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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Tap Handle #463: Liebmann (Drinks Americas) - Rheingold Extra Dry Lager

Tap size:  12.75"
Rarity:  Scarce
Mounting:  internal 3/8" nut

This tap is one of my "cream of the crop" taps. It's expensive, scarce, and awesome. The detail work and paint job are amazing - this really looks like the Statue of Liberty's hand and torch...a fitting tap for New York City's most famous beer! The tap is hollow and has a light feature...two screws at the top of the torch are removed, then the flame lifts out, bringing wires and a battery holder with it (that are stored inside the hollow tap). Two AA batteries light a bulb inside the flame, but it does not stay lit; instead, there is a motion sensor that makes the light flicker when the tap is moved. It's almost impossible to capture using photos (see my last picture), but it is a cool effect and makes the tap very unique. I'm unable to determine whether the tap was produced during the Michael Mitaro era from 1996-2005 (when a large amount of investor funds were pumped into marketing), or the later 2005-2012 period under Drinks America. Whichever period it hales from, neither the tap nor the beer are still in production, making the tap is quite rare - I've only seen one other.

Click through to read more about Liebmann Brewing, their legendary Rheingold lager, and to see more photos of this iconic tap...

The Liebmann Brewery was founded in 1850 by Samuel Liebmann and his three sons, Joseph, Henry, and Charles. Samuel was a member of a prominent Jewish family in the town of Ludwigsburg, north of Stuttgart, in Germany, and had bought an inn and brewery called "Zum Stern." After his political ideals lead to a local revolution in 1848, he drew the anger of the King, and decided to emigrate to the U.S. He settled his family in Brooklyn and purchased a small brewery, which he named the Liebmann Brewery. Henry became the brewing expert, Charles was the engineer and architect, and Joseph was the finance manager. The company expanded rapidly in both production and size, and was flourishing by the time of Samuel's death in 1872. With their success, the Liebmanns became involved in local welfare, focusing on housing and drainage systems.


Each of the three brothers had two sons, and when the older Liebmanns retired in 1903, the six members of the third generation took over. In the early years, the brewery had produced 1000 barrels per year, but by 1914 its output stood at a whopping 700,000 barrels. The brewery’s success was largely due to its ability to obtain the finest hops for use in its beer, which they obtained thanks to the marriage of Joseph’s daughter to the best hops merchant in the US, also a German immigrant. Unfortunately, political developments in the U.S. between 1914 and 1933 were extremely disadvantageous for the Liebmann brewery. The resentment against anything German during World War I led to an informal boycott of German and German-American beers. Following this was the implementation of Prohibition in 1920, during which the Liebmann enterprise managed to survive by producing lemonade and near beer.


With the end of Prohibition in 1933, opportunities for the brewery opened up, abetted by the anti-Semitic policies of Hitler's Germany. The pressures on Jewish businessmen there brought Dr. Hermann Schülein, general manager of the Lowenbrau brewery, to America. Schülein became one of the top managers of the Liebmann brewery, and was instrumental in its spectacular growth after World War II. Working with Philip Liebmann (great-grandson of Samuel), Schülein developed a dry lager beer with a European character to be marketed under the brand name Rheingold, which would become the top-selling beer in New York for the next 30 years, thanks in part to clever marketing. At the center of its media campaign was the "Miss Rheingold" pageant. Beer drinkers voted each year on the young lady who would be featured as Miss Rheingold in advertisements. Photos of the current Miss Rheingold were prominently displayed across New York City, and the annual contest drew upwards of 20 million ballots during the 1950s.


