A Boh by any other name

Few things are as broadly recognizable in Chesapeake country as a few distinctive brands: Old Bay seasoning, Utz potato chips, and National Bohemian beer. The food, the drink, and the flavoring have undoubtedly been on hand at almost every crab feast, Orioles game, and log canoe race of the 20th and 21st centuries, and in many ways have come to symbolize the deep relationship between the people here and the distinctive Maryland setting they love so much. So widespread and familiar are the brand trinity of chip, sip, and spice that sometimes they are even teamed up for greater appeal; for example, Old Bay has been used to season a particular line of the Utz brand, the crab chip, which is either an unholy alliance or the best of both worlds, depending on your view.


One recent graphic artist has re-imagined the crab chip marketing thusly, which I believe underscores her opinion of the two-in-one product:


                                       Image courtesy of Erynn Sweeney

Recently, the two mascots of National Bohemian beer and Utz chips, Mr. Boh and the Utz girl respectively, have been paired up in another alliance, this time romantic, as the muses for another classic Chesapeake brand, Smyth Jewelers, based in Baltimore. Cast in the roles of a courting couple, the clever 30-second spot manages to have Mr. Boh and the Utz girl wordlessly convey via a mini silent film the some of most universal experiences of the Chesapeake lifestyle:

Love stories aside, over the years Mr. Boh in particular has been promoted in numerous guises that lend to the flavor of his role as Chesapeake icon since 1936. His trademark semi-profile and handlebar moustache has been enhanced by a Orioles uniform, a lifeguard’s suit at Ocean City, and a Sparrow’s Point factory worker. National Bohemian beer’s mascot underscores the ubiquitous presence of the suds that he sells at every Maryland moment, from the boardwalk to the bleachers.


                      A Baltimore baseball Mr. Boh mugging as an Oriole.


Like Chesapeake folk since the 50’s, Mr. Boh heads to Ocean City for relief from the summer Chesapeake heat.


  Mr. Boh with a hardhat and a lunch box as a Bethlehem Steel worker at Sparrows Point.

Today, after a hiatus in the late 70’s, the National Bohemian brand has been revitalized, and Mr. Boh can be seen on breweriana from bumper stickers to banners to Star Spangled Banner 200 commemorative materials.


Mr. Boh certainly assumes many identities as the National Bohemian brand seeks to connect its lager with every event and celebration touted as distinctively Chesapeake-focused. My favorite, however, has Mr. Boh evoking the persona of a Maryland icon considerably more lauded than the beer mascot, Edgar Allan Poe.


It seems a bit blasphemous until you read Poe’s own words:

“Filled with mingled cream and amber;

I will drain that glass again;

Such hilarious visions clamber;

Through the chamber of my brain;

Quaintest thoughts, queerest fancies;

Come to life and fade away.

What care I how time advances?

 I am drinking ale today.”

- Edgar Allan Poe

Although the first batch of National Bohemian beer was brewed 40 years after Poe’s death in 1849, one imagines that a pint of their lager would have been perfectly appropriate in the pub’s of Poe’s Baltimore. And like Edgar Allan Poe’s timeless writing, the beverage of the “Land of Pleasant Living” (along with a side of Utz potato chips seasoned with a little Old Bay) will convey the Chesapeake’s sensory experiences, whether spicy, savory, salty, or sublime, for generations to come.

Interested in learning more about the National Bohemian story? Check out this great article in the Baltimore City Paper about the rise, fall, and rebirth of one of Baltimore’s signature brands: http://bit.ly/cvbJyd