A common practice in the modern craft brewing industry is for breweries to name some of their beers after local landmarks, natural landscape features, historical figures, historical events etc. Without looking beyond the state of Ohio, there are many examples of this. Toledo’s Maumee Bay Brewing Company brew Glass City Pale Ale, paying homage to the city’s historical association with the glass industry. Edmund Fitzgerald Porter is brewed by Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Company. The beer remembers the Great Lakes freighter, the Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in a storm on Lake Superior in November, 1975 with the loss of its entire crew of twenty-nine men. As a side note, the captain of the Fitzgerald, Ernest M. McSorley, was from Toledo. Hustle Red Lager, from Cincinnati’s Rhinegeist Brewery, is a not to baseball great Pete Rose. Rose played for the Cincinnati Reds (1963-78, 1984-86), where he earned the nickname Charlie Hustle. Rose was given the nickname by the New York Yankees’s pitcher, Whitey Ford. At a spring training game in 1963, Whitey saw Rose run to first base on a walk (it was customary to walk), and later watched as Rose run around the bases and race into the dugout when the inning ended. There, observed Ford, is “Charlie Hustle”.
Naming beers after something or someone with a local connection is part of a broader desire on the part of many craft breweries to be authentic and to promote what social scientists call a ‘sense of place’. Craft breweries allow visitors to drink local beer and, in many cases, connect with local history and heritage. Ann Fletchall, in a study of craft breweries in Montana explores the concept of sense of place. In her paper Fletchall argues:
“Besides the taste of the beer, the local nature of breweries and their community focus prove to be an important draw for brewery visitors and provide the chance to experience the community in a more authentic way, and thus, offer an opportunity to make a meaningful connection with place.”
As I was contemplating the idea of sense of place, I started to wonder if there are any breweries not located in Toledo that have beers with Toledo in their name. So I went to the website RateBeer.com, and typed ‘Toledo’ into the search engine. The results returned were interesting. First, I noticed that there were a number of beers listed that are brewed by Calles de Toledo, a brewery in Toledo, Spain. Toledo, Spain and Toledo, OH are sister cities. In fact, when Toledo, OH entered into a sister city relationship with its Spanish counterpart in 1931, it became the first city in North America to engage in such a relationship. Indeed, one of the beers listed on the RateBeer.com page that I pulled up actually provided a connection between the two Toledos. Casilda of Toledo is a Vienna Lager, brewed by the Black Cloister Brewing Company in Toledo, OH. Casilda of Toledo is is venerated as a saint in both the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Church. Casilda was the daughter of the Muslim King of Toledo. She often showed compassion to Christian prisoners, by sneaking them bread hidden in her clothes. As a young woman she converted to Christianity. She died in 1050.
So what about beers that have a connection to Toledo, OH but are not brewed in Toledo. The RateBeer.com list contained three:
- Holy Toledo IPA, Kaweah Brewing Company, Tulare, CA
- Holy Toledo Pilsener, Boss Dog Brewing, Cleveland Heights, OH
- Toledo Window Box Imperial Pale Ale, Idle Vine Brewing Company, Pflugerville, TX
The Holy Toledo IPA and Holy Toledo Pilsener did not particularly surprise me. The phrase ‘Holy Toledo’ is well-known and in common use. Most recently it was used in a headline in the Chicago Tribune, on a story extolling Toledo as place worthy of visiting for tourists – “Holy Toledo! Ohio’s ‘Glass City’ is worth a trip.” For those of you unfamiliar with the phrase, it is an exclamation of surprise or astonishment. But as I looked at the names of these two beers, it struck me that I did not know the genesis of the phrase, Holy Toledo. Spending a some time on the internet did little to enlighten me – lots of ideas, but no definitive answer. There are a couple of ‘theories’, which include the heavy concentration of churches on the city’s Collingwood Boulevard, its use by Toledo-raised comedian, Danny Thomas, during the 1930s, and even a link to Toledo, Spain and that city’s importance, at different points in time, to the Christian, Islamic, and Judaic faiths.
Of all the beers listed on the RateBeer.com page, the one that really intrigued me was Toledo Window Box, an Imperial Pale Ale brewed by Idle Vine Brewing Company in Pflugerville, TX. According to the brewery’s website:
The name Toledo Window Box refers to a report George Carlin read stating that the chief of police of Toledo, Ohio had gone to see a viewing of Reefer Madness and a training session by the FBI. Afterwards he made the statement that “You can grow enough marijuana in an average window box to drive the entire population of Toledo stark, raving mad”. Carlin then stated that he wanted one of those Toledo Window Boxes. This Imperial Pale Ale is our homage to Carlin and his Toledo Window Box.
In 1974, Carlin released an album of the same name, Toledo Window Box. It was his sixth album and reached number thirteen on Billboard 200. Reefer Madness is a 1938 film about marijuana use. The film revolves around an unmarried couple, Mae Coleman and Jack Perry who live together and spend much of their time selling marijuana (‘reefer’) to friends and acquaintances who attend their reefer parties. The intention behind Reefer Madness is to convey the dangers of marijuana; witness the development of the plot which sees a series of marijuana-induced tragedies, including a car accident, a shooting, and an innocent boy being brought to trial.
There are a lot of things I like about the craft beer industry; one of which is the connection that many craft breweries make with people, places, and events through the naming of their beers. In doing so, the craft brewery is inviting the beer drinker to stop and ponder before taking that first sip. I am sure that many craft beer drinkers do not care all that much about the story behind the name. I do. For me, it adds a layer of interest, as it peaks my curiosity. That curiosity can often be satisfied by a knowledgeable bartender, or if that fails, by reaching for my smart phone and accessing the internet.
Further Reading and Viewing:
Fletchall, Ann M. 2016. Place-Making Through Beer-Drinking: A Case Study of Montana’s Craft Breweries. Geographical Review, Volume 106, Issue 4, pp. 539-566.
The movie Reefer Madness can be viewed here.