A '60s classic back in Motown
Schlitz reintroduces original recipe brew to Metro Detroit beer lovers
Jennifer Youssef / The Detroit News
The beer that made Milwaukee famous is returning to the Motor City.
Schlitz's Classic 1960s beer is back on shelves after nearly three decades, prompted by demands from aficionados here and across the country hankering for the maltier, full-bodied lager. The beer was altered in the late 1960s and 1970s to meet changing consumer tastes and boost production.
"Our goal was to bring back the taste of the 1960s when beer wasn't watered down," said Brad Hittle, chief marketing officer at Schlitz. "The response has been overwhelming, and we're proud to bring back the beer that generations of Schlitz lovers enjoyed over the years."
The first cases of the classic 1960s formula, based on the original recipe, arrived in Metro Detroit a few weeks ago. Schlitz, now owned by Pabst Brewing Co., officially kicks off the beer's return to Metro Detroit today with deliveries to several bars and stores. The brew has been available in Chicago, Minneapolis and Milwaukee, where Schlitz was founded in 1856.
The classic Schlitz should be welcomed by today's beer drinkers, who are more choosy than previous generations and drink different kinds of beers on different occasions, said Julia Herz, spokeswoman for the Colorado-based Brewers Association.
"Interest in beer is ever-growing," she said. "Beer drinkers today have a variety of beers in their diet."
A top seller in the '50s, '60s
Schlitz was the top-selling beer in the United States in the 1950s and '60s. Schlitz changed the recipe incrementally over the years to boost production. Although the changes were minor, loyal drinkers could taste the difference. By the 1980s, sales of Schlitz were drying up.
Detroit's Stroh Brewing Co. bought the brand in 1982 and sold it to Pabst in 1999. Pabst continued to produce the beer in small quantities; the revamped formula from earlier decades will be eliminated.
The company decided to go back to the 1960s recipe a couple years ago after being inundated with phone calls and letters from customers who wanted to share their thoughts and memories of the original Schlitz beer.
The recipe, however, was never documented. So in 2006, the company's award-winning brewmaster, Bob Newman, interviewed former brewmasters to piece together the classic recipe. A year later, Newman had enough information to re-create the formula, and the first batch of original Schlitz beer was distributed to stores and bars in Minneapolis, Chicago and Milwaukee to rave reviews.
The beer is more expensive because better quality ingredients are being used.
"It's maltier, hoppier and more full-bodied," said Justin Kelly, brand manager for Schlitz.
Region demanded its return
High demand in Metro Detroit convinced the company to bring it back to the region.
Kelly Denha, co-owner of the Wine Palace in Livonia, has had the classic-formula Schlitz for two weeks. Sales have been OK, Denha said, but would be better if more customers knew the beloved recipe was back.
While he's got posters advertising the old formula, a display and a six-pack of Schlitz sitting on the counter, few customers realize the beer in his coolers is the kind that existed 30 years ago. When he does inform customers about the change, "they just yearn for nostalgia," he said. "If I tell them, they'll buy it."
The beer has been a popular addition at Merchants Fine Wine in Dearborn, where nostalgic customers were inquiring about it weeks before its arrival.
"They were upset when it came a week later than when I told them it would be here," said Annette May, beer department manager.
The beer is gaining popularity, with many customers returning to buy 12-packs.
"It's been selling well," she said.