BeerDorks.com: Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

 
August 25, 2008

Beer Issues:

Go For The Gusto—Just Don’t Blow A Nut

The return of the “nostalgic” Schlitz recipe is another object lesson in why beer shouldn’t be treated as just another product.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
I’m sure you’ve all read/seen/heard the hoo-haw recently about the relaunch of the Schlitz “Classic 1960s Formula” based on the original recipe, complete with the ’60s-era logo, packaging, and tagline “Go For The Gusto.” I actually gave this “new old” Schlitz a try right after it came out a few months ago when I was in Chicago on “business” (buying bras for Ma). I stopped in at a bar/concert venue called Schubas, which sits in an old Schlitz tied house, complete with the stone bas-relief Schlitz globe logo on the side of the building.

Not only did the beer come in its retro packaging, but it was also served in a handsome logoed pilsner glass. Although I certainly didn’t feel like I’d been transported back to the 1960s—a shitty decade if there ever was one—I did find the experience laid back and enjoyable: sitting in a nearly deserted, relatively old tavern as hazy sunlight filtered in through the windows on a comfortably cool late spring afternoon. And the beer itself, well, I found it drinkable, about the best you can say for any macro-produced American lager, whether it’s a 50-year-old recipe or not. It poured as clear as any filtered beer should, but a degree or two darker than your typical mass-market swill. The head was pure white, a finger high, and perfectly average. But—ho!—it left lacing as I drank it down. And it was an easy drink, with a very soft mouthfeel, smooth without that horrid off-taste that the Schlitz of today, along with its shit-beer brethren (Blatz, Old Style, Hamm’s, Busch, etc.), are plagued with. Instead it had soft, if muted, malt notes, but still without so much as a trace of bittering hops to be found.

I’d call it a step above “premium” shit beers—Budweiser, Coors, Miller Genuine Draft—but it’d still taste like water compared to the blandest craft pilsner like a Bell’s Lager or Capital Special Pilsner. But I could see why, what with the taste, the marketing campaign, and the tied houses, along with a myriad other factors of the day, why Schlitz wasn’t just the largest brewer of beer in America in the ’60s, but the largest in the world. Yet by 1980 Schlitz was dead, kaput, nothing more than a hollow brand that got swapped around like a Playboy in a junior high boys locker room.

The reason Schlitz went from king of the hill to roadkill in less than twenty years is a microcosm of what is wrong with industrial-produced beer. During the ’60s the beer industry was going through a wave of consolidation, much as it is today. Instead of giant global brewers fusing together into hideous Frankensteins, though, the industry was seeing regional breweries gobbling each other up to eventually form the behemoths that are left today. The pressure of retaining market share began to mount on all the larger breweries, including Schlitz. One of the techniques beermakers used to stay ahead was cutting costs, even to the detriment of their product. Brewers began adding adjuncts to their previously all-malt beers, creating a cheaper but watered-down product. Schlitz took that one huge, stupid-ass step further: they came up with a way to chemically shorten the fermentation process, allowing them to make more beer in a shorter time. The end product, however, tasted ungodly awful, with a pronounced chemical taste. Not only that, if it was stored improperly it tended to gelatinize into a snot-like blob. That was too much for even brand-addicted American consumers to take, and Schlitz went down the proverbial shitter.

Succumbing to market pressures?or greed?by bastardizing your product is a sure road to ruin.
Even though we’re talking about macro beer producers, there is a very clear lesson for the craft brewing industry in this little tale of woe. Succumbing to market pressures—or greed—by bastardizing your product is a sure road to ruin … or at the very least a road to irrelevance. Cutting corners, over expanding, compromising the integrity the initial vision, these are things that can happen when a brewer cares more about the business than the beer. Yes, I am aware that brewing and selling beer is, indeed, a business, but beer itself is not. It’s not a nameless product that can be seamlessly interchanged with any other widget. Schlitz, and the other brewers at the time, treated it that way though, and we got to see the end result of that: an endless stream of indistinct yellow fizzy water cut with a little alcohol for the last 50 years.

One craft brewer that comes to mind regarding this cautionary tale is Capital Brewery. In the last few years they’ve ditched their authentic Bavarian wheat beer for the much blander Island Wheat, they’ve discontinued the insanely great Dark Doppelbock, and they seem to have watered down their groundbreaking Autumnal Fire. From a certain perspective, it looks like they’re dumbing down their lineup to appeal to a broader audience—like their first new beer in years, the ho-hum introduction of a pale ale. They’ve put together a couple of inoffensive entries in Prairie Gold and Baltic Porter, but in this Beer Dork’s opinion this once great brewery could be on its way to craft beer irrelevance.

