Making Milwaukee famous again

  • MillerCoors in Milwaukee will soon begin brewing Schlitz beer again
  • Pabst Brewing Co. owns the brand, which used to be one of the most popular beers at its height
  • Local establishments have been selling bottled Schlitz as a test market, and the brewery's production of the beer will increase distribution and availability.

Schlitz, advertised as "the beer that made Milwaukee famous," will once again be brewed locally after a long absence.

MillerCoors will brew Schlitz, though Pabst Brewing Co. owns the brand.

According to Pabst's Web site, production of the popular brand ended in Milwaukee in 1981 when the Schlitz's Milwaukee brewery closed. The beer had fallen from popular favor after Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. changed the recipe to hasten the fermentation process.

At Schlitz's peak in 1973, sales totaled 21.3 million barrels in a single year. Just three years later, however, the company had to dispose of nearly 500,000 cases of bad beer and sales drastically dropped.

Pabst began test marketing Schlitz's original recipe in 2007, and positive feedback expanded markets in 2008. When Milwaukee was selected as the site for the re-release, 13 locations were asked to sell the product.

Oscar Casdaneda, manager of Sobelman's Pub & Grill, said Sobelman's is one of the 13 bars that has served bottled Schlitz since its re-release in Milwaukee.

"At first they only gave us 15 cases, and we sold them all within a week," Casdaneda said.

Most customers buying the beer at Sobelman's have been older customers who remember the beer from when they used to drink it, Casdaneda said. He said the younger customers have noticed its popularity and have been trying it to see what the excitement is about.

"The newer customers around my age have really liked it, some people end up buying whole cases," Casdaneda said.

Sobelman's sells Schlitz at $2.75 per bottle, the same price as a bottle of Miller.

Jim Haertel, president of The Museum of Beer and Brewing in Milwaukee, said younger people might be surprised to hear that Pabst used to be the most popular beer followed closely by Schlitz.

"Pabst is trying to inspire nostalgia in the baby boomers that used to drink Schlitz when they were 18, give or take a few years," Haertel said. "But they are also trying to get younger drinkers to follow. They actually have a big market among college kids."

Haertel gives many tours as part of his job for the museum. He said when he offered various brands of beer at the end of tours, customers would be willing to pay $20 for one can of Schlitz after its re-release.

"They thought it was some old treasure, they would stuff their pockets like they had gold in their hands," he said.

Haertel said he has noticed that visitors to Milwaukee seem to embrace Schitz's re-emergence somewhat more than Milwaukee natives do. Those that like to remember Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley are especially excited, but some people in

Milwaukee take it for granted, he said.

The test markets set up Schlitz's distribution very well, Haertel said. They have been distributing according to popularity to ensure adequate amounts of the beer are produced. They have started to add more and more cities until it will become a national rollout, Haertel said.

Bar Louie is another Milwaukee establishment selling Schlitz. Ari Bomnitz, general manager of Bar Louie, said they have also been selling since the re-release.

"It is a very classic and retro beer," Bomnitz said. "All the point of sale strategies reflect that image."

Bomnitz said Schlitz has been very popular among customers at Bar Louie, though many have been surprised to see that it is available again. He said Schlitz sales have been in the top 10 of the 40 drafts offered since its re-release.

He said Bar Louie sells Schlitz for $2 during happy hour Monday through Friday, and they also use the brand to beer batter their fish fries.

Bomnitz said Schlitz is a smooth beer that is easy to drink and still light enough to order multiple glasses.

"It's great to get a brand back that people associate with Milwaukee, especially a good beer with a good honest brand," Bomnitz said.