On June 20, 1975, Steven Spielberg’s second film, “Jaws,” opened on 490 screens across America. In less than three months it went on to make $100 million dollars, becoming the highest-grossing film of all time and ushering in the era of the summer blockbuster.

I was 6 when I saw the film on opening weekend with my brother, Scott, at the Avon Theater in Canastota, N.Y. Scott was seven years older than me and had seen “Jaws” on Friday night and convinced our mother that I could handle it. Admittedly, he was smart enough to shield my eyes during the scene when the pale, bloated, decomposing head and torso of fisherman Ben Gardner pops out of the hull of a half-sunken boat, inspiring the collective audience release of a certifiable jump scare. The mere speculation of the possible horror taking place on the screen as the crowd shrieked was enough to scare me away from watching that particular scene over years of repeat viewings.

As someone who writes about the subject of drinks for a living, I always perk up when a bottle of booze or a cocktail makes a spirited cameo in a film. “Jaws” delivers on that front in its own unique way. The movie’s drinking scenes never take place at a bar — they’re organically woven into the fabric of the film. There are no artful shots of crisp Martinis, or any other cocktails for that matter. And that’s perhaps why “Jaws” flies under the radar in the realm of films known for their inclusion of booze. Instead you’ll find a working-class hero approach to everyday drinking, whether it’s domestic beer (from a can or consumed from a keg in a disposable plastic cup), a bottle of wine with dinner, or nips of apricot brandy and illicit moonshine.

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Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back in the Water

Spielberg’s over-budget, past-deadline film was the first contemporary movie shot at sea, which famously plagued it with continued delays and production problems: sinking boats loaded with equipment, color correction issues with the sky and ocean, and salt water causing three expensive mechanical sharks to continuously malfunction — undermining the production team’s intention to scare audiences out of their seats. Rather than doom the outcome of the picture, however, the limited reveals of the killer shark worked in Spielberg’s favor. The simple sight of a dorsal fin cutting through the surface of the water proved even more terrifying than the real thing, inspiring a generation of moviegoers to reconsider swimming in the ocean. Brilliant editing and John Williams’ iconic, understated, ominous score only upped the ante.

The first appearance of alcohol comes early. Just after the opening credits, we witness a twilight beachside bonfire with a large group of coupled-up college students, smoking cigarettes, passing a joint, playing harmonica, strumming an acoustic guitar, making out, and drinking beer from a keg in Falstaff Beer-branded plastic cups (Falstaff was a St. Louis-based beer that went out of production in 2005). A bit buzzed by too many beers, a handsome Islander in a chunky sweater stumbles after a young woman named Chrissie as she runs down the beach and toward the water, undressing along the way. With her drunken suitor passed out in the sand, Chrissie swims away from the beach, alone in the water save for the mournful metronomic ding of a nearby buoy. Her impromptu skinny dip is short-lived and she is about to face one of the most iconic deaths in movie history. The brutality of her demise and the fact that we don’t see what’s happening beneath the surface of the water hits audiences the way the shower scene in “Psycho” landed 15 years earlier. But it also foreshadows the “sex equals death” trope from the dozens of slasher films that dominated multiplexes throughout the 1980s.

The naturalistic drinking continues when Amity Island’s police chief, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), a former New Yorker who has a lifelong fear of the water, is home at his desk flipping through a book filled with gruesome photos of shark attacks. His wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary) startles him, passing him a tumbler with a heavy pour of what looks like whiskey to take his mind off of work. She has her own glass in hand and teases, “Want to get drunk and fool around?” There are no bar carts or specialized glassware and this utilitarian approach to drinking seems true to mid-’70s island life. These are two adults with two young children enjoying a brief moment of escape, one last exhale of everyday life before their lives will change forever.

The Brodys later entertain Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfus), a young, urbane oceanographer investigating the rogue shark terrorizing Amity. Brody’s now drinking more whiskey over a couple of ice cubes from a water glass. They switch to wine when Hooper joins them. “I got a red and white,” he says. “I didn’t know what you’d be serving.” A bemused and slightly tipsy Brody opens the bottle of red and fills his water glass to the brim despite Hooper’s anxious concern to let it breathe. “Sideways,” and all the pomp of specific varietal preferences, this is not.

After a late-night dockside autopsy proves that a tiger shark local bounty hunters have caught is not the one they’re looking for, they head out on Hooper’s high-tech vessel to track the killer shark. Still a bit buzzed, Brody is standing at the front of the boat wearing a life preserver and drinking directly from the bottle of white wine left over from dinner. They’ve merely transferred the post-dinner party banter of two men lingering at the table out to sea. Hooper is even snacking on pretzels when they come upon the half-sunken remains of a damaged boat. Moments later, the one-eyed, waterlogged remains of Ben Gardner make their eerie appearance. From here on, the drinking scenes really kick in, but are less for pleasure and more for fortitude, and even courage, as the hunt for the shark becomes personal.

