Reviving Rheingold

Written by David Falchek for thetimes-tribune.com

A Connecticut beverage marketer has teamed up with the Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre to revive a beer brand, bringing Rheingold to the shelves for the first time in 35 years.

Drinks Americas hopes to give people a taste of the past by distributing Rheingold in the Eastern U.S., capitalizing on the coolness of retro products.

Rheingold has a special connection with its customers, said Drinks Americas President J. Patrick Kenny. The brand had dominated the New York metro market for decades, its popularity buoyed by an infectious jingle that began, “My beer is Rheingold, the dry beer.”

“I’ve had grown men sing me the song in the streets, in beer stores,” Mr. Kenny said. “I saw how special this brand is to people.”

Mr. Kenny turned to the Lion Brewery and owner Cliff Risel. The men became friends when Mr. Kenny worked at Seagrams and Mr. Risel worked at Coca-Cola. Rheingold is brewed and canned at the Lion Brewery to Drinks Americas’ specifications.

“Cliff is a great operator who only makes the highest-quality product,” he said. “I know I can trust Lion with our trademark.”

Lion Brewery spokesman Tom Farina declined to comment on the brewery’s role in Rheingold’s revival, saying only, “It’s not our brand.”

Lion has a new canning line on which Rheingold is run. Lion recently released several of its popular brands in a can format, including Lionshead, Lionshead Light and Stegmaier Gold.

Rheingold, which was brewed from 1868 to 1976, resonates with working-class beer drinkers in and around New York City. The company’s headquarters was in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn and Rheingold was the official beer of the New York Mets. The regional brewer was known for its annual Miss Rheingold pageant, in which beer drinkers would vote for the Rheingold spokesmodel. Competition from national breweries killed Rheingold in 1976.

Its zealous New York following earned it cameo appearances in television shows like “Mad Men,” “The Sopranos” and “King of Queens.” But perhaps its most famous appearance was in the movie “The Godfather.” A Rheingold delivery truck provides the backdrop as Sonny Corleone beats his brother-in-law, Carlo, for abusing his sister, Connie. For that reason, Mr. Kenny jokes that Rheingold is a good gift for a future son-in-law.

More recently, “Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola contacted Drinks Americas to use Rheingold in another film. Mr. Kenny said he was honored, and asked for a signed still of the “Godfather” scene. Mr. Coppola obliged.

There wasn’t a serious attempt to recreate the taste of original Rheingold, which went through one short-lived revival in the late 1990s, under another company.

“You wouldn’t find the original to be as palatable,” Mr. Kenny said. “We made a beer that is more drinkable.”

The brand was launched in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey in August and is now working its way through Pennsylvania and Ohio. Right now it is in cans, but plans are to expand to bottles and kegs.

Initial sales have been good, Mr. Kenny said, and the more important second orders have come in.

“The second order tells you people are buying it and that it’s not just sitting on a shelf,” he said.

Beer revivals are not new, and not always successful, noted beer and spirits writer Lew Bryson said.

He points to National Bohemian, Haffenreffer and Reading as some recent revival attempts that went flat.

“It takes more than putting a good beer in a retro can, it takes solid promotion and marketing,” he said. “Revivals like these can work, if there is a solid memory of the brand, and if it’s in an area with strong regional pride.”

Drinks Americas’ website, http://rheingoldbrew ingcompany.com, offers original magazine ads and the marching jingle. Drinks Americas also markets Trump Super Fermium Vodka, Willie Nelson Old Whiskey River Bourbon, and Kid Rock American Badass Beer.

Contact the writer: dfalchek@timesshamrock.com