Will Scerbo had just cracked open a late-afternoon bottle of National Bohemian beer, ready to put his brain cells to the test with a classic Natty Boh bottle cap puzzle, when he was met with a startling reality: a blank bottle cap.
National Bohemian beer, also known as Natty Boh, has printed rebus puzzles on its bottle caps for decades. The brand had its start in Baltimore in 1885 and, although the beer has not been produced locally since the 1990s, Baltimore’s allegiance to the American lager and its bottle caps remains.
“I guess it feels a little corny to have such sentimental value attached to beer brand identity, but solving the puzzles reminds me of my family members giving me the bottle caps at get-togethers when I was a little kid,” said Scerbo, a 24-year-old living in Mount Vernon.
Charlie Toadvine, a bartender at Baltimore’s Charles Village Pub, said he first noticed the disappearance of the pictogram puzzles just over a month ago.
Toadvine said the pub received one order of bottles with puzzles, which he assumes were an old batch because every week since, the bottle caps have turned up blank. Despite the change, he said customers have not stopped ordering the classic Charm City beer.
“There was some mild disappointment, but no outrage,” Toadvine said.
A spokesperson for Pabst Brewing, the owners and producers of National Bohemian, said the puzzles are under review along with the bottle caps of other Pabst-owned beers.
The spokesperson said the puzzles will return later this year. In the meantime, Pabst is “seeking new puzzles that keep Natty Boh’s bottles fresh and entertaining for the land of pleasant living.”
For Rob Kasper, author of “Baltimore Beer: A Satisfying History of Charm City Brewing,” the bottle cap puzzles have always been a source of entertainment, but also a critical tool during a night out.
“I regarded the puzzles as a test of sobriety. As long as you could figure out the answers you could probably justify drinking another beer,” Kasper said.
But at least one Natty Boh drinker was able to game the system.
Baltimore resident Kevin Petrikas developed a skill for Amazon’s Alexa back in 2019 that solved the bottle cap riddles. Users simply had to download Petrikas’ creation and tell Alexa the number of their Natty Boh puzzle.
“It was a sad day when a fellow figured out how to get Alexa to provide the puzzle answers, one small step backward for barroom brains, two more steps in the direction of digital incursion into our daily lives,” Kasper said.
Steve Fogleman, editor of the Baltimore Beer Baron blog, likened the puzzle caps to an old friend and had one request — “Return the rebuses. It will please us!”