For 93 years, the National Brewing Company ruled the roost on Brewers' Hill at Conkling and O' Donnell Streets in Baltimore, alongside such other well known brands as Gunther's and Arrow.
National survived Prohibition and the 1950's beer wars that saw local brands all over the country squeezed out of existence by large brewers who could afford to exploit a new nationwide highway system to transport their products across the country. Animated TV ads featured Natty Boh, a smiling mustachioed fellow whose hair always covered one eye, as well as Chester Peake the Pelican and a jingle that I won't repeat here because it's copyrighted, but which Baltimoreans who are old enough know by heart. Since the brewery's owner, Jerrold C. Hoffberger, also owned the Baltimore Orioles, Natty Boh was the only beer you could get at Memorial Stadium for years.
National managed to take at least one brand (Colt .45) national, but by 1973, the bigger breweries were squezing them out of business. A marriage of convienience with nearby Carling bought a litte time, at least.
In 1978, Carling National closed its plant on Brewer's Hill and moved production of Natty Boh to the newer plant in Halethorpe. Carling Naitonal was ultimately bought by a South African holding company, who in turn sold it to G. Heileman Brewing Company, a importer and maker of specialty beers, in 1979.
By 1995, however, even G. Heileman was unable to keep up with the likes of Anheuser Busch and Coors, and was sold to the Stroh Brewing Company. Mr. Boh left Maryland for good when Stroh closed the Halethorpe plant in 1996. Stroh decided to keep filling this niche market but moved Natty Boh to a plant outside Allentown, Pennsylvania. The idea of Nasty Boh being brewed up in Allentown at least fit the old blue-collar image of Baltimore that the beer evoked. However, more changes were coming.
Stroh finally called it quits in 1999. Miller Brewing Company picked up some of its brands; Pabst picked up the rest, including National Boh. Then, in 2001, even Pabst stopped manufacturing, contracting its brewing operations out to Miller. So 300,000 cases of something made in Eden, North Carolina are put in cans and bottles labeled 'National Bohemian' and shipped north to Maryland every year.
Six stories of factory, as high as a twelve-story office building, sit on top of the highest hill in Southeast Baltimore. Round platforms for tuns visible through gaping holes where there were once windows, the old National Brewing Company building still looms like Dracula's Castle from Conkling and O'Donnell Streets. It is unmistakable if you are driving through the city on I-95; a more macabre view can be seen from Edison Highway and Sinclair Lane.
A bit from memory, a bit from
A Beer to Call Your Own: Tales From the Rise and Fall of National Brewing