As the name states, National Premium was an upscale beer. It was the ritzy brother of Baltimore’s National Brewing Company’s more popular blue-collar brew, National Bohemian. National Premium’s icon Mr. Pilsner, (originally spelled with an extra “e” Pilsener) sported a monocle and often donned a tuxedo. Not an outfit Mr. Boh would wear.
First brewed in 1936, National Premium was the proud product of brewmaster Carl R. Kreitler. Kreitler joined National shortly after repeal of Prohibition and oversaw the remodeling of old East Baltimore brewery that had been shuttered during the dry years of 1920 to 1933. An exacting, some would say dictatorial brewer, Kreitler imported a yeast from the Carlsburg brewery in Demark, he grew hops on his 247 acre farm near Jarrettsville and was renown in the brewing industry for his skills. National touted Kreitler’s expertise proclaiming in a 1941 advertisement in The Baltimore Sun that while there were over 500 beers in America the “decisive element which distinguishes one beer from the others is the skill, the blending, the sure touch” of its master-brewer.
National Premium billed itself as the “coast-to-coast party beer, a few cents more but well worth it.” It sold in the 1940s for 15 cents a bottle compared to ten cents for a bottle for National Bohemian.
It was well- received locally. “ It is smooth, mild, not bitter and it never gives me a headache” Nancy O’Connell, wrote in 1937 as part of a campaign that asked Baltimore residents to write testimonials about the beer. National Premium also had a national and international following. It was served at the Plaza Hotel and Lindy’s restaurant in New York, at the Ivanhoe restaurant in Chicago, at the Homestead in Virginia, and shipped overseas to Egypt, Bermuda, Syria, Puerto Rico, and Japan. A National executive, Arthur Deute, founded a society promoting fine food and beer. It had 17,000 members nationwide. A 1944 newspaper advertisement aimed at gourmet cooks, claimed it was the “ambition” of every Maine lobster to establish a friendly relationship with National Premium beer.
In 1946 when Jerry Hoffberger, the owner of the brewery and later owner of the Baltimore Orioles, flew to California with his wife, Alice, for their honeymoon the well-known performer Victor Borge gave a party for the couple in Los Angeles serving National Premium to the guests.
During World War II when malt rationing put the beer in short supply, the brewery told its followers “if you can’t find two bottles of National Premium be satisfied with one,” adding the patriotic advice to “save your money and buy a war bond.”
National Premium along with National Bohemian thrived in the 1950s and 1960s, outperforming the other local beers, Gunther, Free State, Arrow. But competition from out- of-town breweries began to erode sales. National merged with Carling in 1973 and production of National Premium was moved in 1978 from the old brewery at Conkling and Dillon streets to a newer plant in Halethorpe off the Baltimore beltway. In 1979 G. Heileman bought that brewery, folding National Premium into its line of beers. In 1996 Stroh Brewing Company took over Heileman and stopped making National Premium which by then was produced only in cans.
In 1999 an attempt to revive National Premium drew a crowd including former Maryland governor and Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer to a kickoff announcement on the Baltimore waterfront. Mr. Schaefer, who at the time was state comptroller, took a celebratory sip of the brew, a beer he said he used to enjoy before he stopped drinking in 1968. However, production of National Premium failed to come to fruition when the brewer, Frederick Brewing Company, went into bankruptcy.
In 2011 Tim Miller, a realtor based in Easton, bought the rights to National Premium, coaxed the recipe from a brewer who worked in the plant in the 1970s, and announced plans to resurrect the classic pilsner.
Source: Rob Kasper. Read more about the history of Baltimore breweries in Mr. Kasper’s book “Baltimore Beer: A Satisfying History of Charm City Brewing,” now available for purchase. Visit robkasper.com for more information.