Artist and Red Mountain Inn owner, Dave Osborn relaxes surrounded by cases of Brown Derby beer. Now I bet he wishes he kept some of the cans and/or bottles.
Brown Derby? What the hell is that?
For those kids who have stumbled upon this website, Mac Meda (obviously experts on beer consumption), Brown Derby was a store brand, something that was more common after Prohibition than before. Once Prohibition ended in 1933 brewers looked for new markets to replace the old, discredited saloon model with saloons “tied” to specific breweries.
Most beer sold before 1920, when full nation-wide Prohibition began, was sold on draft, usually in a saloon. After Prohibition brewers sold draft beer in bars (note the name change) but also began selling more beer for home use. Bottling beer had begun on a wide scale in about 1910, and in early 1936 canning beer began, adding a new way to package for home use. Cans and bottles were easy to carry and could be sold individually as well as by the case (or the six pack starting in the late 30s). More groceries then began to add packaged beer to their shelves and so the distributing companies that supplied grocers began carrying it as well.
In the 1930s the West Coast Grocery company in California supplied Safeway stores as well as another chain called MacMarr. They contracted with the tiny Humboldt Brewing Company in Eureka, California to make a new store brand called “Brown Derby.”
Meda Editors Note: The old Safeway store in La Jolla was located where the Vons is now on Girard and Fay. There are some great stories about Safeway – to many, it was their first place of employment working as a box boy. To others, well maybe we will get some comments – all I can say, think, the movie, Animal House, the food market scene 🙂
In 1988 Safeway sold many of its stores to Vons and the new owners decided not to keep the brand. Brown Derby was still sold in Safeway stores in the west, where the brand had been born.
To the Mac Meda and beach crowd Brown Derby fell right in line with Red Mountain wine. If you has limited money – it was cheap and a LOT BETTER in taste. It was a good deal. A $1 got you a six-pack. For $1.50, a pack of smokes, chips, and a six-pack, just enough to head to WindanSea wall to watch the sunset.
Some Brown Derby cans are very common, some are hard to find, and a few are rare. The rarest ones are probably the original brown and green cans from the famous Brown Derby Restaurant in Los Angeles (which sued for copyright infringements and that is why the cans/bottle are all brown now) and the 1940s quart produced by the Salem Brewing Association. Thee original brown and green cans are now insanely rare to beer can collectors … at a recent auction, a six-pack went for $200, a far cry from the original $1.
Here is a silent sales promotional film for Brown Derby beer made in the late 1930s.
Barry Donald says
When I was in high school and later in college, we would go to a liquor store with fluid definition of “legal age” and buy a couple of six packs at a buck a piece. We would take them to the woods where we shot. They would make excellent reactive targets after warming up and a vigorous shaking. The only known use for Brown Derby Beer.
My first roadtrip as a teenage guitar player was fueled by Brown Derby! I asked my sister to buy several quarts at Safeway which we put in a cooler with ice… my introduction to the rock’n’roll life!
I only recently learned that Brown Derby originated in Eureka California… the city where I was born. I hope somebody reintroduces the brand in the future.
When I was in high school me and my buddy would baby sit the younger kid’s for his mom so she could go to the bar. she would pay us in Brown Derby beer, a 12 pack each. sometimes we would hold off on payment and get a couple case’s at a time. PARTY!!!!!! I miss this beer. I am a home brewer and wish I could find a recipe for this blast from the past.
A friend of mine worked the Liquor Department counter at LUCKY STORES in Hermosa Beach CA (a grocery market chain. LUCKY and ALBERTSONS merged together). He told me of the woman who came in every morning for 5 quart bottles of BROWN DERBY BEER.
Couple years after that I met a young man. Turned out that woman who bought the beer was his mother. Daily she drank 5 quarts of the BROWN DERBY.
Hmmm Brown Derby was brewed and sold only at Safeway store’s. perhaps it was some other beer?
paul heagerty says
My land lord in SanDiego used to give me a few Brown Derbys after working in his avacado orchard off of Morena Blvd. A small orchard really….but it tasted ok to me at the time!….and I used to shop at that Safeway in La Jolla now and then…right there in the village…then go snorkling at the Cove.
