The brewer's slick marketing campaign doesn't mask some real deficiencies, First Draft columnist Michael Paull says.
There is something new on the shelves among the macrobrewed domestic beers, and you are not alone if you have found it a little confusing.
Six packs of Schlitz Classic 1960s Formula in brown bottles with the simple script logo and tag line, "The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous," started showing up around central Ohio this year after the Pabst Brewing Co. reintroduced it in 2008.
A new offering with a historic name and pedigree and traditional packaging would be perplexing enough, but a macrobrewed beer that only comes in a six pack of bottles at craft beer prices ($5.99 a six pack at most stores)? Rewind to the mid-1970s, when this beer's favor with the American public began to decline, a victim of production costs and recipe imbalance. For many reasons, it might be hard to swallow as a top-tier American lager.
The 1960s formula is the result of a serious effort by Pabst to revive a classic recipe. Pabst acquired the label in 1999, when it bought the Stroh Brewery Co. Stroh, meanwhile, snatched up the Schlitz brand in 1982 at a time when the beer's stature was diminishing, losing out to the new light lagers such as Miller Lite and Bud Light. BeerAdvocate reports that Pabst brewmaster Bob Newman conducted interviews with retired brewery employees to reconstitute the recipe.
A fresh attempt at a classic American brew is intriguing, as is the nostalgic marketing and simple novelty of a macrobrewed light lager packaged and sold like a craft beer. Just don't get your hopes up too high. For a few more dollars than a Bud Light, you will get a little more flavor, a little more body and a little more alcohol, but that does not make it a great beer.
I do not suggest this often, but as this beer is best enjoyed as an homage to the innovative brew that pioneered the brown bottle which protects the beer from sunlight better than clear bottles -- you should drink it from the bottle. If you were to put it in a glass, it would pour a golden blond with a soft, fluffy white head and persistent carbonation. The ample aroma is unpleasant; somewhat astringent, the malt character is sour and flat, with a hint of soft fruitiness that is one of this beer's few references to the Pilsner classification so many light lagers aspire to.
This new classic has a ton of mouthfeel for a beer of its style. While it might be hard to pay over a dollar a bottle for lawnmower beer, the refreshing body and quenching sweetness certainly nominate it for that purpose. Near the bottom of the bottle, the tangy aftertaste and soapy body become cloying.
Flavor-wise, it is as hard to recommend Schlitz as it was to finish the six pack. The strong, stale aroma introduces a sickly sweet beer with utterly no hop balance or discernible yeast character. The finish is more muted and refreshing, with a biscuity malt flavor that lasts all too briefly before the aftertaste comes in with hints of wet leaves in the fall and old banana bread.
It may be nice to see a bit of American brewing history revived. The beer that gave way to this 1960s formula was first brewed in Chicago in 1893 for the Columbian Exposition, and was waiting to reintroduce beer to America on the day prohibition was repealed. However, as a rather common example of a fairly unpleasant style of beer, it may serve only to remind us how American brewing has come during the craft beer renaissance of the last three decades.
Michael Paull, a web developer for dynamIt Technologies, lives in the University District.