Original Formula Schlitz Coming Back to Chicago!!
Posted by Bob Skilnik on April 5, 2008
The story of the rise and fall of Schlitz, especially in Chicago where it held the top beer sales position for years, is described in my best-selling book, Beer: A History of Brewing in Chicago.
The downfall of Schlitz, combined with a bottler’s strike at Anheuser-Busch in 1976 allowed Old Style, a sleeper brand that had been in Chicago since the early 1900s, to take over the Chicagoland beer market. OS distributors took their battle for supremacy to neighborhood taverns, bottle by bottle and case by case until the brand dominated more than 40% of the local beer market.
The problems of the Jos. Schlitz Brewing Company were brought upon themselves and a board of directors who refused to acknowledge their production mistakes, the sudden death of CEO Bob Uihlein, Jr., and no real leader to take over the business when Bob died, a leader who could handle the meddlesome Uihleins.
At one point, G. Heileman and owner Russ Cleary were poised to buy Schlitz when the Uihlein family-dominated board of directors decided to end it all and sell. At the last minute, the Justice Department stopped the sale, claiming an unfair dominance of the market with the merger. It was a sham of a claim since the combination of G. Heileman and Schlitz would have held about 16% of the national market while Anheuser-Busch already held around 27%.
From Wall Street down through the brewing industry itself, the merger was considered to be a life saver for Schlitz and a boost to G. Heileman which was trying to shed the mantle of being just a regional brewery. It was a perfect match. The feds thought otherwise.
Stroh eventually brought Schlitz but the merger was a disaster. After the family-owned Stroh gave up in 1999, the Schlitz label went to Pabst.
What most beer drinkers don’t realize is that while Pabst owns the label, they actually don’t own any breweries. Their portfolio of once proud regional brands are now brewed by Miller.
I really hope they bring back the original formula and make the brand available again as a draft, bottled and canned product. After Stroh closed, you could only get canned Schlitz beer, which dried up a lot of draft accounts in Chicago. It was a staple at Southport Lanes, for instance
The problem now is, how do you reposition Schlitz as a premium or super-premium beer? It’s had no advertising budget, no media exposure, no nothing for years, just a reputation as a cheap beer that sat on shelves and accumulated dust. The trick will be to be able to convince young beer drinkers that Schlitz is once again a quality product and worth every penny. I imagine it will be priced somewhere between a higher-priced craft beer and a great quality pseudo-craft beer like Blue Moon.
Chicago was it’s number 1 market. It might have been the beer that made Milwaukee famous, but it was Chicago beer drinkers who really made it so.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed.