Originally published in the February 2022 Issue of the Old Town Crier Magazine
In 1991 I was in graduate school and bartending at the Fish Market in Old Town Alexandria. It was the beginning of my love for what would become my adopted hometown. The Fish Market in those days was owned by a man affectionately known as Mr. Ray. Ray was a short, loud, stocky, gruff man and not always the easiest person to work for. If you followed his rules and did things the way he asked, you were fine…usually. Conversely, he could be quite charismatic and charming. And he was an astute businessman. Mr. Ray was quite a colorful character. I learned a lot from him during my time there. The Fish Market was, and still is, famous for its schooners of beer. A schooner is a large, thick 32-ounce glass supported by a short stem. The schooners were served chilled and were to be poured in a way that allowed for a 2-inch head on the top. Mr. Ray thought it was important to have a good head on a beer, and he was right. A good head on a beer releases the aromatics of the brew and makes for a better overall presentation. It also ensures that there are a couple less ounces of beer in the glass. Mr. Ray would walk up to your bar to check the beers you had just poured, holding two fingers up to the head to make sure it was correct. This could be a little unnerving, Mr. Ray had big fingers.
The Fish Market today serves a large variety of craft beer. But in 1991, they only served draft and the beer was not a craft beer. It was labeled Fish Market Beer, but we all knew what it was. It was Schlitz. Schlitz was at the end of its run, a beer in decline. And Mr. Ray was able to convince the company to let him label their beer as his own. This was at the very beginnings of the craft beer movement and the marketing move fooled many of the guests into thinking the beer was brewed especially for the Fish Market. To this day, the Fish Market still has their own draft beer. But trust me, the beer with their name on it is not Schlitz. They have a great variety of draft, bottle, and can beer. It’s a fun place for a beer lover.
Schlitz was once the great American beer. It was a bitter lager, as were most of the original large brewery beers in the U.S. These lagers ruled the market until the mid-1960s, when brewers like Anheuser-Busch began to sweeten their beer to appeal to the younger generation. By the time the decade of the 1970s was ending, these beers had become “old man” beers. They were the beers of your dad and grandfather, not brands cool or hip to be seen drinking.