Friday, May 24, 2024

Part 1; The Trouble With Lando.

September 14, 2009 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( Colt 45 Malt Liquor’s advertising isn’t working for the city of Detroit

I was riding down Gratiot Street in Detroit this past May, on a city bus, when my eyes climbed up and fell upon the most blatantly absurd balls-out chunk of mendacity I have seen in long, long time.

There, held aloft between side-by-side buildings, one an abandoned Subway restaurant, the other a just-ought-to-be-abandoned tire store stood two billboards connected by their edges advertising none other than Colt 45 Malt Liquor. Yes, Billy Dee Williams, or rather his likeness, was there and so was the tagline “Works Every Time”. Twice.

I had never seen identical liquor ads side by side and back to back on billboards like that, ever. This was new. Over the next few weeks or so I began to notice a strange outbreak of this particular billboard inside the city. Since I don’t believe in coincidence I went over to Advertising Age to check up on old Colt 45’s movements of late and see exactly what all this meant.


Now, you and I know that Billy Dee is two weeks older than rain. So what Pabst Brewing Company, the makers of Colt 45, did was render a really creepy drawing of Billy Dee for their ads. They were betting on the sight of Billy Dee bringing back that warm, drunken feeling with customers who were around back in the Stone Age when he was cracking, while the new look would reel in the newbies’ curiosity of all things ghetto. And Pabst was right.

Only Billy Dee didn’t see it that way; he threatened to sue Pabst for using his image without his consent. His image was being used on billboards, print ads, in-store posters and on the creepiest website you’ve ever seen,

One day I heard about the lawsuit, then I never heard it about again, but when I returned to the website recently I saw why. Billy Dee is still there but suddenly so is all sorts of Billy Dee Williams merchandise (including a Billy Dee blowup doll) which tells me that Colt 45 ain’t the only thing around here that works every time.

But I guess selling cars in Toledo wasn’t paying the bills. Check out that Shakespearean effort at I can give a brother a pass on some things, but this isn’t one of those things.


While there are many, many theories about malt liquor, where it’s from, how it’s made, there is only one way to get it. Malt liquor is a creation of chemical manipulation and brewhouse sleight of hand. It is a mutant of the beer family whose sole purpose is to get you drunk. It’s not even beer, although hops are involved; it’s more moonshine than anything else. To know what it is is to know thy enemy.


While beer has been with us since the days of Hamurabi in ancient Egypt, malt liquor has not enjoyed that kind of distinguished pedigree. No, malt liquor first reared its drunken head after the war, in 1937, when the nation’s breweries were sandwiched between a rock and a hard place, namely the post-Prohibition Great Depression and World War II. Supplies were limited, they couldn’t get bottles, aluminum was being rationed, breweries were suffering.

So this guy in Ionia, MI over at Grand Valley Brewing Company invented “Clix Malt Liquor” in 1937. His recipe used less hops and malt and his tinkering with the sugar content produced a brew with a higher alcohol content (more sugar in equals more alcohol out) and a thinner body. Then, not to be outdone, a fellow named Gluek in Minneapolis unveiled his “Stite” in 1942. But Gluek went one step further and invented a new fermentation process that would yield more alcohol through tinkering with both the yeast and the sugar in his brew.

Beer is made with malt, water, sugar and yeast through the process of fermentation; the ethyl alcohol produced by the fermentation process kills the yeast off when it reaches a certain level. What sugar is not fermented remains in the beer and gives it body. That is the richness you taste in a beer, it’s unfermented dextrins.

Malt liquor, however, has a trick up its sleeve; they switch out the standard yeast and replace it with a hardier strain which is more tolerant of alcohol and won’t be killed in the fermentation process. Given a new lease on life it lives on another day to suck up all that extra sugar and piss out all that extra alcohol. With no dextrins floating around (because the yeast eats it all), what you get is a thinner bodied brew with less flavor. But boy, it’ll get you drunk as hell and with a quickness!

And at upwards of 6-10% alcohol by volume, that is exactly the point.

End of Part I.

In Part II of The Trouble with Lando, we’ll see how malt liquor advertisers use the myths surrounding black male sexuality in order to market their product.

Written By Patricia Calloway

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