‘Two Cases and You Get Dinner When You Get Back’

After two more locals fall prey to the shark over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, Brody convinces Amity’s mayor to hire the services of the cantankerous, Saltine-cracker-nibbling, shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) for $10,000. Quint’s fish shack is cluttered with coils of thick rope; the bleached mandibles of the many ocean predators he’s harpooned hang on the walls. Before he agrees, Quint adds a case of apricot brandy and lunch to his contract. Brody counters with, “Two cases and you get dinner when you get back.” Quint seals the deal by offering Brody a small glass of moonshine from a brown glass bottle. “Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women,” he says, knocking it back. Brody takes a sip and holds it in his mouth before spitting it out while Hooper gladly shoots back the rest of the glass. As it was years before I would steal an illicit sip of beer from my father’s can of Miller Lite, movies like “Jaws” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” demonstrated that whiskey or mysterious spirits from unlabeled bottles were things you knocked back with a wince, something that certainly didn’t taste good, but proved one’s mettle.

The last act of the film is set entirely on the “Orca,” Hooper’s converted lobster boat, and it’s also where two of the more memorable drinking moments in “Jaws” take place. As Brody is tasked with maintaining the chum line, he scoops fish guts from a blood-soaked plastic bucket to lure the shark in. The tension between the gruff, old-school, mutton-chopped Quint and the bespectacled Hooper, whose working man’s uniform of blue jeans and crewneck sweatshirt is belied by his expensive Alsta Nautoscaph Superautomatic dive watch, continues to simmer. “You’ve got city hands, Mr. Hooper,” Quint says. “Counting money all day.”

In what is surely the most memorable drinking scene in “Jaws,” Quint cracks open a can of Narragansett beer and drinks it down in one gurgling gulp. He eyeballs Hooper and crushes the can with one hand, letting it drop to the deck with a clang. Hooper responds by quickly finishing his coffee and crumpling his styrofoam cup. The internal strife and tension is cracked wide open with the second big scare of the film and the first reveal of the shark breaking the surface, followed by Scheider’s now-famous ad-lib: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

It’s said that the Narragansett cameo came about when Spielberg asked local fishermen while on location in Martha’s Vineyard (which subbed for the fictional Amity Island) what their favorite beer was. In his book “Brand Mysticism,” written with VinePair writer at large Aaron Goldfarb, marketing guru Steven Grasse shares his connection to helping revive the legendary brand that had fallen on bad times. He worked with Tony Bertone and Mark Hellendrung, who had acquired the New England beer brand in a “sucker deal” (they had to sell an unusually high number of cases in a limited time period or it would revert back to Pabst). They reformulated the brew to its former glory and built a mythology around the local pride of ‘Gansett, along with a pop-culture assist from “Jaws.” In 2010 they released Narragansett in a 1975-design throwback can for the 35th anniversary of the release of “Jaws,” which has gone on to become an annual tradition around Shark Week. There was even a #CrushItLikeQuint social media campaign.

‘I’ll Never Put on a Life Jacket Again.’

One of the most haunting scenes of “Jaws” is set like a stage play below deck on the “Orca” as Brody, Hooper, and Quint sit around the galley table and decompress after their treacherous first day trying to bag the killer shark.

The guys drink Quint’s moonshine from plastic coffee mugs. Brody tends to a cut on his forehead and Quint says, “Don’t worry, it won’t be permanent. You want to see something permanent?” Quint pops out a false front tooth and manically grins before having Hooper feel the lump underneath his cap, a souvenir from a raucous St. Paddy’s Day in Boston. The booze-fueled bonding continues as the men show off their various scars and boast of the tales behind them. But the mood shifts and their campfire tales turn into a ghost story as Quint shares his tale of surviving the sinking of the “USS Indianapolis,” and how most of the crew were picked off, one by one, by a shiver of dead-eyed tiger sharks. “I’ll never put on a life jacket again,” he says. “So, 11 hundred men went into the water, 316 men come out, and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945.”

The haunting braying of a whale in the distance soon sounds, and Hooper shifts the mood by starting to quietly sing “Show Me the Way to Go Home.” Soon, the unlikely trio laugh and belt out the song (“Show me the way to go home / I’m tired and I want to go to bed / I had a little drink about an hour ago / And it’s gone right to my head“). This will prove to be their last drink together. The “Orca” starts to creak and rattle as the vengeful shark smashes into the side of the boat. By the next day Hooper is presumed missing, Quint has been dragged underwater to his death by the shark, and Brody is alone in the crow’s nest of the sinking ship awaiting his fate.


After “Jaws,” Scott continued to cement his cool older brother status by letting me thumb through and play his record collection, where I was drawn to Kiss’s “Love Gun,” Styx’s “Grand Illusions,” and the eerie cover art of Queen’s “News of the World” with its giant robot holding the lifeless bodies of the band in its outstretched hand. In the summer of 1977 Scott took me to see “Star Wars,” which dethroned “Jaws” from its previous box-office record and went on to change my life (I would end up seeing “Star Wars” 17 times in the theater between its original release and subsequent re-releases until its sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back,” opened in 1980).

Each time I watch “Jaws” I think back to staring up at the big screen next to my brother all those years ago. Scott died too young at 52 in 2015 but his influence exposing me to these blockbusters of my youth was the spark of a lifelong love of going to the movies. And while it took me years to recognize the connection, sitting by myself in an actual darkened theater in the middle of the afternoon possesses the same distinct sense of solace as posting up at a favorite neighborhood bar. No matter what you’re drinking, each experience has its own unique rituals, but their common thread is offering a sense of escape, even if it’s only for a couple hours.