Theodore Hamm Brewing Company 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 1880s the Theo. Hamm Brewing Company was reckoned the second largest in Minnesota.
His son, William, and grandson, William Jr. inherited the operation in 1903. During Prohibition, the company survived by producing soft drinks and other food products, enabling it to expand rapidly through acquisitions after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. In 1968 the company was acquired by Heublein, which sold it to Olympia Brewing Company. Pabst then purchased Olympia along with Hamm's in 1983. Miller Brewing acquired the brand in 1999. Miller was later purchased by South African Breweries and the name changed to SABMiller. Subsequently, SABMiller formed a joint venture combining their US and Puerto Rican assets with those of MolsonCoors to form MillerCoors, the current owner and brewer of the Hamm's Brand. MillerCoors now produces three Hamm's Beers, Premium, Golden Draft, and Special Light.
San Francisco brewery
The Hamm's brewery in San Francisco opened in 1954 at 1550 Bryant Street and closed in 1972. Its 20-by-80 foot sign, with a 3-dimensional 13-foot beer chalice on top, appeared in the first Dirty Harry film and was a local landmark. In the early 1980s, the beer vats were first squatted and then rented out to punk rock bands. Known as "The Vats," the brewery was a center of San Francisco punk rock culture with about 200 bands using individual vats as music studios. The building was renovated in the mid 1980s and converted into offices and showroom space.
Several beers are produced: the original Hamm's Premium, a pale lager; Hamm's Golden Draft; and Hamm's Special Light.
Hamm's is sold as a "bottom shelf" brand by Miller, and is often the least expensive beer available at a given store.
Miller reintroduced Hamm's in several markets in the midwest and raised the prices of Milwaukee's Best at the same time.
The original jingle, with lyrics by Nelle Richmond Eberhart and music by Charles Wakefield Cadman was derived from a 1909 art song entitled "From The Land of Sky-Blue Water." It was first used on radio and later on television. It started with tom-tom drums, then a chorus intoned (partial lyrics):
- From the Land of Sky Blue Waters,
- From the land of pines' lofty balsams,
- Comes the beer refreshing,
- Hamm's the beer refreshing.
Hamm's Beer bear
Even more famous than the jingle was the Hamm's Beer bear. The bear was incorporated into the first campaign produced by the Campbell Mithun advertising agency, which sought to emphasize the supposedly superior cleanliness and naturality of Hamm's beer owing to its clear water and production in pristine Minnesota, the "enchanted Northland." The first television commercial depicted animated beavers beating their tails to the tom-tom beat of the jingle, as well as live action shots of the forests and lakes of the "enchanted Northland." The second, produced in 1952, introduced the clumsy dancing black-and-white cartoon "Beer Bear," actually named "Sascha," which proved so popular it was used for the next three decades. The "Beer Bear" and other woodland creatures were seen many afternoons as Hamm's was the beer sponsor of the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, and Minnesota Twins in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
In popular culture
In Minnesota after World War II and into the mid-century, "Hamm's" was a common synonym for beer, as in "It's been a long day – let's get a Hamm's", or packing for a summer picnic, "Don't forget to put in the Hamm's!"
William Hamm, Jr. was kidnapped in Saint Paul by the Barker-Karpis Gang in the 1930s. The subsequent investigation by the FBI employed the first attempt at raising latent fingerprints from paper ransom notes.
In the David Frizzell song "I'm Gonna Hire a Wino To Decorate Our Home", the wife mentions the Hamm's Bear in the lyrics, referring to a Hamms Bear clock, used in many bars, i.e.: "When the Hamm's Bear says it's closing time, you won't have far to crawl"
John Cusack's character, Robert Gordon, drinks Hamm's almost exclusively in the 2000 comedy High Fidelity.
Bill Paxton's character (listed on IMDb as "Dad" Meiks) drinks Hamm's Beer in the 2001 Thriller "Frailty"
- MillerCoors: Age Verification
- Peter Hartlaub (April 10, 2012). "What happened to the Hamm’s Brewery sign?". San Francisco Chronicle.
- 36 Views of the Hamm's Brewery
- M.D.C. And The Vats - Foundsf
- "Latent Prints in the 1933 Hamm Kidnapping". FBI. p. 2.