But here’s to hoping the majority of craft brewers focus on what is most important when making business decisions: the beer. I understand that with the hop and malt shortage and the rising costs of production and distribution brewers are facing some of their toughest times ever, but even the most nostalgic of us wouldn’t want to relive the craft beer vacuum of the 1960s. Hang in their, folks. Keep it all about the beer, and, rest assured, we Beer Dorks will be there to drink it.





Comments
I totally agree with your assessment on Capital... it's a point I've made in some of my reviews. And while I see your connection between the domestic consolidation of brewers in the 60's and 70's, I think the global consolidation we're witnessing today is more a response to increased competition from small, quality, local brewers rather than decrease in competition like it was back then. And yes, you can't put out crap and still expect to be relevant... anyone remember New Coke?
posted by Nigel | August 26, 2008, 6:34 PM
I've heard from people I know that Schlitz is actually produced by MillerCoors. I would have to agree that this is an alright beer, but please don't slam the Old Style. What people want these days is the next best thing. Let's take for example MGD 64. It offers the qualities of a beer with half the calories. But as far as New Coke, I think it is doing better despite my utter disappointment in the taste buds of the American people.
posted by franz | August 29, 2008, 10:17 PM
I get the point of the article, but I for one don't see the point in even trying "new" Schlitz. Shit beer is shit beer. Nostalgic shit beer is nostalgic shit beer.
posted by Steve Bennett | August 31, 2008, 2:06 PM
If anyone back east can help me get a six or two of the new schlitz beer,that would be a wonderful thing to do for a fellow American ha ha!...but really,i'd like some...thank you...Eddie.
posted by Eddie Loebs | September 4, 2008, 6:51 PM
If you can help me get some of the Schlitz beer,here's my email address.thanks.......eddieloebs@yahoo.com
posted by Eddie Loebs | September 4, 2008, 6:53 PM
Sounds like a great reason for you to come visit the Midwest! Chicago's got some and so does Milwaukee. Plus you can sample all the other great Midwest craft brews while you're here!
posted by EddieGlick | September 4, 2008, 9:21 PM
A great young lady from milwaukee,has sent me a 12 pack of the new original recipe schlitz beer....it should arrive any day now...they don't sell it on the west coast yet.I'd like to visit the mid west someday and sample all the local brews....someday.......
posted by Eddie Loebs | September 16, 2008, 2:23 PM
I'm an antique beer can collector...It would be great if schlitz [pabst brew co.] would package at least a limited supply of schlitz in the old flat top steel can for us nosalgic folks to enjoy...i'd pay a premium price for that...No one has done that yet....Also,why doesn't some one find and brew original recipes of other classic beers,such as Falstaff,Hamms.Burgermiester,Olymia? Somebody bring back some flat top [can opener type] cans!!!!
posted by Eddie Loebs | September 16, 2008, 2:32 PM
I can only surmise how expensive it would be to reproduce those old flat top cans--very. And although the nostalgia factor would be pretty high, I must be frank and say even the original recipes of oldies like Falstaff and Hamms (that cool refreshing...Hamms!) would not warrant such an expense. What I'd REALLY like to see is a shorty of Bell's Oberon. Now THAT would be worth collecting.
posted by EddieGlick | September 16, 2008, 9:48 PM

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

Beer Dorks News

Want to know how healthy the craft beer industry is? As always, look to Portland. Craft pioneer Bridgeport announces sudden closure, adding to a growing list of PDX casualties.
Did Anheuser-Busch Chicago offer their shit beer to Cody Parkey before his missed field goal? Because that may explain why he "accidentally" biffed it.
Chicago now has the most breweries of any city in the country. Other things Chicago has the most of: murders, mobsters, and Ditkas.
Trying to spin it positive, BA releases end of year graphic. Only 5% growth in the craft sector when nearly 1000 new breweries opened? That's a collapse waiting to happen.
R.I.P. Tallgrass... another casualty as the regional/national craft beer market continues to get squeezed.
Wait... Constellation Brands cut all of the Ballast Point and Funky Buddha sales staff? They merged it with their Corona/Modelo staff?? We're SHOCKED!!!
Pizza Beer founder crying about failure of company, blames everyone else. Reminder, the beer tasted like vomit. Try having better ideas or making better products so you're not a failure.
It's Bud Light so doesn't really matter, but we expect this beer to be sitting around for awhile.
Indiana brewery to open with controversial beer names to "get the conversation going". Translation: taking advantage of serious issues for free publicity.
Hundreds of amazing beers in Wisconsin and the Cubs took back the one everyone drinks just because it exists and people have heard of it. How fitting...