Primo Beer’s Supposed Health Benefit Claims

According to its early 1900s ads in the Hawaii newspapers, Primo Beer is a healthy tonic that makes you strong, is healthier than tea and coffee, and helps both strong and weak. Primo Beer can relieve insomnia and help you go to sleep, yet it helps you stay alert during the day. It can relieve your indigestion and anxieties, help you gain your appetite, and aid in your digestion. Plus, after conducting a surgery, a doctor ordered his nurse to feed the patient only Primo Beer.

These questionable health claims were probably not true. However, in the 1900s a lot of people actually thought beer was healthy.

In this ad, “The Board of Health” appears above an open bottle of Primo Beer and two glasses presumably filled with Primo Beer. The Board of Health advocated Primo Beer?!

Hilo tribune., December 27, 1904, Page 6, Image 6

Check out the claimed health benefits of drinking Primo Beer in these ads:

Ad text: “Every doctor knows how beer benefits. If you need more strength or vitality, he will prescribe it. For run-down, nervous people, there is no better tonic and nutrient than a glass of good Primo Beer with meals. Primo Beer, the best tonic.”
Evening bulletin., February 22, 1909, 3:30 EDITION, Page 10, Image 10

Ad text: “Beer is the national beverage where vigor and health are the rule and nervousness the rare exception.
“Malt is a food, half digested, hops are a tonic. A little alcohol—there is but a trifle in beer—is an aid for digestion.
“But insist on a pure beer–a beer that is well aged. You will find this in Primo—the true home beer.”

Ad text: “Barley and hops—a food and a tonic. A trifle of alcohol—an aid to digestion. That’s beer. If you get a pure beer, well aged, nothing is better for you.
“It is not good advice to say ‘Don’t drink beer.’ There are many who need it.
“You doctor advises beer. The healthist peoples of the world drink the most of it.
“But it is good advice to say ‘Don’t drink the wrong beer.’ Some beer causes biliousness. Primo does not.
“Primo is both good and good for you.
“Nine people in ten would be better for drinking it.
“Primo is the home beer, because of its purity. It is properly aged, filtered and sterilized.
“Keep a case in your home.
“Be sure it is Primo, the beer that’s brewed to suit the climate.”

Ad text: “A cold bottle of Primo Beer goes well at any time, but it tastes best when taken with the evening meal.
“It sharpens the appetite, aids the digestion, and quiets tired nerves. It is the best beer you can drink, because it is the purest.
“And it is the best tonic you can take and the most pleasant one, too.
“Primo, the beer that’s brewed to suit the climate.”

Ad text: “Steady aim depends upon steady nerves and brain, and you can’t have them if your rest if fitful and broken.
“Good sleep is the result of perfect digestion. In fact, health itself is vitally dependent upon good digestion.
“Perfect digestion and sound, restful sleep are assured those who habitually use Primo Beer as a table beverage. It aids the digestion, soothes tired nerves, and acts as a general tonic.

Ad text: “Do you feel this way when you should be at your best? Are you tired and soggy and ‘slow in the head’ when every faculty should be on alert?
“You need a tonic—one that will give you a better appetite, clear your head, and make you fit in every fibre. That’s Primo Beer.”

Ad text: “Primo adds a grateful zest to lunch or dinner. It aids digestion and soothes the nerves of the overworked. People who class beer with intemperate drinks should bear in mind that it is better, more healthful and benefiting than tea or coffee. Be sure and call for Primo, the beer that’s brewed to suit the climate.”
Evening bulletin., October 28, 1911, 3:30 EDITION, Page 16, Image 16

Ad text: “After an operation at the hospital, when the patient is in a weakened condition, the doctor will say, ‘Don’t give him any food. Take away that malt extract–it will sicken him. What he needs is good Beer–all he wants of it.
‘Beer is the only form of food he can retain, and at the same time the best tonic he can take. I always prescribe it in cases like this, and I have always found that it strengthens and tones up the weak.’
‘But, doctor, if it is tonic for the sick, it should be good for the well.’
‘It is. And if more people used a good Beer as a beverage there would be less work for us. It is a tonic and food, and helps to clear the system of waste matter.’
The best Beer in Honolulu is the Home Brew, made to suit the climate–Primo Beer.
Drink Primo Beer.”
Evening bulletin., October 03, 1908, 3:30 EDITION, Page 9, Image 9

Ad text: “The doctor says ‘drink beer’ when you’re worn out and run down; because good beer is a good and a tonic. If it will strengthen the weak and the nervous isn’t it reasonable to say that it will keep you strong?
“The virtue of Primo is not in the alcohol. There is only 2 1-2 per cent of that.
“It is in the malted barley – a digested food. And in the hops—a tonic and an aid to sleep.
“There is nothing more healthful than Primo Beer; because it is rightly made and absolutely pure.
“The proper drinking of Primo Beer—not the abuse of it—is good for the weak and the well
“Honolulu Brewing & Malting Co., Limited.”
Evening bulletin., June 27, 1908, 3:30 EDITION, Page 7, Image 7

Ad text: “What does a glass of beer contain? Let us take a glass of Primo Beer and examine it.
“1st. Primo Beer is made mostly of pure artesian water that bubbles up from a thousand feet below the earth’s surface. Note how infinitely superior this water is to Nuuanu water, which a public officer reports unfit for human consumption.
“2nd. Primo Beer contains barley malt — one of the most strengthening foods known to mankind.
“3rd. Primo Beer contains hops — possessing valuable tonic properties.
“4th. Primo Beer contains a little rice — to give it a light color.
“5th. Primo contains between 2 1-2 and 3 per cent alcohol — not alcohol put into the beer, but formed naturally in the process of making, the same as alcohol forms in bread.
“There is absolutely nothing else in Primo Beer.
“Is this a combination that you would take to be harmful?
“On the contrary, it is very beneficial. Dr. Liebig, the eminent German scientist, calls it ‘liquid bread.’
“Primo Beer will make you well and keep you well. You should drink it with meals. It makes a good red blood and muscle and induces healthful, refreshing sleep. Doctors recommend it for the weak and well.”
Evening bulletin., April 22, 1911, 3:30 EDITION, Page 12, Image 12

Out of all the photos on the UH library Flickr site, the photos of the Primo Beer ads are among the most popular. To see more Primo Beer ads, check out the following link:

Notes: Primo Beer is currently the longest running local beer brand in Hawaii. Introduced by Honolulu Brewing and Malting Company in draught and bottle forms on February 13, 1901, the fifth beer produced in Hawaii was known for its “blue-collar image” and dark brown bottle. For decades, Primo Beer dominated Hawaii’s beer market as the regional beer, having a market share as much as 70 percent in 1969. Primo Beer was also the first American brewery to package its beer in aluminum cans in October 1958. However, the aluminum cans, or “Shiny Steiny,” didn’t last very long, as they weren’t popular with the customers. The Beer-taster’s log describes Primo Beer as a “pale yellow-gold,” “light bodied” beer with a “vegetal [or vegetable-like] malt aroma and flavor” with a “bit of sweet malt in front and in finish.”

Search strategy to see more Primo Beer ads:

-Alice Kim


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