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Tag Archives: milwaukee

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

One of the fun aspects of moving to Milwaukee from St. Louis several years ago was the opportunity to explore Milwaukee’s rich beer heritage.  I know, my St.  Louis friends will tell me that their town is the center of beer in the U.S.  And they are right, if you like crappy, watered down Bud Lite.  St. Louis, I’m afraid, lost its beer heritage a long time ago and is only now just trying to rediscover it.  I’m happy to say that Milwaukee never did lose it’s beer heritage.  The result of that is not only a bevy of local and regional craft beers, but also a resurgence of the original beers.  And in my book, the king of the classic brews is the beer that made Milwaukee famous, Schlitz.

When I first moved to Milwaukee, Schlitz was definitely a second rate beer, along with Blatz and Pabst.  However, for Schlitz the fall was a particularly long and hard one.  By 1902 Schlitz was the leading beer brewer in America based on volume, and by all accounts made a good quality lager.  Schlitz maintained its leadership position into the 1950’s.  By then, though, competition with Anheuser-Busch had grown fierce and the two breweries were essentially neck and neck.  It was during this time of fierce competition in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s that Schlitz made a series of spectacular blunders that hurt product quality and ultimately cost them their leadership position.

The first blunder was to experiment with high temperature fermentation process.  This caused the beer to lose much of the bite and charcoal flavor that had made it so distinct in the first place.  The second mistake was to further tamper with the fermentation process by trying a continuous process rather than batch fermentation.  Part of the reason for this change was to attempt to push more beer into the marketplace during a strike at Anheuser-Busch.  However, the bald faced attempt to grab market share led to skunky beer and turned off beer drinkers across the country.  By the 80’s Schlitz had been sold to the Stroh brewery and was on it’s way to oblivion.

In 2008, Pabst Brewing, now the owners of Schlitz, recreated the original Schlitz formula (the actual original had been lost during all the changes made in the 70’s).  With a slow rollout to help create buzz (I remember having a difficult time getting it when it was first introduced in Milwaukee), the new “old” Schlitz has returned itself to it’s rightful place as a quality lager.  With a slightly charcoal flavor, full head and a clean aftertaste, Schlitz has been the house beer of the Twilight Lounge since its return.  With the classic label and bottle it is a perfect fit and is enjoyed by friends and family alike.

If you haven’t tried the new “old” Schlitz yet, give it a whirl.  It’ll take you back to an era when more than just your beer had great body!