Click on the title above to link to the original story!!!
A COMEBACK IS BREWING
Beermaker is betting on nostalgia in restoring a Milwaukee icon
By Emily Fredrix ASSOCIATED PRESS
MILWAUKEE — It’s The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous. Now Schlitz is making the city nostalgic. That beer with the old-time mystique is back on shelves in bottles of its original formula in the city where it was first brewed more than a century and a half ago. Schlitz was the top-selling beer for much of the first half of the 20th century. But recipe changes and a series of snafus made the beer — in many a drinker’s opinion — undrinkable, turning what was once the world’s most popular brew into little more than a joke. But after decades of dormancy, the beer is back. Schlitz’s owner, Pabst Brewing Co., is recreating the old formula, using notes and interviews with old brew masters to concoct the Pilsner again. The maker of another nostalgic favorite, Pabst Blue Ribbon, it hopes baby boomers will reach for the drink of their youth. They also want to create a following among young- er drinkers who want to know what grandma and grandpa drank. “We believe that Schlitz is, if not the, one of the most iconic brands of the 20th century,” said Kevin Kotecki, president of Pabst Brewing Co., which bought the brand that dates to 1849 from Stroh’s in 1999. “And there’s still a lot of people who have very positive, residual memories about their experience. For many of them, it was the first beer they drank, and we wanted to give it back to those consumers.” In Milwaukee, the comeback is creating a buzz. Stores are depleted of their stock within days, they’re taking names for waiting lists and limiting customers to only a few six- or 12-packs each. People like Leonard Jurgensen say the beer reminds them of better days. The 67-year-old, who grew up on the edge of the brewery downtown, said decades ago it seemed that everyone in the city either worked for the brewery or knew someone who did. If there was a special occasion, you drank Schlitz. Jurgensen had it on his wedding day 45 years ago. “For many years, the product was associated with happy times, especially to people my age,” said Jurgensen, who’s writing a book on Milwaukee’s breweries. Hearing from Schlitz-thirsty consumers prompted Pabst to revive the brand, Kotecki said. It was the world’s bestselling beer from 1903 until Prohibition in 1920, and regained the crown in 1934 until the mid-1950s. That’s when a strike by Milwaukee brewery workers interrupted production and made way for others, like St. Louis’ Anheuser-Busch, to eat into Schlitz’s market share. Before it vanished, the beer changed — for the worse. According to Jurgensen, new owners eager to expand wanted to shorten the fermenting process. There also were quality-control issues for barley, so the beer went flat quickly. To fix the flat problem, the brewers added a seaweed extract to give the beer some foam and fizz. But after sitting on the shelf for three or four months, the extract turned into a solid, meaning drinkers got chunky mouthfuls. And then, the biggest of errors. “They decided not to pull their product off the shelf,” Jurgensen said. “They decided to weather the storm and sell that product. That’s the worst possible mistake they could have made.” And by 1981 the Schlitz brewery closed. The owners sold the brand to the Stroh Brewery Co. in Detroit in 1982, which eventually sold some of its lines to Pabst. Kotecki wouldn’t disclose sales figures for Schlitz but said they are considerably smaller than for the company’s top-seller, Pabst Blue Ribbon. In Milwaukee, it’s at about 75 locations, including bars and liquor stores, though that’ll grow when more is made. John Thielmann, 55, of Milwaukee, says his first sip of the new Schlitz sent him back decades. He remembered being a teenager — drinking underage, he noted — spending summers with family on Druid Lake, about an hour from Milwaukee. But when the formula changed, he started getting headaches after two or three sips, so he stopped drinking Schlitz. Thielmann, who works at a liquor store in suburban Elm Grove, said he was confident the new formula wouldn’t fail him. He figured Pabst had put in enough effort that they’d get the old formula back. They did.
“That first sip was like ‘I remember this. This is right,’” he said.
Some stores in Milwaukee limit the amount of Schlitz beer customers can buy because of the demand.
Schlitz timeline • 1849: German immigrant August Krug opens a small restaurant and tavern in Milwaukee, begins to brew beer and turns it into a brewery. • 1850: Joseph A. Schlitz, 20, emigrates from Germany and works for Krug as a bookkeeper. • 1856: Krug dies, leaving no offspring, and Schlitz takes over management of the brewery. • 1858: Schlitz marries Krug’s widow, Ann Marie. • 1861: The brewery is renamed the Joseph Schlitz Brewery. Schlitz runs it with Krug’s four nephews, the Uihlein brothers. • 1871: The Great Chicago Fire destroys many of that city’s breweries, giving Schlitz an opening to expand his business. • 1875: Schlitz travels to Germany and is presumed dead when his ship sinks in a storm. Because he had no children with Krug’s widow, the Uihlein brothers take over the brewery. • 1893: The company introduces the slogan The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous. • 1902: Schlitz surpasses Pabst as the world’s best-selling beer after selling 1 million barrels that year. • 1920: Prohibition begins. The brewery makes soda, malt syrup and candy. It survives because the Uihlein brothers have extensive real-estate holdings. • 1934: Prohibition ends, Schlitz resumes production and retakes the No. 1 sales spot. • 1953: Strike by Milwaukee brewery workers hurts brewers like Pabst, Blatz and Schlitz, which lose market share to rivals such as Anheuser-Busch of St. Louis. • 1954: Schlitz briefly rebounds to again be the world’s best-selling beer. • 1955: Anheuser-Busch takes over the top spot, which it still holds. • 1975: Immediate family management of Schlitz ends and distant relatives and outsiders take over the operation. • Mid- to late-1970s: Schlitz still sells well, so the new owners try to make more by shortening the fermenting process. But the beer has no foam and is flat, so managers add a seaweed extract. But that turns solid after sitting in bottles for a few months. Schlitz sales fall and the old formula is gone. • 1981: Production of Schlitz ends in Milwaukee when workers strike. • 1982: Detroit’s Stroh Brewery Co. acquires Schlitz and sells off many of Schlitz’s plants to pay for the acquisition. It focuses on promoting Schlitz’s secondary brand, Old Milwaukee. • 1999: Pabst Brewing Co. buys Schlitz from Stroh. • 2008: Schlitz’s classic formula is reintroduced. Sources: Leonard Jurgensen, Milwaukee brewery historian, and Pabst Brewing Co.