Judging solely by the number of people clamoring to have their photo taken with Mr. Boh on opening day, I’d say the return of National Bohemian - Natty Boh for short - to Camden Yards for the first time since 1992 is a toast-worthy occasion. So hoist your frosty, cold mug o’ brew (and, for a moment, conveniently ignore that the beer once brewed on the shores of the Chesapeake, well, isn’t any longer) and enjoy this 1960s television ad for what was once the official frothy libation of the Orioles.
That little winged guy who popped out of the mailbox is Chester Peake (which you would have known by reading his name on the mailbox) and he was one of National Bohemian’s mascots. Another was the unnamed Troubadour, who traveled all over the mid-Atlantic singing the praises of Natty Boh. Back in the days of minute-long TV ads, there was plenty of time to fill, so National Bohemian ads were often comprised of the Troubadour and his pals - Chester, marching Chincoteague oysters, a mouthy pelican and others - spinning musical yarns about the beer, its history and those who quaffed it.
If that voice at the end of the spot sounds familiar, it should - it’s longtime O’s radio and TV announcer Chuck Thompson, who lent his dulcet tones to the hometown brew and became as much of an icon in Baltimore as the beer he pitched. Oh, that metal thingamabob Chester Peake is toting? It’s called a churchkey, and in the days before pop-top cans, that’s how your imbibing forefathers opened their beer. One side could be used on flat-top cans; the other to pry the top off bottles.
The O’s history with National Bohemian dates to the club’s arrival from St. Louis in 1954. National Brewing Co. chairman Jerry Hoffberger was the Orioles’ majority owner from 1965 to 1979. Is it any wonder one of the iconic phrases that marked Thompson’s Hall of Fame career was, “Ain’t the beer cold?”
The National Brewing Co. brewery at the corner of O’Donnell and Conkling streets was closed in 1978, and production moved to the Carling-National plant at the Beltway in Halethorpe (Canadian-based Carling had merged with National in 1973). G. Heileman bought the company in 1979, and Heileman was sold to Stroh Brewing Company in 1996. Eventually, Pabst Brewing Company bought Stroh.
The Halethorpe brewery, which sent the distinctive aroma of hops throughout southwestern Baltimore and Baltimore County, stopped making beer in 2000 and was razed in 2006. National Bohemian, which hadn’t been brewed locally since 1996, was re-introduced on draft - or draught, to those of you with an affinity for barroom parlance - in February and poured to thirsty fans at Camden Yards for the first time at the April 4 opener.
Good ol’ Mr. Boh has remained a popular presence in Baltimore, on everything from t-shirts to bumper stickers. His one-eyed, mustachioed neon visage has, for several years, winked atop the old brewery building in aptly named Brewer’s Hill. Mr. Boh actually debuted back in 1936, but was retired in the early 1960s. Why does he have only one eye? Back in its infancy, Natty Boh’s main local competitor was Gunther Beer and Gunther’s popular slogan was “Gunther’s Got it” So when youngsters would ask their Boh-drinking dads what happened to Mr. Boh’s other peeper, they were met with the competitor’s message: “Gunther’s Got It.”