As I listened to a Twins game on my PC the other day here in Cape Coral, Florida with Dan Gladden and Cory Provus announcing the action I was sitting out in the lanai next to the pool with a cold beer sitting next to me and my mind wandered back to my childhood when I first started following the Twins. I was 13 at the time and every evening we were out in the barn milking the cows when Twins baseball came on the air. Back then, if you wanted to listen to a Minnesota Twins game when the team first moved here from Washington D.C. in 1961 you had to turn your radio dial to 830 on the AM dial and listen to WCCO radio where Ray Scott, Bob Wolff, and Halsey Hall described the action for you. We had an old beat up radio in the barn that was turned on as soon as the lights were turned on and the radio was always tuned to 830 WCCO, as a matter of fact you couldn’t tune it to anything else because the station dial was missing. Back then, one of the Minnesota Twins main sponsors on radio and TV was Hamm’s beer. I can still here that Hamm’s jingle to this day. Hamm’s also was a sponsor for other baseball teams including the Cubs, White Sox and the Orioles. Back then some of the announcers actually worked for and were hired by the sponsors themselves and were not working for the baseball teams that they broadcast for. If my information is correct, HOF Twins broadcaster Herb Carneal worked for Hamm’s when he joined the Twins.
Hamm’s was established in 1865 when Theodore Hamm a German immigrant inherited the Excelsior Brewery from his friend and business associate, A. F. Keller. Keller had constructed his brewery over artesian wells in a section of the Phalen Creek valley in St. Paul, Minnesota known as Swede Hollow. Hamm hired Christopher Figg to be his masterbrewer, and by the 1880’s the Theo. Hamm Brewing Company was reported to be the second largest in Minnesota. Hamm’s also had a brewery in San Francisco, California from 1954 to 1972. Since then, the Hamm’s brand had changed hands several times but is still produced today by MillerCoors. Hamm’s beer was always known as a low-cost blue-collar beer and the name Hamm’s is probably more famous for its jingle and its mascot Sascha, the Hamm’s beer bear than it is for its product. The original jingle, with lyrics by Nelle Richmond Eberhart originated from a 1909 song called “From The Land of Sky-Blue Water.” It started with tom-tom drums, then a chorus intoned:
From the Land of Sky Blue Waters, From the land of pines’ lofty balsams, Comes the beer refreshing, Hamm’s the beer refreshing. Brewed where nature works her wonders, Aged for many moons, gently mellowed, Hamm’s the beer refreshing, Hamm’s the beer refreshing. From across the rippling water, Through the whisp’ring pines and birches, Comes the beer refreshing, Hamm’s the beer refreshing. Comes a call to cool enchantment, Comes a call to cool refreshment, Hamm’s the beer refreshing, Hamm’s the beer refreshing. Hints of lakes and sunset breezes, Dance and sparkle in each glassful, Hamm’s the beer refreshing, Hamm’s the beer refreshing. Here is an example of one of the old Hamm’s beer TV spots. If this commercial brought back some fond memories, you can find a number of other old Hamm’s commercials by searching on YouTube.
Sascha, the Hamm’s beer mascot was created by Patrick DesJarlait, an Ojibwa, in 1952 for an advertising campaign produced by the Campbell-Mithun advertising agency but it was Ray Tollefson that actually drew the bear that Campbell-Mithun liked the best and the rest is history. Tollefson later he went on to create the little flame girl for Minnegasco and Albert & Stanley for Grain Belt Beer before passing away at the age of 91 in 2002. The Hamm’s Beer bear was featured in numerous signs and all kinds of merchandise including glasses, clocks, ashtrays and it became so well-known and tied to its Minnesota roots that in 2000, the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper named Sascha the Hamm’s bear as a runner-up in its list of “150 Influential Minnesotans of the Past 150 Years”. Rumor has it that the current Twins mascot, T.C. was “modeled” after Sascha. What do you think, you see a resemblence?
Sascha the Hamm’s bear remains as one of the most memorable icons of all-time and Frank Kelly Rich did a neat piece on what he considered the top 10 alcohol icons for Modern Drunkard Magazine. Here is what Frank wrote about Sascha.
The Hamm’s Bear
Perhaps a Little Too Happy?
The joyous bear haunting baby-boomers dreams was conceived by Ojibwa Indian Patrick DesJarlait in 1952. Though his name was never revealed on air, around the brewery he was called Sascha, after the brewery founder’s wife. Which must have thrilled her no end — what woman wouldn’t want to be the namesake of an obese male bear?
Being saddled with a chick name didn’t seem to bother Sascha much. He spent most of his time dancing and getting into weird adventures with the other animals of the forest, to the point one wonders if there was something other than fish in the “Sky Blue Waters.”
The wildly popular commercials employed plot devices ranging from good old-fashioned fun like pie fights and log-rolling to more risqué activities, such as train robbery, gunplay, arson, and gleeful wolf-abuse. The spots would saturate the airwaves for over 30 years, which is especially impressive when you consider Spuds MacKenzie lasted less than three.
Why It Worked: Most beer commercials of the day involved some shill bragging about how good their product was, while the Hamm’s spots came equipped with humor, plot and punch line. The occasional interaction between cartoons and real actors was ground breaking—Sascha beat Roger Rabbit to the punch by 40 years.
Evolution: Sascha’s appearance didn’t vary a great deal, aside from slicker graphics and the transition from B&W to color. He sired a cub at one point and eventually learned to speak (his sole utterance: “It bears repeating”). The only major mutation was the occasional Pinocchio-esque transformation into a real bear.
Sascha was eventually and inevitably slain by do-gooders who claimed he was hustling beer to children. The monstrous amount of Sascha-related ephemera cranked out during his long reign has become quite collectable, and the lovable mammal is still celebrated by The Hamm’s Club, which throws a yearly convention.
Dark Secret: Was probably a stoner. All the signs are there: perpetually goofy grin, impromptu hippie-style dancing at the sound of drums, and militant veganism (his single attempt to break his diet with a little fish concluded with him shooting a hole through the bottom of the boat.)
Claim to Fame: Sascha eventually reached such heights of popularity-inspired hubris that he felt compelled to step into the ring with undefeated boxing legend Rocky Marciano (Rocky remained undefeated at the end of the commercial.)
If you are inclined to read the entire story called “Ten Greatest Alcohol Icons of All Time” you can find it here.“Ten Greatest Alcohol Icons of All Time” Reprinted with written permission from Modern Drunkard Magazine
TwinCities.com did a nice piece on Hamms back in October 2009 called “Remembering: Theo. Hamm Brewing Co.” that you might enjoy reading.