Utica Club sales are seeing an increase. There was a famed Utica Club shortage in upstate New York back in 2014, while just this year, we saw Utica Club available in Maine for the first time. It is a crisp, pale lager that definitely fits the bill as a 'lawnmower beer' on a hot day. I highly recommend picking up some tallboys of Uncle Charlie.

Lastly, I would be remiss to leave out the brand that I feel may have spotted this trend toward retro beers first: Narragansett. The old brewery based in Rhode Island kept New Englanders thirst quenched for years, but had fallen out of favor toward the end of the 20th century. Known colloquially as Nasty-Gansett', Narragansett seemed destined to be a forgotten brand. When the brand was acquired by Falstaff Brewing in the 60s, the Narragansett brewery in Cranston, RI was closed and the production moved to Indiana. Some say the beer has never tasted the same.

After languishing for years during the Falstaff Nasty-Gansett' era (along with ownership changing hands a few times), a team of investors in Rhode Island bought the brand in 2005 and began producing a tasty lager reminiscent of the original Narragansett Lager. Using the ties to the Rhode Island/New England community and a friendly, retro-themed branding, Narragansett has re-established itself as a tasty regional beer that is both affordable and well-made. Narragansett's reintroduction has been so successful that the company is planning to open a new facility in Pawtucket, RI, so that Narragansett can be brewed in Rhode Island for the first time since 1982. Now that surely deserves a toast!

So, next time you are looking for what's new at the beer store, turn around and look at the domestic' shelf and check out what's old. You might find something surprising!


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