99 cents that’s what I paid for a six pack of Brown Derby beer in 197somthing. Man that was that was bad beer.
But I still remember. David
I was able to buy a six pack of Brown Derby from Safeway in Harrisonburg, Va. in 1973 for a mere 88 cents. No one in my dorm cared for it; but I made sure I like it at that price.
robert smith says
what beer available these days is closest to Brown Derby of the 1960’s. I can still smell the freshly opened bottle of my Dad’s,and the taste! Sort of musky.
Michael Curry says
We were working in our company attic and stumbled accross a “Brown Derby” beer can. It’s the exact same one in the picture of this thread. If any of you are interested, we might be interested in selling..
gene brown says
John, thanks for your comment. What a magic time Kenny and I went through with score after score. He knew every neat can guy going and took me to most of them. Who woulda thought. 35 years later, him gone, me living in remote Idaho. Is Wally Gilbert still around? What do kids do for real fun these days?
John Ahrens says
Wow. Just stumbled across this while googling myself. Hello Gene Brown. We collectors all knew Kenny Jerue well back in the day. Greatest story was his trip to 1971 BCCA Canvention at the Playboy Club in Wisc. He brought 2 girls all the way from Ca. in his Avanti. Not much room for cans. Later he sold off his first collection, then had started another before his tragic death. He was truly one of a kind. John Ahrens – still BCCA #9.
gene brown says
Kenny Jerue and I were in high school together. Reconnecting in l970 we hit the road. He for beer cans and me for anything used by Acme Beer for advertising. He never ceased to amaze me. A million people could go by a place and find nothing. Jerue would look up and down and bingo! it was score time. He and I went to the site of the old Acme Brewing in Vernon, south of Los Angeles. The then Hamms president took a liking to us and let us wander the factory. A mint keg, several l940’s bottles, assorted signs in dark corners. A major day. Then we were lined up with Frank Vitale the former president of Acme. In his office was the original painting of A Quest for Fortune. Vitale was a gold mine of beer related info. Kenny has been gone almost 35 years but I still miss him a lot. He is a book potential if there ever was one. Gene
Phil Foto says
hello gene, my name is phil foto. to set the record straight for those history buff’s out there, in 1923 partners jake foto (my uncle) and frank vitale (my godfather) formed bohemian dist. co. which owned/operated the l.a. acme brewery from 1935-1957. my uncle jake foto was the president, and co-founder frank vitale was the general manager. best wishes.
Dave Osborn says
K.I. has done his homework/research on Brown Derby/Beer Cans. There are some serous La Jolla CA connections to beer can collecting. To start off, Beer Cans where test marketed in 1935 by Kruger Brewing Company (There is some credible evidence that Kruger may have made a short test back in 1933). The packaging caught on and In January of 1936 Fortune Magazine had a major article about “Beer in Cans”.
Very few people thought it would be a good idea to keep specimens of different beer cans, but a few did. In about 1959 Jack Macpherson stated collecting beer cans and the first time I saw his collection (About 200+) around 1962 I figured that he had just about all of them. Anyone collecting before 1971 is rare pioneer. Any pre 1950’s collection is a real rare prize! For instance, if you have a can with instructions how to open it, is a prewar (WWII) can (Like Brown Derby can in photo).
There wasn’t any organized beer can collecting till 1970 as almost no one that collected them knew of any one else that a collection. A 1969 newspaper article about a beer can collector (In St Louis?) brought together 7 people. In 1970 they formed the BCCA or Beer Can Collectors of America. Note: They are now (2009) issuing membership numbers maybe in the 35,000’s.
A friend of mine from La Jolla High School heard I had a collection in 1969 (I had Jacks collection at my house at that time) and he stopped by and asked if I had any “traders”, that first time I knew of another collector. He gave me some cans from the east coast and that got me started. That friend (Paul) that had stopped by my house was helping put together what became the Biggest collection in America (Located on east coast) with the famous collector, John Ahrens. BCCA #7.
