Did they really drink real beer on Gunsmoke?

Did they really drink real beer on Gunsmoke?

Whilst we have many beer-like substitutes on sets today, it seems like the Gunsmoke actors often enjoyed real beer on the set of this iconic show.

Many things have changed since those first black and white episode of Gunsmoke aired for the first time in 1955.

But one thing that has always remained in the crazy world of television is the fact that our favorite actors often have to re-do scenes a couple of times before they get them just right.

And while fine-tuning a scene through repetition usually turns out to be a good thing, when there is alcohol involved, this can be quite a tricky balance.

The beer on the Gunsmoke set

In fact, Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy reportedly got into quite a few scuffles on the set of Lawless (2012) after taking their method-acting a little too far.

Actor, Martin Sheen, reportedly got so drunk while filming the opening scenes of Apocalypse Now (1979) that he ended up injuring his hand by punching through a mirror.

Even so, it seems like the great actors of yesteryear either had stronger constitutions or took less time to perfect their scenes, as Marshall Trimble (Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association) has confirmed that the Gunsmoke actors actually drank real beer on set.

Apparently, the real beer was only replaced with something like tea or colored water in the very rare instances that one of the show’s characters would order a whiskey, instead of the customary brewski.

Other facts about Gunsmoke’s run on television

Though it may be quite surprising to hear that the Gunsmoke cast was sipping on real beers whilst filming the show, it seemed to have worked in the show’s favor, as it still holds the title for being one of the longest-running shows in American television history (Cheers!).

All in all, Gunsmoke’s incredibly successful run on television can be outlined as follows:

Detail Description
Series premiere September 10, 1955
Series finale March 31, 1975
Total seasons 9 seasons
Total episodes 635 episodes
Spin-offs Gunsmoke does not have any official spin-offs, but the series did live on through a range of made-for-television movies, including:

  • Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge
  • Gunsmoke: The Last Apache
  • Gunsmoke: To the Last Man
  • Gunsmoke: The Long Ride
  • Gunsmoke: One Man's Justice

But how did they keep the beers cold?

If you are an avid beer drinker yourself, you might be more concerned with how people in 1800s kept their beer cold, rather than how Gunsmoke got around the issue of slurred speech on set.

Fortunately, saloon owners in the real Old West would have given Miss Kitty a run for her money with their ingenuity.

There are reports of methods ranging from caves and cellars filled with ice from nearby rivers to wet sawdust and cisterns filled with water, and even so-called “ice houses” were used to keep beers “cool” rather than “cold” in the olden days.

However, we suspect that the actual beers used on Gunsmoke were kept nice and chilly in an on-set refrigerator.

What beer did the Long Branch Saloon serve?

Even if you have been a life-long Gunsmoke fan, you may not know that the Long Branch Saloon in the series was based on a real-life establishment with the same name, which was frequented by the real gun-slingers of Dodge City.

The real-life Long Branch Saloon served a variety of beverages ranging from milk and tea to lemonade, sarsaparilla, and many other types of alcohol, including the house-favorite, Anheuser-Busch beer.

So while we never saw Gunsmoke’s fan-favorite lawman request this specific brand in the series, it is safe to assume that this probably would have been one of the most popular options in Gunsmoke’s Long Branch Saloon as well.

How filmmakers tackle the issue of alcohol on sets these days

While there are still some modern-day actors who prefer the real thing when they are filming, television props have come a long way since Gunsmoke’s time on television, and there are plenty of ways that prop masters and filmmakers can recreate real beers on set these days.

This includes everyday substitutes like carbonated iced teas, dyed sparkling water or sodas, apple juice, and ginger ale.

Prop masters can even recreate the froth on top of the beer with everyday pantry staples like powdered egg whites and lemon juice.

And much like Gunsmoke, where the production team steered away from using real brand names for their beer, these beer recreations are usually disguised under a fake brand name, like the popular “Heisler”.

Of course non-alcoholic or low-alcohol beers are also a popular option, and this often includes “near beer” brands like O’Doul’s and Sharps.