St. Mary’s celebrates 10-ounce beer

Thursday, Nov. 17, 2005

Newcomers to St. Mary’s County may not understand why beer is available in 10-ounce cans and why they are so popular. It costs the same, if not more, than a 12-ounce can. So why would people buy it?

Reasons are varied. Some say it’s because the beer stays cold until the last swallow. Some say the brew tastes different in a 10-ounce can. Some say the can’s slim shape feels better in the hand.

Whether they know it or not, these drinkers are just carrying on a St. Mary’s County tradition, a tradition that is about to turn 50 years old next year.

Before Budweiser beer arrived in a 10-ounce can at the St. Mary’s County fairgrounds on Sept. 21, 1956, beer drinkers in St. Mary’s were mainly buying lagers brewed in Baltimore — in 12-ounce cans.

Beers such as Gunther and Arrow were the popular ones locally.

Guy Distributing in Leonardtown got its start in 1935 when Byron Guy was appointed beer distributor for ‘‘‘Arrow Beer — it hits the spot.’ That’s what we started out with,” said owner George Guy, 81.

At bars, Budweiser wasn’t as popular as the Baltimore beers because it cost 5 cents more per can. Foley Drury was the Budweiser distributor in St. Mary’s before the Guy family, but didn’t move much product — about 10 cases a week. Drury stored the beer in his barns, which are still standing, at the intersection of Fairgrounds Road and Route 4.

‘‘Beers like Budweiser were least known down here,” Guy said. But Guy took it on from Drury to distribute with the other mainstay beers. ‘‘We sold a few cases, but it was very light,” Guy said of Budweiser’s early performance.

In 1955, August Busch Jr., president of Anheuser-Busch breweries, made a move to expand operations and took a tour around the country.

Arriving in Washington, D.C., Busch met with some Maryland wholesalers, both as a group and individually.

‘‘I was shaking like a leaf,” Guy said of the encounter. ‘‘I was just petrified.”

Busch asked him what he could do to compete with the local beers in Maryland and St. Mary’s.

‘‘I need something to compete with local beers,” Guy said, at least in price. He told Busch about the upcoming 1956 county fair and asked if he could get the Clydesdale horses to visit.

Busch later called Guy on the phone. The horses would be coming, and after some market research, 10-ounce Budweisers would be introduced.

‘‘Our 10-ounce became a big item. Our sales after that took off,” Guy said.

The 10-ounce Budweisers were sold at bars for the same price as the 12-ounce Baltimore beers, and Budweiser was considered a more premium beer.

Then national brewers started advertising on television and buying up and consolidating smaller breweries.

Today there are three big American brewers — Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing and Coors Brewing — but microbreweries have been gaining popularity.

At Guy Distributing, ‘‘Bud Light 10-ounce is our No. 1 item,” said Mark Guy, general manager and George Guy’s grandson. ‘‘Everything’s about light beer now” in the national market, he said.

There wouldn’t have been Bud Light if it hadn’t been for Miller Lite. Miller Lite was introduced in 1975 and Bud Light came out in 1982. But then Miller Lite and Coors Light later appeared locally in the 10-ounce can.

Although 12-ounce beer cans dominate the national market, St. Mary’s County is not the only place to find the 10-ounce cans. Still, ‘‘we are probably the biggest user of 10-ounce cans in Maryland,” Mark Guy said.

There are some in Easton on the Eastern Shore, in New Orleans and at locales in Mississippi and Texas, ‘‘but they’re not big there,” George Guy said. The 10-ounce beer is popular in Puerto Rico.

All of Budweiser’s 10-ounce beers are brewed in the same location, in Houston.

People in the beer trade ‘‘will look you in the eye and tell you it tastes different” in the 10-ounce versus the 12-ounce can, Mark Guy said.

But it’s the same beer, George Guy said. The same vat will supply the entire gamut of different-sized containers. When George Guy was first in the business in the 1940s, beer came only in kegs, 12-ounce bottles and quarts.

Now consumers can get beer in 7-, 8-, 10-, 12-, 16-, 22-, 24-, 32- and 40-ounce containers. They come in glass, aluminum cans, aluminum bottles and plastic bottles. If there’s a market for it, some brewer is making it.

So why does the 10-ounce Budweiser remain a tradition in St. Mary’s?

‘‘It’s just become a big item in the county,” George Guy said. ‘‘People feel it’s something they created. It’s something that belongs to them.”

‘‘There are localisms anywhere you go,” Mark Guy said.

Ten-ounce beers ‘‘associate with St. Mary’s County,” George Guy said.

Guy Distributing is becoming a rarity in itself, as it distributes to only one county. Other local distributors serve several counties.

For 70 years now, ‘‘we’ve been fortunate to be able to survive as a single-county distributor,” George Guy said. ‘‘We’re still hanging in there.”

After its 1935 start, Byron Guy passed on the business to his parents, Agnes and Claude Guy, who first ran the business in Clements. Claude died in 1941 and Agnes later turned over the business to son George Guy in 1948. He bought the current location off Route 5 in Leonardtown in the early 1950s and added warehouses over the years.

Now his son Glenn is president of the company and his grandson Mark is the general manager. His daughters work there, too.

‘‘It’s nice to be able to do that with the big competition we have now” to keep the business in the family, George Guy said.

And while 10-ounce beers continue to be popular in and peculiar to St. Mary’s, George Guy reminds customers, ‘‘We hate people to be drinking and driving,” and drinking underage. ‘‘It hurts us and our product,” he said.