Schlitz: A Brief History of Cheap Beer

While we here at TITLE are some of the fanciest sons of bitches you’re liable to come across–Mr. Veer even spent some time in Dandy Jail–we’re not ones to act all snobby when it comes to the frosty ones.  Quite often around the ol’ HQ, you’ll find our typing accompanied by intermittent sips from a can of Schlitz.  And no, I didn’t get paid for saying that.  That stuff is cheap, man!

Schlitz would have to be my favorite of the retro beer brands that have been relaunched as of late, notably because of its genuine historical importance.  At one time, Schlitz was the biggest brewery in the world, selling 1 million barrels of beer in 1902.  Schlitz also claims to have introduced the brown glass bottle, the tall-boy and the pop-top can, referred to in the mildly frightening advertisement above.  Throughout much of the previous century, Schlitz was a powerhouse national brand, serving the army in WWII rationed olive drab cans and building the world’s largest brewery in Winston-Salem, N.C.

So why aren’t we all still under the thrall of Schlitz’s famous gusto?  In a word, hubris.  Being a corporate gargantuan, Schlitz Brewing Co. sought to lower their production costs while increasing their volume, ditching time-tested brewing methods for high temperature and continuous fermentation brewing, producing greater volumes of beer that tasted worse and spoiled quicker.  Not a recipe for success.  The decline in quality drove down sales through the 70s and a strike in 1981 put the final nail in the coffin.  Stroh’s bought the Schlitz brand in 1982 and Schlitz has toiled in cheap beer obscurity since.

Schlitz is now one of many brands sold by the Pabst brewing company.  A brand reboot kicked off in 2007, returning the classic 60s formula to brown bottles in select markets with accompanying advertising seemingly catering to the middle-aged nostalgia market mid-way between high volume consumers of watery domestic and craft beer ingenues.  Unfortunately, this version has yet to make it to my stomping grounds of Brooklyn, NY.  As of this writing, store shelves remain stocked with the canned basically-PBR-but-not-quite-as-sweet recipe.

Getting off your head on Schlitz Malt Liquor, on the other hand, is popular everywhere.

No, I have no idea what is going on in that clip with the break-dancing Hamburglar-cat burglars. And the bull.

Anyway, best of luck with the relaunch, Schlitz.  I’ll keep drinking the cheap stuff until you reach me with the classic, hopefully bringing along some of that classic advertising that looks a bit like it’s trying to illustrate a John Cheever novel.

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