Friday, February 13, 2009

Finally going for the gusto


Several years ago I started a fascination with American brewing history and some of the great American brewers of the past. I started collecting glassware and other memorabilia of many of these old brands of beer such as Ballantine, Falstaff, Pabst and Schlitz. Some of these beer brands survive, but most of these names have been consolidated under one corporate entity. Pabst Blue Ribbon is probably the most popular "retro" American beer brand and the modern day Pabst Brewing Company owns several other old brands such as Blatz, National Bohemian, Olympia, Old Style, Pearl and Schlitz among others. Schlitz is probably the next bigger sellers among the old brands in the Pabst portfolio. This brand has an interesting history, at one time during the 1970s Schlitz was the second most popular beer in the country. It's reputation was built over many decades starting in the late 1800s building upon a system of tied-houses to promote and sell it's product. Some of these tied houses still exist. One of these structures (that I've been to) is now Schuba's Tavern at Belmont in Southport in Chicago. Unfortunately, the market share for Schlitz started to collapse in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the company tinkered with the recipe. Some of these changes resulted the beer actually turning to glop -- an ingredient added to increase head retention and foaming apparently caused the beer to start to solidify. Other ingredient changes were known to cause headaches in some people. A strike in the early 1980s didn't help the company either. Remarkably, this beer brand has survived since then, brewed in smaller amounts by a couple different owners until recently being reformulated back to a 1960s "original" formula.

Despite my interest in old beer brands I don't really find them that appealing to drink -- especially Schlitz -- which is why when Pabst announced a recipe change back to an old formula I was curious, thinking that maybe I'd like the new "old" Schlitz. I'm drinking a bottle tonight, of course poured in 1960s era pilsner sham, and it's not bad. That said, it's looks may be its best asset. The beer poured with plenty of carbonation forming a pretty white head that left lace on the sides of the glass as it slowly fell. Schlitz smells of grain and maybe a wisp (or I guess a "kiss" as the advertising used to say) of hops. The color of the beer is crystal clear and pale yellow. It tastes a bit grainy but gone is the corn and vegetal flavors. It's not quite as slick or smooth (or quite as sweet) as Pabst Blue Ribbon. I don't necessarily miss the sweetness, but I do miss the smoothness compared to Pabst. In fact, it may be a bit too grainy tasting for me, but I could see maybe trying it again in hot weather or when I'm feeling nostalgic and want just a little six-row barley malt and a kiss of the hops.

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