Wall Of Fame: Tom J's Story

"So much for Beer taste tests- 1959!" "How’s it going" was my salutation to the short stubby man behind the bar whose forearms were thick...

"So much for Beer taste tests- 1959!"

"How’s it going" was my salutation to the short stubby man behind the bar whose forearms were thick as fire hydrants. "Ugh’ came the reply.

The bar was a workingman’s drinking spot on Massachusetts Avenue in the Back Bay of Boston, about 1000 yards from Symphony hall, but a lifetime of culture away from its themes of music and drama.

The bar opened at 7AM to catch the all night card players and the longshoreman on their way to the morning call for a day’s work. It closed officially at 1AM, but the side door was open to regulars until early morning hours.

Its drama would occasionally surface in a brawl or a knifing. Its staff were quick to intervene and skillful at ridding the place of problems. Off duty Boston cops were always around, playing pinochle or hearts in the back booths. There was always a bookie in the back and a "looker" by the front door with a clicker. When strangers came in, they were served at the end of the bar near the front door.

I was in the bar that morning because it was the first stop on my sales route. I was a Narragansett on-premise salesman working out of George Doran distributors in Jamaica Plain. The headquarters of the distributorship was in an old brewery on the side of a hill in a residential area. My client list went from Brookline to the Back Bay. I sold barrels of beer and cases of long necks, both Beer and Ale, as well as Croft Ale, a recent purchase to add to our line of products.

"Go down cellar and check it out", said the barkeep. "Count the empties too". He could barely see over the array of beer knobs distributed evenly parallel to the bar. There were 14 knobs, 8 beer and 5 ales; Narragansett, Budweiser; Schlitz, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Blatz, Rupert Knickerbocker, Schaefer, Rheingold, Boston Pale Ale, Narragansett Ale, Croft Ale. Ballantine Ale, Pickwick Ale. I opened the door to the cellar, took a deep breath and walked down the wooden stairs to the dirt floor cavern underneath the bar. There were fourteen tubes from the upstairs bar to the wooden and stainless steel barrels lined up. I checked the empty Narragansett barrels stacked up near the bulkhead door and made my notes. All the empty beer barrels were Narragansett barrels. There were no other beer company’s empties in sight. I assumed that those empty barrels had already been picked up by my competitors. There were a mix of empty ale barrels, including several Narragansett and Croft ale empties. I counted the long neck empty cases and finished by note taking, ready to lay out the Bar’s needs for the next week. While passing the line of active beer barrels, I noticed that the first eight, all beers, were marked "Narragansett". On the bar, the knobs designated eight different labels, but in the basement, all the draft beer purchased was Narragansett. I added 8 more barrels to my notes.

The barkeep was eating a doughnut and sipping coffee. I laid out my findings and told him about the lineup of Narragansett barrels under the various beer knobs. He winked and said, "I give my customers what they like to drink". He gave me a generous order and I left smiling.

So much for advertising claims which try to differentiate among taste differences in Beer. His customers were happy, he was happy, and I was very, very happy with that arrangement.

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