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The Fall of Schlitz: How Milwaukee’s Famous Beer Became Infamous (2010) (beerconnoisseur.com)
80 points by vezycash on Aug 12, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments

I remember when Schlitz was on top, along with Hamm's (love the blue colors on the can) and Pabst Blue Ribbon. If you lived west of the Rockies, you could get Coor's (giving it a forbidden-fruit magnetism for everyone else.)

And the great jingles with the beer commercials: "When you've got the time, we've got the beer", "From the land of sky blue waters", etc.

Times gone by. In retrospect, they were good.

> If you lived west of the Rockies, you could get Coor's (giving it a forbidden-fruit magnetism for everyone else.)

Funny thing is, this same "forbidden beer" thing played out again in the 2000s with New Belgium beers in general, and Fat Tire in particular. Nowadays you can find it just about anywhere, but in 2002 it was tough to come by east of the Mississippi.

Once in college we took a seven hour road trip to West Memphis, Arkansas, because there was a rumor going around that it could be found there. Sure enough, we found three cases in a sketchy liquor store. We made those beers last. :)

The appeal of Coors was so great that the 2nd highest grossing film of 1977, behind only Star Wars, was about a smuggling run to bring Coors to Georgia. It's kind of shocking that was big enough to be the premise of a film.

> It's kind of shocking that was big enough to be the premise of a film.

I don't think most people at the time were really aware of Coors smuggling being "big enough." I know I wasn't. It's just that it provided a premise for an illegal trucking run. Here's some background, from https://vinepair.com/wine-blog/smokey-and-the-bandit-and-coo... :

"Turns out the plot of Smokey and the Bandit is centered on one lovable tycoon’s deep-seated thirst for Coors. ... The back story of how Smokey got made is a bit more interesting: prolific Hollywood stuntman Hal Needham was working on the set of Gator and was given a gift of (illegal) Coors.

"You read that right. Coors, ubiquitous potion of good time brohood, was once illegal in certain states. The movie was made in the late ’70s, and at that time, Coors was actually a regional product. It was made in Colorado, but because it wasn’t pasteurized and contained no preservatives, shipping could get a little tricky. Coors didn’t get national distribution until 1986. Which is why, in the 1970s, Coors wasn’t actually licensed to sell east of the Mississippi, making it, briefly, a rare and sought-after product.

"Coors’ cachet aside, Needham wasn’t a big beer fan, but he did notice that the Coors would disappear out of his trailer in small increments. Finally he figured out the maid was stealing two bottles a day. Realizing how important this beer was, to some anyway, he thought “bootlegging Coors would make a good plotline for a movie.”

"So in between being thrown around and set on fire and stuff, Needham actually wrote the script for Smokey and the Bandit. He showed it to his roommate at the time, who thought the dialogue was “horrible” but the plot was good enough. We’ve all had opinionated roommates, but Needham’s roommate was actually Burt Reynolds, the number one box office star at the time, and the inspiration for many a misbegotten mustache. Reynolds helped Needham get the movie made, and the rest is Dixie car chase and Coors history."

I recall when Coors pushed distribution out to Seattle. It was a rare treat and some stores overstocked, storing the beer on the floor outside the coolers. That beer went bad pretty quick and killed the mystique for quite a few customers.

If you lived east of the Rockies, and anywhere near Canada, you did what any discerning beer-lover would do ... drive north and drink Labatt's.

> If you lived west of the Rockies, you could get Coor's (giving it a forbidden-fruit magnetism for everyone else.)

Not that it matters, but wasn’t the dividing line the Mississippi River, not the Rocky Mountains?

Some paragraphs seems to be swapped: the one introducing ABF comes after the one describing it's impact.

I remember Shiltz but never tasted it. Old Style was another good beer that mucked with their recipe and chased their base away.

Quite a few good beers have been mucked up over the past ten years of brewery buyouts. Boulevard Brewery and Goose Island are two that I used to love that got ruined that way.

As I understand it, G. Heileman sold the Old Style brand, but not the recipe. The original Old Style recipe is reputedly[0] brewed under the La Crosse Lager label, by City Brewery.

[0] I've read it in various reviews; confirmed with acquaintances who have sampled original Old Style, new Old Style, and La Crosse Lager; and got the "we can neither confirm nor deny" plus eye wink when I asked their brewer at a beer festival. And I'm just some guy on the internet, so all this is quite speculative.

I'll have to look into that. I really loved Old Style. It had a very distinctive flavor that I'd recognize in a sip.

Which boulevard and goose products have decreased in quality? I have a friend who managed to tell by tasting blindly when they moved Honker's production to New York, and even he said it got back to normal a month or two later.

Duvel is absolutely a best-case scenario for a brewery purchase and it seems like Boulevard has been able to continue doing what they do well.

Ballast Point is one of the only breweries I have lost all interest in post-buyout.