Note: I had 2500 different cans in the mid 1970’s and that is nothing to the size of the collections assembled by serous life long collector.
Anyone with a BCCA number under 1000 was a pioneer in organized Beer Can Collecting. Some other collectors that Jack and I crossed trails with included Kenny Jerue BCCA# 541 (RIP 1974) Famous collector and loose cannon. Never a dull moment drinking with Kenny! Kenny owned hi powered cars and drank a lot, may have been his undoing as he died on an LA mountain road.
Another was Bill Herzog BCCA #202 (RIP) well known personality and early baeer can collector, and musician. I think his band was called the “The Sons of the Desert” and played up and down the coast. Bill loved to drink and hung out with Jack Macpherson back in the 90’s at the West End Tavern. Later Bill lived in Borrego Springs. CA he organized a lot of Desert parties and live music events. He died from a fall in 2009 He was just 54.
The name Mac Meda was on the BCCA rooster back in the 1970’s…I have that membership card. On June 1973 all of the west coast heavy hitters where a trade session in LA including the above. Another incredible west coast trade session was at Hawthore NV. About the same time. At the event Jack & I ended up in Virginia City NV, we ran the all the bars on both sides of street. Also I hit the great 1974 National Convention in Denver in 1974, great times! I still have a token collection, the ones I like best are from friends from the Beer Can Collecting World, (My BCCA # is 809).
Pre 1960 cans (Type that needed a church key to open) they are the ones that are sought after. Very few “Pop Top” have value, (But a few 1960’s type do). I don’t know an aluminum can that a serous antique can collector would want other than if it had a funny label.
When you are drinking in a room full of Colorful beer cans that date back to 1935 it’s a warm fuzzy feeling, like you get in an old saloon, good vibes from the past! That’s it for Beer Can collecting 101. Time for a cold one!
1. Jack Macpherson, upon seeing me plant some petunias, “You could at least grow hops,”.
Actually, Jack made his own beer. He used a family recipe from the University of Michigan Sigma Nu house, during Prohibition.
Parties were held…the beer was made and bottled. 6 or 8 weeks would pass. Fermentation would occur. Another party and the beer would be uncapped and enjoyed!
2. The grandchildren. In 2002, I asked him, “When are you going to meet your grandsons?” They were then 14 and 10. “When they’re old enough to sit on a barstool,”.
I called his son that second, and said “Get those kids down here…”. So a few weeks later, John arrived with Johnny and Shane. Johnny looked like a dark French prince…what a great looking kid. Shane was something else. He came in…blonde and all that…gave Jack a big hug and said “Hi Grandpa Jack!”
If you ever get all choked up, thinking you’ll never see Jack again, spend an afternoon with Shane Macpherson…the kid inherited Jack’s personality. He walks in a room and the room lights up. I once asked him about school and he laughed and said, “School’s just a party!”. Talk about chip off the old block. Way to go John and the boys beautiful mother, Cathy Anderson.
3. Airport. In 1989, I needed a getaway. The Post office was tearing us up and I flew up to San Francisco for a few days. I went by San Francisco State, saw my old professors, drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and went by Fisherman’s Wharf.
Jack was going to pick me up at San Diego’s Lindburgh Field.
I got off the plane and there was no Jack. Hmmm…this was odd, as Jack is promptness personified. HE WAS NEVER LATE. I looked around the terminal. Had him paged over the loud speakers. Called his house at 454-0040. Then I thought the unthinkable…What if he had been in a freeway accident? N way…Jack never had accidents.
I was all set to take a cab home. And all of a sudden, I thought, “Check the bar,”.
There he was…drinking a cold one at the Airport Bar. I was fuming. I was steamed. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE???? YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE WAITING AT THE TERMINAL!!!”
He looked at me and calmly announced, “It’s easier for you to find me, than me to find you. You know where I’ll be.”.