While making our day trip to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, we also decided to extend our Eastern Shore beer tour to learn about a Baltimore brew that is synonymous with Maryland pride. We visited Fells Point, a neighborhood just outside of Baltimore and home to National Bohemian, better known as Natty Boh. Although almost 90% of National Bohemian is sold in Baltimore, the beer’s roots are not entirely rooted in domestic soil.

National Bohemian is a Pilsner-style beer that was first made by the National Brewing Company in Baltimore in 1885. The Pilsner originated in 1842 in the region of Bohemia, a western region of the Czech Republic that also happens to be the inspiration behind the Natty Bohemian name. The Pilsner was an innovative creation; with its light and hoppy flavor, it provided a change from the dark heavy beers of the time. One reason that this style of beer was brewed in Baltimore, along with other German style beers, was the large German population that had immigrated to Baltimore.

Like competing breweries, such as Gunther Brewing Company, the National Brewing Company faced hardship during Prohibition. However unlike Gunther, who remained in business due to the production of “near beer,” National Brewing Company was forced to close until the amendment was repealed. It was at this point, in 1933, that Samuel Hoffberger bought the company and helped to bring it to modernity.

Also in 1933, National Bohemian introduced a one-eyed, mustachioed cartoon aptly named Mr. Boh as their mascot. Although this beloved state symbol has come to represent all things Maryland, there has been speculation as to why he only has one eye. Some say that the now-iconic Mr. Boh was originally photo 1drawn to show his profile, and thus would only show one eye. Others suggest that his one-eyed image is similar to a monocle. In fact, the beer brewed prior to National Bohemian, National Premium, has a mascot with a monocle and no eyes, and closely resembles Mr. Boh. A common joke made by school children incorporated Gunther Brewing Company’s slogan, “Gunther’s got it.” The saying started by asking “Where’s Mr. Boh’s other eye?” with the response being “Gunther’s got it”.

In the 1940’s as canned beer became a popular commodity, the National Brewing Company became the first company in the U.S. to sell six packs of cans. This allowed easy portability and increased beer consumption at home, instead of being solely consumed in bars. In the 1950’s, National Bohemian adopted the slogan “From the Land of Pleasant Living” in reference to life on the Chesapeake Bay. In real representation of life on the Bay, National Bohemian also adopted a skip jack, named the Chesterpeake as another mascot for the beer. This skipjack, which is also the official boat of Maryland, floated to events and regattas advertising the increasingly popular beer.

National Bohemian became the official beer of the Baltimore Orioles in 1965 when Jerry Hoffberger, son of Samuel Hoffberger, became a chairman of National Bohemian and a majority owner of the Baltimore Orioles. There was a decade when Natty Boh was not represented with Baltimore’s baseball team after the Orioles moved from  the Memorial Stadium to Camden Yards. However, after being reintroduced to the ballpark, sales of Natty Boh skyrocketed.

The National Brewing Company also showed support for Maryland sports with their malt liquor product, Colt 45. Despite common misconceptions, Colt 45 is not named after a revolver, but for a football player on the Baltimore Colts. The Indianapolis Colts once had a home in Baltimore with star player Jerry Hill, number 45. The National Brewing Company was also only the second company to offer a malt liquor for sale, their only competition at the time was the brand Country Club.

After several mergers and sales,  National Bohemian and its brother beverages are no longer brewed in Baltimore. They are now owned by Pabst Brewing Company and are brewed in different locations around America. The Natty Boh Tower at Brewer’s Hill, which was the brewing site for many years, is now home to a variety offices and restaurants. Most recently in 2011, Natty Boh once again became available for sale on tap after many years of only being available in cans and bottles.

Natty Boh’s unique tie to our state makes the beer symbolic of Maryland Pride and representative of our life on the Bay. Although few out-of-staters know who Mr. Boh is, this piece of folklore continues to be a tradition specific to Maryland’s identity.