ASK ABOUT Pikesville rye these days and chances are Marylanders will more readily identify it as a country music band than as a whiskey that once was distilled in Baltimore and enjoyed throughout the region. Will the same thing happen to National Bohemian beer, a favorite Baltimore brew for 111 years (except during Prohibition) after Stroh's closes its Halethorpe brewery and transfers the production of the brand to Pennsylvania?
These are unsettling days for the nation's industrial brewers. Competition is fierce and consumption is stagnant. The only growth sector is craft beers produced by a steadily increasing number of micro-breweries that are able to charge premium prices. National Boh is not alone in leaving its hometown. Pabst announced recently it will close its original, 150-year-old Milwaukee plant.
During its glory days -- from the 1940s to the early 1970s -- National Boh and National Pre- mium were far and away the best-selling beer brands in Baltimore. Hugh Hefner's Oui maga- zine rated Natty Boh "clean and pleasant" and said the premium label "seemed to offer the best aspects of both European and American beer. . . dry, pleasurable to contemplate. . . distinctive bitterness. . . clean and light."
After local ownership of National Boh ceased in 1975, those brands became just two labels among big brewery beers. Quality began to suffer; popularity waned. In May, the G. Heileman Brewing Co., which was being taken over by Stroh's Brewing Co., discontinued making National Premium altogether. "The Land of Pleasant Living" was coming to an end.
Even after Baltimore's last industrial brewery closes around Christmas, local brewing traditions will be continued by a growing number of micro-breweries. One of them is fittingly located at the old National Brewing Co. plant in Highlandtown. Mr. Boh may be leaving town but pleasant living goes on.
Pub Date: 11/10/96