Thirsty quaffers gathered at The Old Fashioned on Thursday afternoon to get a taste of the new classic version of Schlitz beer. Already released in Chicago and Milwaukee over the spring and summer, anticipation for the brew has been building around town over the last couple months as brand owner and master of retro beer marketing Pabst Brewing has launched a forceful promotional campaign. Now the taps are open.
Schlitz is being distributed to some 50 accounts in and around Madison, with about 25 at various bars and taverns, including The Local Tavern, The Echo Tap, and the Blue Moon Bar & Grill. The other half of the accounts are for grocery and liquor stores, including Woodman's, University Liquors, and Riley's Wines of the World. In other words, it is now widely available.
The official debut of the new-old Schlitz opened with a brief presentation in front of the Capitol Square restaurant and tavern, which was busy with its lunchtime crowd and more than a few people looking for a taste of the beer. After a brief introduction by a Schlitz representative, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz took his place at the podium and officially welcomed the beer to local taverns and liquor stores.
"I am the gusto mayor," he declared, referencing Schlitz's classic slogan of "Go for the Gusto" that is also a part of the retro rollout. "I think it is wonderful for Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and Madison that Schlitz is coming back."
Would the mayor be joining in the very early afternoon happy hour and tip back a bottle? That would not be part of the photo op, alas, but he promised that he fully intends to try some soon. Cieslewicz was also careful to caution the crowd to drink in moderation, and afterwards noted that he could get some heat about this business appearance back at the City-County Building, considering the campaign against alcohol abuse that's being launched by Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, and amidst the ongoing friction over alcohol policy amongst downtown residents, businesses, and UW students.
Several classic cars with Schlitz decals slapped on their doors were parked along Pinckney Street as part of the ceremony, but the centerpiece was a custom-painted El Camino parked on the sidewalk itself, with cases of the famous brown bottles stacked in its cab. After the brief presentation, several of these were transported from the iconic coupe utility vehicle to the bar.
A ceremonial tapping and toast was subsequently held inside, with $1 bottles of Schlitz served to a couple dozen people gathered for the unveiling. One such person was beer writer and Old Fashioned barfly Doug Griffin, who was drinking his Schlitz from an antique oversized ceramic mug that is a part of the bar's collection of classic Wisconsin eats and drinks memorabilia. "This beer is a light, American pilsner in the same vein as Pabst Blue Ribbon or Hamm's," he said, "and it's pretty good. In fact, it's probably better than them, and better than the previous incarnation of Schlitz. It's a good go-to lawnmower beer."
Not one to pass up this opportunity, I ordered one too, and came to a similar conclusion. Served in a brand-new Schlitz pilsner glass, the beer tasted like what it's promised to be, a respectable American macrobrew that doesn't ask too much of its drinker. I liked it better than PBR, and at a competitive price, this new Schlitz could become a regular selection for those looking to stretch their dollars these days.
"They've tapped into something in these hard economic times," noted Griffin, "and a good budget beer is going to be welcomed by many."