Taste great, and they take less filling Beer: It's a smaller call for alcohol in rural Maryland, where many folks still take their suds from 10-ounce cans.

September 17, 1996|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

HOLLYWOOD -- In this sleepy village of thirsty farmers and parched watermen in Southern Maryland, they like a little beer.

Order a cold can of Budweiser at Hollywood's Dew Drop Inn, a favorite local watering hole, and you may not notice anything peculiar. But wrap your hand around it and your drink will instantly feel different.

Sort of, kind of

Well, small.

That's because you have tapped into 10-ounce beer country.

In St. Mary's County, as well as several counties on the upper Eastern Shore, people like their brew in cans 2 ounces slimmer than the standard.

"I don't carry 12-ounce cans here. They don't sell," said Jimmy Hayden, the Dew Drop's owner. "I think they don't even taste as good."

Only a handful of places across the United States have fallen for the 10-ouncers, which are as tall as a standard beer can, but just a bit more narrow.

Beer producers say rural Maryland joins Puerto Rico and Louisiana, and to a lesser extent, parts of West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi and New York, as places where smaller is better when it comes to beer.

Inside the refrigerated warehouse of Guy Distributing Co., which carries Anheuser-Busch products for all of St. Mary's County, cases of 10-ounce Budweiser and Bud Light are stacked 14 feet high, while 12-ounce cases are just a small pile in the corner.

The smaller cans outsell the larger ones by at least a 2-1 ratio, and it's been that way for more than 30 years, according to George A. Guy, 72, head of the Leonardtown family firm.

"It's been the lifeblood of our little company," said Guy, whose father started the business in 1935.

"There are times when the 12-ounce can is cheaper than the 10-ounce, but our local people won't switch," he said.

It is much the same story in Talbot, Caroline, Queen Anne's and Dorchester counties on the Eastern Shore, where loyalty to the "baby Buds" dies hard.

At Harrison's Liquors in Easton, about half of Budweiser sales are in 10-ounce cans.

"It's a tradition," said Robert Pensky, the store's owner. "Everybody drinks them."

Maryland's beer distributors said that tradition was launched in the 1950s, when Budweiser and other national brands were trying to compete against local beers such as Baltimore's National Bohemian, American and Arrow.

The locals were cheaper, so the nationals reduced the container size to bring down their price, said Guy.

Officials with the Beer Institute, an industry trade group in Washington, confirm the account, but note that 10-ounce cans never really caught on.

They were sold in only about 20 states in their heyday, according to the book "A History of Packaged Beer and Its Market in the United States," published in 1969.

"It's never really been popular," said Robert S. Weinberg, a beer-industry consultant in St. Louis.

A spokesman for Anheuser-Busch Inc., the leading producer of beer in smaller cans, said Maryland's affection for 10-ounce brew has grown in recent years despite a slackening national thirst for the container.

The St. Louis company fills the smaller cans only at a Houston brewery because it's nearest to Puerto Rico, where 75 percent of the 10-ounce cans are sold.

"Demand for it is pretty soft nationally," said Michael J. Brooks, Anheuser-Busch's vice president for sales. "When we try the 10-ounce cans in other markets, we haven't met with success."

Fans of the little can swear the beer tastes better and fits the hand nicely.

But they especially like a can small enough that they can consume their drink before it gets flat or warm.

"You get halfway through a 12-ounce can and it starts to get warm," said Joseph Hill, a refrigeration repairman and Dew Drop regular.

Guy, who has sold 10-ouncers since 1956, believes in the coldness theory.

The smaller beer seems most popular with working people who spend most of their time outdoors, and doesn't seem to appeal to newcomers.

At nearby Patuxent River Naval Air Station, "We can't sell a one," said Guy. "They're not from around here."

Interestingly, 8-ounce cans and 7-ounce bottles, two smaller sizes offered by breweries, hold no particular appeal in Southern Maryland or the Eastern Shore.

Residents of those two rural districts have long been chided for being steadfast in their ways, and apparently they are.

"It's amazing to serve someone from out of town," said Byrd "Dog" Wheeler of J. C. Dodd Distributing Co. in Easton. "They look at it kind of funny."

Pub Date: 9/17/96

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