Also, a radio jingle, “Rheingold, the dry beer - think of Rheingold whenever you buy beer” was seen and heard everywhere throughout the city. When Nat King Cole became the first major black entertainer to host a television show, advertisers stayed away - but not Rheingold, who became the New York regional sponsor for Cole's show. Rheingold was the official beer of the New York Mets, and its advertisements featured numerous stars such as John Wayne, Jackie Robinson, Bob Hope, Sarah Vaughan and the Marx Brothers. They also sponsored The Jackie Robinson Show during the late 1950s and early 1960s. At the height of the success in the 1950's and 60's, the Liebmann Brewery had an output of beer ten times that of Löwenbrau, and it enjoyed a 35% share of the beer market in New York City. In 1950 Liebmann Brewing had acquired the Orange Brewing facility in New Jersey from Trommers, where they bottled Rheingold through the 1970s.


The demise of the Liebman and other local breweries occurred largely due to the emergence of the large breweries such as Budweiser, Miller and Coors that utilized national marketing campaigns and
were able to achieve economies of scale and distribution unattainable by smaller, local brands. Rheingold was eventually sold in 1963 to the Pepsi Bottling Company of New Jersey, which was owned primary by the Bronfman family, who had also owned Seagrams since 1928. By the 1970s, sagging sales and industry competition had eventually hurt the Rheingold brand, and the company announced plans to shut down and cease all operations in early January 1974.  However, the brand was rescued when just a few months later the entire Rheingold brewing operation and the old Orange Brewery was purchased by the Chock Full 'o Nuts Corporation, as a means of diversifying their corporate holdings. It took less than four years for the new owner to learn what the previous one already knew, and after continued weak sales of Rheingold Beer, an agreement was signed in 1977 to sell the Orange plant and Rheingold operations to Schmidt. Schmidt utilized the Liebmann and Orange facilities for only a couple of years, with the last bottle of Rheingold distributed in the New York area in 1978, and Schmidt closed both plants for good by 1980.


The brand lay dormant until 1996 when Michael Mitaro, a veteran of the beer industry, leased the rights to the brand from the Stroh Brewery Company, which at that time was the owner of the trademark. In 1997 he joined forces with Walter “Terry” Liebmann, a descendant of original founder Samuel, and attempted to revitalize the brand. Rheingold’s original brew master was recruited to his old post, and in 1998 Rheingold returned, brewed under contract by the F.X. Matt Brewery in Utica, NY. A group of investors infused $1 million into a new advertising campaign for the beer, which became the Mets’ official domestic beer sponsor on the radio, and secured pouring rights at Shea Stadium. At the same time, Rheingold Beer found its way onto many suburban grocery shelves, as well as traditional restaurants around New York City. The company also revived its once-popular “Miss Rheingold” competition. It bore little resemblance to the wholesomeness that the 1950s glamor girls projected - the thirteen semi-finalists in the new contest were tough talking, bartending ladies.


However, despite Mitaro's marketing strategy and investor funds, Rheingold beer failed to appeal to the largest segment of the beer drinking market - 21 to 27 years olds - and the brand failed to make even a ripple in the New York City beer market. The company shut down in 2005. During the cleanup of the World Trade Center site following the terrorist attacks and collapse of the towers on September 11, 2001, numerous Rheingold beer cans were found in the rubble, having been hidden in the beams of the building decades earlier by construction workers who had drunk the beers on the job.


In 2005, Drinks Americas of Wilton, Connecticut, whose brands include Trump Vodka and Dr. Dre Cognac, purchased Rheingold Brewing. Drinks Americas reformulated the Rheingold product, and produced it under contract with the Lion Brewery in Pennsylvania. However, production seems to have ceased sometime around 2012, and Rheingold is no longer listed on the Drinks Americas website as one of their current products. As for the original brewery buildings, the old Orange brewing facility in New Jersey was demolished in 1980, and the Rheingold brewery building was demolished the following year. In 2014 the former site of the Rheingold brewery was redeveloped as housing and retail. 


Rheingold was a pale lager that had in recent years changed its recipe from the dry style of the war years to its traditional 1930s style.


Ratebeer weighted average:  2.05 out of 5
Beer Advocate:  65 out of 100 (poor)


Since Rheingold is no longer produced, no address or website is provided.


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