Beer Relics – Dock Street Brewery Protest Bottle

[I’d like to thank Patrick Huff for asking me to be one of the first contributors to his Delaware Valley Beer Bloggers projectEvery two weeks I’ll be doing an article on a “Beer Relic”, a piece of memorabilia that’s laying around my barroom with the goal of providing some historical perspective and some personal memories ~ Ed]

My unopened bottle of “Protest” Dock Street

Anyone who knows the local craft beer world should not have their mind draw a blank when they hear the words “Dock Street Brewery”.  Dock Street, being one of the first microbreweries in the states and the first to incorporate in the city of Philadelphia, has been a fixture in the craft beer scene.

The current brewpub, which resides in an historic firehouse on the corner 50th & Baltimore Avenue of West Philadelphia’s Cedar Park, continues a brewing tradition that Jeffery Ware started when he opened the original brewpub at 2 Logan Street in October of 1990.  The brewpub was a recent winner at the 2012 Great American Beer Fest with La Biere des Amis (Dock Street/ Thiriez Saison)  for Session Beer (Silver Medal), and ABT 12 for Belgian Style Abbey (Bronze Medal).

But it’s not the brewpubs I want to talk about.   Dock Street has also had a very nice line of bottled beers, which sadly have had intermittent availability due to their circular history.  Since the availability of bottles predated the brewpub (and the original brewpub couldn’t handle the capacity once opened), Ware originally contracted the beer to FX Matt (Saranac).  Eventually, Ware left the beer trade selling the Dock Street brands to Henry Ortlieb to be produced at the Poor Henry’s Brewpub and Brewery in Philadelphia.  Poor Henry’s eventually closed, leaving Matt to once again contract brew the brand and relabel it “Old Dock Street Brewery”

While at  his original run with FX Matt, Ware got the idea (as several brewers did at the time) that he’d like to see his product available to beer drinkers outside of the United States.  What he quickly found out however, was that getting his product into foreign markets was problematic due to the high tariffs, duties and taxes that foreign countries placed on beers imported from the US.  These barriers meant that his ability to get his product distributed into most countries was limited, and in some cases, impossible.   He also found out that there was an inequity between these high tariffs, and the ones being levied on foreign beers coming into the United States.

Angered by the situation Ware did the usual things; write letters to US representatives, battle with importers, and encourage American beer consumers to boycott foreign beer and “buy American”.  But Ware also decided to do something unusual to bring further awareness to his cause.  He decided that for the month of  June 1990, all the labels on his bottled beers would be placed upside down.  The neck ring label was also changed, with a bright red “PROTEST” written across the logo, that according to Ware the ATF were a first reluctant to allow Dock Street to use.

I was young in those days, so the economic trade implications of this act were lost on me.  But a beer with a limited run of upside down labels?  Yeah, I wanted some of those.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that at the time, I really enjoyed Dock Street’s beers.  So one day I picked up a six pack, drank five of them and stashed the other one away for safe keeping.  To what end?  I don’t know.  I just thought it might be something cool to sit out on a shelf some day.  The beer inside of it is no doubt well passed it’s prime, so I’ve never even had an urge to open it in all these years.

Did Ware’s plan succeed?  To be honest, I don’t know.  As I stated, Ware left the business and the focus of the Dock Street brands shifted.   I’m not sure it ever found distribution over seas, or if his campaign for better trade equity in any way paved the way for breweries that followed.  Perhaps in the end, the only thing Ware’s protest did was to add a bottle to my collection of beer relics.

~EaM~

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9 comments on “Beer Relics – Dock Street Brewery Protest Bottle

  1. Reblogged this on The Dogs of Beer and commented:

    A few months ago my friend Patrick Huff over at Craftandthebeast.com asked me if I’d be interested in contributing to a site he was just starting up called the Delaware Valley Beer Bloggers.
    Patrick’s goal is to gather a group of local area bloggers that would build a community of sorts by providing a site where we can all post one or two articles a month outside of our regular blogs.
    At first I didn’t know if I wanted to (or even could) take on something that would pull time from tDoB, but eventually I agreed because I think it’s a fantastic idea. So the first and third Friday of every month, I’ll be writing a series of articles entitled “Beer Relics” about the things that I’ve collected in my beer travels over the years that are currently collecting dust in my barroom. Here is my first article about a bottle of Dock Street that had the label purposefully placed upside down as a protest against unfair beer trade practices in the late 80 early 90s.
    This will be the only one I’ll be cross posting here, so follow the DVBB if interested in reading more. And if you’re interested in becoming a contributor to the DVBB, click the CONTACT ME button on the menu bar.

  2. To be honest, I only realized that the label was upside-down and the protest sign was there after I read your post. I thought it was a part of the design. It was a crafty way to voice out your opinion.

  3. I hadn’t thought of this before but it seems it would be obvious that we have an imbalance on import/export in beer, just as we do in everything else. It isn’t often that you hear about a micro looking to expand into foreign markets. That seems more the realm of the big three who need to control the world to prove they have value.

    • Hi Jon! I think early on it seemed like a desirable goal to be overseas but I don’t think that’s so true anymore for most micros now that the craft beer boom has happened in the states. Most micros can’t distribute to all the states they wish, let alone think about going overseas. Thanks for the comment.

  4. In the third paragraph correction needed-
    “leaving Matt to once again acquire the brand and relabel it “Old Dock Street Brewery”

    Matt never owned the Dock Street brand. When Henry Ortleib went bankrupt, Rosemarie Certo, Jeff Ware’s former partner, re-aquired the Dock Street brand. She continues to own and operate Dock Street Brewery which is now located at 701 S. 50th street.

    • Marilyn, thanks for the correction! The article I referenced stated:

      “Recently, Poor Henry’s has closed, but the valuable Dock Street brand is now contracted again to Matt in Utica under the name “Old Dock Street Brewery” of Gladwyne, Pennsylvania.”

      Acquire was a poor choice of words as Matt never did owned the Dock Street Brand. I’ll correct it. Sorry for being late with this. I have limited control over this site and your comment has been sitting in the moderation queue.

      Thanks again!

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