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Posts Tagged ‘Old Style’

When King Richard and His Media Flunkies Helped Bury Old Style in Chicago

Posted by Bob Skilnik on March 26, 2009

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Old Style, Part II- Doing It On The Cheap

Posted by Bob Skilnik on January 21, 2009

This ressurection of the Old Style brand is actually a second (maybe third) attempt to reinvigorate the brand. 
Old Style Retro Ad

Old Style Retro Ad

I received a telephone call a few years ago, asking if I could put together 2 focus groups – one of former Old Style drinkers/one of current OS drinkers. The ad agency that hired me was from San Francisco so it seemed doomed from the beginning, with a West Coast agency running this, unfamiliar with the Chicago beer drinker. I had just written Volume II of my Chicago beer book and had done an extensive detailing of the rise and fall of the brand in the Chicagoland area. This was probably in 2002 since the brand was celebrating its 100th birthday.
We assembled in a small North Side neighborhood bar with Chicago Pabst distributors and the West Coast ad men, with about 40 beer drinkers. Everyone gave testimony as to why or why they didn’t drink the beer from “God’s Country.” The next day, I was filmed while I received the 3rd degree from the ad men and the distributors about the rise and fall of the brand. The problem, as everyone saw it, was that the biggest OS-drinking bar was Wrigley Field and once everyone walked out on a Cub’s game, they went back to drinking their “regular” beer.  Why?
Well, we had a lot of good ideas, but when someone mentioned the word “money,” you could see the eyes of the distributors roll back into their heads – a Pabst philosophy…do it on the cheap.
Some ideas we had were
* Neighborhood 16-inch softball sponsorships, followed by any other sport since A-B had the pro game events locked up. The distributors were whipped on this, claiming that they didn’t have a chance since A-B and Miller had Chicago sports covered, even at the neighborhood level. The only money spent on Chicago sports was/is for the Cubs, although in actuality, Budweiser is really the #1 sponsor (The Official Sponsor) of the Cubs; Old Style is just a sponsor, although they make a lot of noise about their sponsorship while A-B doesn’t have to.
* Return to kraeusening of the beer.
* Start brewing the beer back at City Brewery in LaCrosse since it seemed so odd to see the beer being brewed in Milwaukee.
* Going back to retro advertsising.
* Just advertise, period. The entire ad budget seemed to be wrapped around the Cubs.
For awhile, they did return the brewing to LaCrosse but never made a big deal about it and it quietly went back to Milwaukee to be brewed. Kraeusening the beer and making a bit of a media fuss about it seems to be their second chance in reawakening the beer brand and getting some press about it. It’s going to be difficult, it not down right impossible, to raise the price from its “popular-priced” category (read: cheap) to a sub-premium price. They’re going to have to do more to convince the customer of higher attributes in the beer than just adding some new beer with active yeasts into the fermented batch. Sure, it “scrubs” the beer somewhat and drags out some of the off taste and greenishness of the beer, but so what?
And that brings us back to what 40 former and current Old Style beer drinkers told the San Francisco ad men and the Chicagoland Pabst distributors;
Spend more money on the brand. Advertise in print, on the radio, even local TV. Sponsor local neighborhood sports events. Start making noise about the brand, its history, how important it once was in Chicago. Don’t say it’s “Chicago’s beer”; Make it Chicago’s Beer.
Oh, and did I mention? Spend more money on the brand!
Here’s a link to an article that was written about all of this. I can’t pull it up as a good link, just in the cache, so some words are color-indexed.
A much more extensive story about Old Style in Chicago can be read in BEER: A History of Brewing in Chicago.
A History of Brewing in Chicago

BEER: A History of Brewing in Chicago

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Original Formula Schlitz Coming Back to Chicago!!

Posted by Bob Skilnik on April 5, 2008

I can’t wait! This is the beer I was raised on, long before certain people at Schlitz got greedy, leading to Schlitz beer becoming known as “Schitz” beer.

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.

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Nutritional Info For Old Milwaukee, Old Style, Olympia

Posted by Bob Skilnik on March 4, 2008

Old Milwaukee 12 oz   12.90g carbs   146 calories  4.9% abv

Old Milwaukee Light 12 oz   8.30g carbs   119 calories  3.8% abv

Old Style 12 oz   12.00g carbs   143 calories  4.7% abv

Old Style Light 12 oz   7.0g carbs   113 calories  4.2% abv

Olympia 12 oz   11.90g carbs   146 calories  4.7% abv

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