Monday, February 22, 2010

Gimmie an Uncle Charlie

No, no, no...not the old guy from "My Three Sons", I'm using the nickname for Utica Club Beer. ("Uncle Charlie Lewis" if it's Utica Club Light. See what they're doing there?) Originally introduced in 1988, it was the first beer officially sold after Prohibition. Somewhat scarce these days outside of northern New York state, Utica Club is currently brewed by the F.X. Matt Brewery, which is better known for it's Saranac line of craft beers.

I used to drink Utica Club sometimes in college back in the mid 80's. I recall it as an unremarkable but serviceably inexpensive brew. I remember one of my punk rock pals calling me "Utica Club" because that happened to be my go-to budget beer when he met me. (College guys are all about the nicknames.) At any rate, Utica Club is less memorable for it's suds then for it's pitchmen Schultz and Dooley

Schultz & Dooley were first introduced in 1958 to Northeastern TV audiences as "Spokesmugs" for the brewery. Referencing two beer loving ethnicities, Schultz was German and Dooley was Irish. Both were voiced with mucho gusto by comedian Jonathan Winters. Physically the mugs were brought to life (In wood, not stein ceramics.) by accomplished puppeteer Bill Baird, creator of the "Baird's Marionettes" which made many show biz rounds back in the day. (Most likely you've seen his handiwork in the "The Lonely Goatherd" puppet sequence of "The Sound of Music".)

The concept of the talking beer steins was created by the Doyle Dane Bernbach advertising company. After failed pitches to other breweries, the then parent company for Utica Club WEBCO took a chance on the idea to try to increase lackluster sales. Their gambit paid off, with production rising 50% in just a couple of years. The characters were so popular they even raised the ratings of the syndicated shows they advertised on!

Unfortunately all things must come to an end. By the mid sixties market research showed that the characters were popular, but they'd ceased to be effective at actually selling the beer and were replaced by a new campaign set in a psychedelic rock club. (Not real popular with Utica Club's older blue collar base.) After a brief lackluster comeback without Winters' vocal stylings, ol' Schutlz and Dooley were consigned to marketing history.

Well, almost. The pair's functional designs lent themselves to the production of actual steins starting in 1959. Since then, they've been in pretty much constant production from one source or another. They're currently available online and through other venues. (We bought ours at the Vermont Brewer's Fest.) Not only are Schultz and Dooley available, but so are every other character who appeared in the commercials, as well as new ones who didn't.

So here's a couple of the classic spots. Feel free to enjoy a frosty one while watching.

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