Advertisers in the 1980s had a very loose interpretation of who could be a spokesperson. Many were not even people: Domino’s Pizza’s the Noid, Joe Camel, 7-Up’s Cool Spot the Red Dot (who was just a dot with sunglasses) and the California Raisins. These characters put anthropomorphized faces on megacorporations. Perhaps none resonated more or for longer than Spuds MacKenzie, the official party dog of Bud Light.
During 30-second TV spots he was seen lounging on a beach chair, diving into a pool or playing drums at a backyard barbeque. Just living the life, accompanied by a custom soundtrack and narration by Robin Leach, host of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, while Anheuser-Busch rode these riches all the way to the bank. Spuds appeared on T-shirts, hats, lighters, koozies, glasses, lamps, belt buckles, beach towels, clocks, puffy stickers, Swatch watches and posters pinned to teenagers’ walls.
The commercials were wildly unrealistic. Not because Spuds’ lifestyle was unreasonably opulent for a pooch or he wore human clothes, pulled drafts and skateboarded, but because most of the time the pup was alone at these parties. Only a handful of times was the bull terrier being pet or scratched. In real life, dogs are the center of attention at any party.
There are more than 9,000 breweries in the United States these days, and a staggering number of taprooms are dog friendly for well-behaved dogs.
My dog was not well behaved. When we adopted Pepper 14 years ago from a shelter in New Jersey, the terrier-schnauzer mix was underweight and feisty but friendly to us. Within days of bringing her home, we realized that she did not like other dogs and didn’t like most people either.
Going into the adoption process, my wife and I had dreams of a cool pup that might not wear wraparound shades like Spuds, but at least would hang out for brunches or lazy afternoons at the beer garden. Instead, we had to walk her at off hours to avoid most people and other dogs on the street, come up with rules for visitors to our apartment (don’t look, don’t touch, don’t acknowledge her), and shift our life around this very picky dog.
Still, Pepper became part of my beer life. She would snooze nearby as I worked on books and articles and cast weary eyes at guests to our dining room table there for blind beer tastings. She even made a cameo in a beer documentary.
She would occasionally get a taste. Once, in her younger days, she got into a can of beer—leaving it empty on the kitchen floor with two vampiric puncture marks. Beer, by the way, is not something to give to dogs. Hops can be poisonous to them, like chocolate, so sharing sips is not recommended.
The connection between beer and dogs is a strong one and something that existed well before Spuds rolled up in a limo and walked the red carpet. Yuengling, the Pennsylvania brewery, advertised its brand along with a painting of puppies playing poker. Budweiser also played into the dog theme early, promoting dalmatians alongside the famed beer wagon pulling Clydesdales.
A chance encounter with a dalmatian owner at a local dog park late one night (where Pepper was sequestered), who disparaged my scruff y mutt’s looks, inspired her own star turn. The interaction led Brian Kulbacki of Departed Soles Brewing Co. in Jersey City to create a beer in Pepper’s honor, complete with label art to match.
Many craft brewers have embraced dogs on their labels. Among them, Avery Brewing and Smuttynose Brewing promoted labs on labels of brown ales. NoDa Brewing in North Carolina went so far as to highlight pets available for adoption on can labels.
As of this writing, we were saying goodbye to Pepper. A tumor in her chest had grown, and she passed in late winter. We never did get to a brewery together, and she didn’t like parties. But the nights at home with her snoozing next to me on the couch with a pint in hand are some of the happiest memories I’ve had, and her presence always made the beer taste better.
This article originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!