It was their Single-Wide IPA. I bought kegs of that for probably around 3-4 years before they changed the recipe. It was always a very hoppy beer but it went from a nicely balanced blend of hops to a overly citrusy "grapefruit" taste that's become so trendy in the past 3-4 years now.

Same with Goose Island, it was their IPA that changed, and in exactly the same way.

GI 312.

What changes do you perceive? I've had a lot of 312 before and after the sale and I've always found it a pretty mild wheat ale.

The taste is different and isn't as wheaty/hefewiesen-like as it was before. This was reported by many people.

If you're talking KC's Boulevard, which beers, and what recipes? I haven't noticed a decline, although I'm not a beer snob. Occasionally more variance, but not anything out of the ordinary compared to the past. The only dud I recall is when they messed up that Chocolate Ale a few years back and gave up on the idea.

old style is seeing a revival amongst young Chicagoans fwiw, there isn't a bar in Logan Square or Pilsen without it on its menu

What tech companies come to mind for this?




Gateway, Zynga, Groupon

AMD has had a few cycles of it over their history.

There was a stretch of bleak years where Adobe's reputation had become quite bad (not least of which was their software becoming one of the biggest security risks).

Microsoft for the better part of a decade had burned its reputation, between some really bad security problems and Vista. If you had polled most techies about Microsoft in the midst of Vista, the resounding view would have been that they had a dim future. It has taken many years to recover some of that lost reputation.

Electronic Arts is a company that has managed to remain quite successful over time despite becoming belligerently infamous at times for their product quality and corporate behavior. They had some very bad financial performance years, but have somehow managed to recover from that despite not really improving their reputation. Probably the benefits of being one of the few companies left standing capable of putting out hyper expensive tier one titles.

Facebook. Not because of a changing formula, but disregard for the importance of reputation in a fluid market.



The thing that seems to be missing from this article is that even if existing customers didn't notice the gradual decline, how would they ever expect to get new customers?

And that’s precisely it: by the time I got to drinking in the early 80s, Schlitz was known as a shit beer. But to answer your question, the article concludes that there was no plan to get new customers. It is argued that C-levels knew AB and Pabst were going to nibble away at them, so they went for short-term profits, at the expense of a long-term they didn’t feel was going to exist.

The contemporary Schlitz mistake for the big companies now seems to be the gradual transition of consumers from customers to product. It is hard for me to believe that Schlitz was ever a dominant brand so I am interested to see how many years the current batch of internet companies have left in them.

They've learned some lessons. Just look at what happened to Myspace, nobody wants to be that again.

When I started to drink beer in the mid-1970s, Schlitz was pretty terrible. I don't know that it had that reputation--it was in a lot of stores and on tap in a lot of bars. However, even in a world of undistinguished lagers, it stood out as bad.

There's a line in "The American Dream" in the musical Miss Saigon that goes "Schlitz down the drain / POP / The Champagne" which always amused me - even the lowly Engineer who idolises America knows that it's not a great drink to be serving in his dream "Club thats 4 star"

My only knowledge of Schlitz was from Super Troopers:

Farza: Gimme 6 Schlitzes!

Bartender: We don't have Schlitz...

Farza: Yeah, whatever's free.

minor quibble


as in "Just get a large Farva" 'No I dont want a large Farva, I want a liter of cola'

Likewise, I only ever heard of it from this clip:


My favorite pop culture reference to Schlitz:


Schlitz tastes (a lot) better if you are on boat.

Cutting quality is tactics, preserving quality is strategy.

Schmidt's was the sportsman's beer. Different than Schlitz.

Zima came out two years later...

Middle managers kept cutting costs at the expense of quality, eventually putting out a product that was noticeably worse than its competitor Budwieser and not that much cheaper.

The result is pretty much what you'd expect. People ditched the inferior product, although they did make some nice profits for a few years before the business imploded. No doubt some middle managers got some nice fat bonuses.

This was absolutely not a failure of ‘middle management’ - this was a top-down strategy to increase profits and the efficiency of their breweries. The Uihlein family owned the brewery and made the calls to gradually change the brewing methods and ingredients hoping people wouldn’t notice the incremental changes.

The owners of a company are generally not referred to as ‘middle management’.

It's interesting to me consider why it is that middle management is considered so reviled in our culture. It's kind of like, people want to punch up, but not so far upward to put themselves at risk of angering ownership. I also suppose that in a culture that idolizes both ownership and manual labor, people leadership at the scale of middle management is poorly understood and undervalued.

Historically, middle management was the dumping ground for people who had enough tenure that you had to promote them somewhere, but weren’t trusted to actually run the company. They also serve a strategic “bad cop” function at times, letting upper management remain likable and respected.

> Middle managers kept cutting costs at the expense of quality

The article describes that cost-cutting as mandated by the company's president, Robert Uihlein.

Middle managers don't usually make those decisions, not product wide as far as I know.

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