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COM: September 2008

Buccaneer Beer


This month let's look at a brand of beer issued for a local festival. Such cans were common in the late 1970s and early 1980s as small brewers tried to cash in on the beer can collecting fad of the time, but they are less common before the 1970s. One of the earliest examples of beers tied to local festivals was produced by Houston's Gulf Brewing (1933-1963). Their regular beer was called "Grand Prize." (You can see more about Gulf Brewing in John Smallshaw's article in the May-June 2004 issue of the American Breweriana Journal). In 1956 Gulf Brewing introduced a new beer called "Buccaneer" to help promote Corpus Christi's April "Splash Day" or Buccaneer Days which celebrated the beginning of the summer season. The result was a somewhat scarce can with limited distribution, a nice addition to any beer can collection.

Gulf Brewing's Buccaneer Days

“Splash Day” began in 1917 and Buccaneer Days officially began in 1938. Splash Day originally was celebrated with a beauty contest on North Beach in Corpus Christi. By the mid 1930s it expanded to a three-day event to promote the city and, in the harsh economic times of the Great Depression, bring customers from the surrounding areas into town.

A Buccaneer Days Commission was formed to plan a more elaborate festival to emphasize the fun of the summer season. A primary objective was to add more glamour and excitement to the annual celebration by building the event around the city's history, including pirates in the Gulf of Mexico.

Jean Lafitte. The most famous of these pirates was probably Jean Lafitte (ca. 1776 – ca. 1823) (see painting from the left, from Wikipedia) Lafitte may have been the inspiration for the image of the pirate on the Buccaneer can pictured above. He had operated in the region in the early 19th century and even participated in the Battle of New Orleans in 1814, fighting on the American side. After the War of 1812 ended, Lafitte shifted his operations to Galveston Island, making it his new pirate base until 1821. A century later, as tourism became an important business along the Texas coast, every town had a "pirate" or "buccaneer" hotel, bar, or restaurant as a tie-in to this part of the area's history.



Splash Day Paper.
1956 Corpus Christi newspaper advertising Splash Day (click to see larger).

It was a natural link, then, for Houston's Gulf Brewing in the mid-1950s to try to find ways to compete with the national and large regional breweries by issuing cans collectors would want. Like every other small and mid-sized brewery in the U.S. it wanted to expand its share of the beer market. So Gulf Brewery decided to add a new product to their existing line—and they tied it to the local celebration. They developed a new beer that was heavier and darker than their normal lager. The new beer, named Buccaneer, was introduced in April 1956–just in time to market it for the big Buccaneer Days annual celebration. It outfitted a 65 foot two-masted schooner, renamed "Buccaneer" for the occasion. Locals dressed as pirates, jumped from the ship's decks onto Galveston's docks, and "took over" the city to start the festival.  (McLaglen is pictured in the upper left of the newspaper shown above)

1956 newspaper ad. 1956 ad.
An April 1956 newspaper ad. (click to see larger version). A detail from an April 1956 grocery ad promoting a visit by McLaglen. (Click to see full ad).

As the new beer’s spokesman, the brewery hired Victor McLaglen, an actor, former boxer, and World War I veteran. He played the kind of "man's man" role in movies that Gulf Brewery wanted as a symbol for their new, heavier beer. The Internet Movie Database lists over 120 movies for McLaglen, beginning in 1920. They included such classics as "The Quiet Man," "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," and "Fort Apache" as well as lesser known films such as "Sea Devils." McLaglen made numerous appearances, including grocery stores where the beer was sold, and was featured in newspaper ads (shown above).

According to the brewery, the beer was immediately very successful and I have found grocery and liquor store ads in Texas newspapers as late as 1963 advertising the brand being sold in cans. Still, the can does not appear to be very common, which leads me to wonder if it had limited distribution. The newspapers where I found Buccaneer ads all came from cities along the Gulf coast.

As always, corrections and additions are welcome. Please email me (mark@rustycans.com).

Digging Buccaneers

My cans was found by Rusty Bunch member Bill L. in east Texas in 2004.  The dump was deep and included another rare can, a Charro, also made by Gulf.  They dug the dump at night after work.  Thanks Bill, it's a great can!

dumped cans.

The photo from Rustlings. My can is second from the left, bottom row.

Sources Used

'A New Beer: Buccaneer"  The Brewers Digest. (June 1956).

Current "Buc Days" website.

Houstonian website.

Lindstrom, Bill. "Night Crawlers" Rustlings (July 2004)

Smallshaw, John. "The Story of Howard Hughes and the Gulf Brewing Company" American Breweriana (May-June 2004)


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