Everything old is new again with Schlitz

DeWayne Bartels
Chris Barber, general manager of Peoria's Super Liquors, prepares to stock a case of new Schlitz, which is a return to the original formula.

About 1 p.m., yesterday, a beer delivery truck from RJ Distributing made a special delivery to Super Liquors.

Among the many cases of beer dropped off that afternoon was 10 cases of Schlitz.

Big deal, one might say.

But, the folks who brew and distribute Schlitz hope it turns out to be a big deal because this Schlitz is the brew your grandfather drank. The testing is done, and Peoria is one of only 20 markets around the country to get this retro full-bodied version of the beer classic. This formula is one that dates back to the original formula.  

“Our goal was to bring back the taste of the ‘60s 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 for years.”

Brian Jockish, general manager for RJ Distributing in Peoria, said he is pleased to have the product.

“We’ve been the Schlitz distributor in Peoria for years,” said Jockish.

“Schlitz bringing back the original formula is exciting. Schlitz at one time was the No. 1 beer in this country. They changed the formula and went from No. 1 to nothing in two years.”

Justin Kelly, a brand manager for Schlitz, said in the ‘60s Schlitz was the No. 1 beer brand in the world. He said in the ‘70s it was second only to Budweiser.

“In the ‘80s that all changed. To meet the demand for the beer they changed the formula. Their loyal drinkers noticed the difference,” Kelly said.

“It started a downward spiral.”

After the change Schlitz languished in the market.

A few years ago Kelly said the company began to be deluged with letters from former Schlitz drinkers talking about the beer had been a fabric of their lives in their younger years.

The sudden resurgence of interest in the brand did not go unnoticed.

“Our brew master could not find a written version of the original formula. So, he started interviewing former workers and brew masters. Then he began piecing the formula together,” Kelly said.

After some work and taste-testing by former Schlitz drinkers the brew master was told he had hit upon the original taste.

So, now the reincarnation of the original formula is slowly being rolled out. And, Peoria is one of the first markets in the country to get this new formula.

There is a great deal of confidence at the corporate level and the local level that this will be a success story.

“Schlitz wants to reconnect with its once core group of consumers,” said Hittle.

“We are confident that the return of the classic formula in heritage inspired packaging delivered with an old school, gusto attitude will do the job.”

Kelly agreed.

“We wanted to roll it out where it was loved,” Kelly said.

“There’s a lot of Midwest towns where Schlitz was big.”

Jockish said the brand has a “cult-like following” and he expects sales to be good in the Peoria-area. 

Jockish said he expects the brand to appeal to two distinct groups of beer-drinkers, at opposite ends of the age scale - the senior crowd and those in the 20-30 age range who are into retro.

Kelly agreed.

“Our main consumer will be the guys who loved it back when,” Kelly said.

“And, we expect to do well with younger drinkers. When you’re young your dad isn’t cool, but your grandfather is. We think that’s the market we’ll have.”

Chris Barber, general manager of Super Liquors, said his store was chosen as one of the select roll-out points for the brand because, “We sell a lot of beer.”

Barber, too, expects it to be a hit with young and older drinkers.

“That would be the key to success,” he said.

“If they can get 20-30-year-olds interested they will do well.” 

Tomorrow Schlitz will host special launch events at a variety of locations in Peoria. The community is invited to attend and sample the 1960’s formula at the launch parties, all of which will include live music, trivia and raffles.

The events will be held at:

• Legend’s - Peoria; 4 p.m.

• Eamon Patrick’s - Peoria; 5 p.m.

• Murphy’s - Peoria; 6 p.m.

• Richard’s - Peoria; 7 p.m.