Salesman helped make a name out of National Premium and Natty Boh

Whenever you drink a National Premium or Natty Boh, think of Jerome "Jerry" DiPaolo, the colorful National Brewing Co. salesman and executive who helped make it one of the most recognizable and respected beers for more than 40 years in Baltimore and Maryland.

It's sad that DiPaolo, who recently died at 95, never got a chance to enjoy the new National Premium. Once his former employer's flagship product, it is now back in bars, but not on tap, and on liquor store shelves.


The beer, which last crossed the bar and coursed down the throats of its many fans more than 15 years ago, was recently revived by Tim Miller, an Eastern Shore businessman.

DiPaolo "drank National [Bohemian] only occasionally, and when he did, it was only one," said Myrna Bleakley, his fiancee.


"Two weeks before he died, I brought a can of National Boh to Stella Maris, and he drank three-quarters of it. I told him I'd bring the new Premium, but he died and never got a chance to taste it," she said.

A larger-than-life character, DiPaolo, the son of Italian immigrant parents, was credited with bringing National's products to Little Italy restaurants, which had resisted them.

But initially he wasn't even hired by the company. Bailey Goss, a local TV and radio sports broadcaster who had been the voice of the Orioles, had told DiPaolo that National was looking for a salesman, but when he applied for the job, he was turned down.

He was told "Italians only drink wine" and the company didn't hire salesmen with mustaches.

DiPaolo was persistent: He went back four times before landing the job in 1947.

He eventually rose from salesman to Baltimore regional sales manager, and finally to Eastern Division sales manager, a position he held for more than two decades.

Even though he used all his charm and wit, DiPaolo couldn't sell National's products to Little Italy restaurants, tavern owners and liquor stores, who felt that during World War II, the company had deliberately restricted supplies in favor of serving downtown hotels and bars on The Block.

His parents were friends of the Velleggia family, owners of the landmark Little Italy restaurant of the same name, who had also come from the Abruzzi region of Italy.


When he was a baby, his parents had taken DiPaolo to the restaurant. And now he was standing in their kitchen hoping to write some orders and bring an end to the beer boycott.

He had followed his father's advice and conducted all deliberations in fluent Italian, which he spoke with Enrico Velleggia. After listening to him, Velleggia said, "Son, you are one of us, and I'm going to help you."

"Jerry went there and said he was the baby they once held. They were so surprised that they bought 10 cases and took him around to all of the other restaurants and bars, who placed orders," recalled Bleakley. "That's how he got National back into Little Italy."

DiPaolo remained a revered figure when it came to Baltimore beers.

"Scunny McCusker was a friend of Jerry's, and he put his picture on the wall at Nacho Mama's," said Bleakley. McCusker, who died last week after the bicycle he was riding collided with a municipal bus on Coastal Highway in Ocean City, featured National Bohemian beer at Nacho Mama's and was instrumental in helping revive it.

Bill Costello, a former Evening Sun sports reporter who later was advertising director at National, said that DiPaolo was so successful that National Bohemian had a 58 percent market share in Maryland.


"No other U.S. brewer ever achieved that great a market share in its home market," he said. "Ever."

DiPaolo, Costello said, "was the greatest beer sales executive in Baltimore. He was just spectacular."

In December 2010, Miller went to a trademark auction at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, and for about $1,200 purchased the rights to National Premium, which allowed him to use the name any way he saw fit and on anything he saw fit.

Then Miller decided to re-create the brand with the help of master brewers.

National Premium, which is brewed at the Fordham Brewing Co. in Dover, Del., made its way back to thirsty, nostalgic Marylanders in May.

The City Paper recently reported that Fordham has brewed about 1,500 barrels of the beer, which is distributed by F.P. Winner.