The Return of Old Style?

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Every beer lover over a certain age has one iconic brand etched into their youthful memories. For some in New England, it’s Narragansett, Rainier in the Pacific Northwest, or Grain Belt in the upper Midwest. For me, the brand was Old Style. Look at old family photos from the 1970s and deep in the background (if not in someone’s hand), you’ll see cans of Heileman’s Old Style beer. With its distinctive red, white, and blue label, its gothic lettered shield and red badge, the Old Style brand was omnipresent at family gatherings, available en masse in the fridge, and in our hands at Wrigley for Cubs games. The exteriors of Chicago bars were littered with Old Style signs, often with nothing more written on them than ‘cold beer’ in a half-dozen languages, usually Polish (‘zimne piwo’). Although I don’t recall it, I’d venture to say that my first sip of beer was probably Old Style. That last part probably explains why I didn’t start drinking beer until college.

Old StyleFor all the nostalgia I feel for the brand–and it is a considerable amount–it’s really not pleasant to drink. Not even at Wrigley on a hot summer day when the Cubs are kicking the Cardinals’ or Brewers’ asses. Well, maybe then, but never elsewhere. So it is with some interest and trepidation that I received the news that Old Style’s owner, Pabst Brewing, has decided to renew its focus on the brand. First brewed in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1902 by Gottlieb Heileman, Old Style fell victim to the crushing beer wars and was eventually sold to the Stroh’s Brewery before its purchase by Pabst in 1999. Pabst recently announced that it would return to krausening Old Style for the traditional thirty day period at the City Brewing Company in La Crosse (home of the original Heileman’s brewery and previous home to Old Style). The Old Style’s brewers hope that krausening will “provide more body, flavor and a cleaner finish to Old Style – things we believe our loyal drinkers and our new beer drinkers will both appreciate and enjoy.” Beyond this new brewing step, Pabst plans to fashion a new advertising campaign to herald this relic/throwback brand and market it to the usual 25-29 year-old “tweener” market.

Pabst has done a good job with its tepid, controlled marketing of its signature brand and it’s a macro-product that I actually enjoy from time to time. So I’ll happily try the newly fashioned Old Style when I return to Chicago next to find out if the lack of krausening was really the culprit for my early aversion to macro beer…

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