From time to time, many of my beer-loving buddies say things like “Whatever happened to tins of Burgie? We miss that beer.” But do we really miss the beer, or is it just part of a fond memory?
Today’s craft beer scene offers the widest choice of quality crafted beers and ales in almost every style, so why would we miss some of the bland, generic brews from days gone by?
Regardless of the reason, we do, so I’m here to see what happened to iconic brands like The Burgermeister Brewing Corp., Lucky Lager, Falstaff Beers, and Hamms. Do they still brew these beers? Does anybody else own the names and still brew them? And perhaps more importantly, should they still brew these beers? Keep reading to find out.
Whatever Happened to Burgermeister Beer?
Old Burgie! as my father used to call his favorite beer of the time, since the late 1970s, Burgermeister seems to have disappeared without a trace from the beer scene.
Although the beer no longer seems to be produced, there is a market for the paraphernalia which was used to advertise the beer on eBay and other auction sites.
As a testament to this long-forgotten beer, the Sierra Nevada Brewery still hangs a brushed aluminum mural depicting a farmer with hops and brewery scenes on its walls.
This picture is known as the Burgermeister mural (originally hung in the Burgermeister Brewing tasting Room).
By 1936, after prohibition ended, the San Francisco Brewing Corp. was the fifth largest brewery in San Francisco and their most popular offering was Burgermeister Beer. So, in 1956, they changed their name to Burgermeister Brewing.
Even before the prohibition, these styles of beer had been very popular with Americans. After prohibition was repealed and the forced rationing of WWII, brewers had to do more with less.
During this period of time, beer drinkers could only get pale lagers, so they had to buy and drink them, and therefore brewers only focused on making this style.
One of the things people remember most fondly of this era is the awesome logos and beer cans the breweries used. Burgie! Beer has got to be one of the best and most recognizable logos.
Burgermeister Brewing was sold to Schlitz in 1961, and a decade later, ownership was transferred to Falstaff Brewing in 1971.
In 1978, the whole brewery was closed down, with the only remaining buildings being the warehouse and loading facility. Today, the original brewery site is home to a Costco and parking lot.
Another beer, which was also called Burgermeister, was brewed in Illinois by the Warsaw Brewing Company. However, they also stopped production of their Burgermeister Beer in the early 70s.
For most people, however, Burgie! Beer will only ever be the San Francisco-produced lager which they remember so fondly.
Unfortunately, although not brewed today, you will often see Burgie cans (empty of course) for sale on sites like eBay for serious collectors.
Schlitz Brewing Company
Another old bed brand that dates back even further to the days before prohibition was Schlitz, often referred to as “the beer that made Milwaukee famous.”
The Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company was once one of the largest producers of beer in the United States.
Schlitz first became the largest beer producer in the US in 1902 and was constantly exchanging that title with the better-known Anheuser-Busch until the 1950s.
In the early 1970s, in a desire to cut costs, the brewing process for their flagship Schlitz beer was changed.
During this time period, using a high-temperature fermentation instead of traditional methods, less-expensive extracts were substituted for traditional high-quality ingredients.
This reformulation of the beer led to a drink that lost much of its flavor and consistency of the traditional beer. It also spoiled more quickly and rapidly lost its public appeal.
After a 10 million bottle recall in 1976, which cost the brewery $1.4 million dollars, and the rise of high-volume light beers like Miller Lite or Bud Light, the writing looked to be on the wall for Schlitz.
First, the Baldwinsville brewery was sold to Anheuser-Busch to supplement the production of Bud Lite, and then after a crippling worker strike, the Stroh Brewery Company of Detroit acquired Schlitz Brewing.
Schlitz beer, once the most popular beer in America, was now relegated to the “cheap beer” or “bargain brand” and was increasingly difficult to find in bars or restaurants.
Stroh Brewing was also struggling financially, and in 1999 Pabst Brewing Company gained control of the Schlitz brand when it bought out Stroh Brewery Company.
Today, Pabst Brewing Company has been able to reconstruct the original 1960s formula for Schlitz, through much research of old company documents and interviews with former Schlitz head brewers.
Although it may not be one of America’s most popular beers anymore, the Schlitz brand is still alive as a sentimental favorite, especially in the Midwest.
The site of the old Milwaukee Brewery complex is now a mixed-use development but carries the name, Schlitz Park.
Hamm’s Beer was another of my favorite brews of the past and is still produced to this day as “America’s Classic Beer. Born in the land of sky blue waters,” but is no longer an independently brewed drink.
After a journey that saw it first sold to Olympia Brewing Company, which was then purchased by Pabst, Miller Brewing, and finally, to Molson Coors, Hamms Beers are still on sale in bars, restaurants, and supermarkets across the US and Canada.
Originally produced by Theodore Hamm in St Paul, Minnesota, in 1856, Hamms eventually became one of the most iconic beers in American history.
Perhaps remembered most for its quirky advertising campaigns of the 1950s through to the early 1980s featuring the Hamm’s bear, Hamm’s even has the phrase “The Beer….refreshing” trademarked for its brew.
Even today, they still have their own presence on the web, which proudly boasts that the beer is still brewed in true family tradition only using the purest water and the choice of quality barley malt, grains, and hops.
Falstaff Brewing Company was a major American brewery that could be found in St Louis, Missouri, in 1903.
Named after the Shakespearean character Sir John Falstaff, production of Falstaff Beers peaked in 1965, with over seven million barrels produced, but this fell by over 70% in the following decade.
like many of the iconic beer brands of the past, Falstaff’s fortunes waned in the 1970s.
This was due to the consolidation of the major breweries such as Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors pushing them aside with innovations such as light beers and successful marketing and distribution networks.
The company was bought out in 1975 by Paul Kalmanovitz, who also owned General brewing, Pabst, Pearl, Olympia, and Stroh’s.
After the closing of the last Falstaff’s brewery in 1990, the brand name Falstaff became the property of Pabst, who continued to produce Falstaff beer through their other breweries.
After selling only 1,468 barrels of Falstaff in 2004, Pabst decided to discontinue the production of Falstaff in 2005, and yet another of our iconic beers of the past was consigned to the history books and the pages of Wikipedia.
Another much-loved beer brand of the past that has seen a revival in recent years due to the Pabst Brewery is Lucky Lager.
originally launched in 1934 by General Brewing Company in San Francisco, Lucky larger went on to become one of the more popular beers in the Western United States in the 1950s and 1960s.
Lucky Lager was announced as a beer of high quality, which would be brewed using the tradition of German beers through a series of billboard ads, newspaper ads, and advertisements on street cars in the San Francisco area.
By brewing just Lucky Lager, the General Brewing Company achieved a record of selling their entire daily production from the start of operations after a launch with significant fanfare.
Lucky Lager can be considered truly iconic with many references in popular culture over the years, including The Bad News Bears (1976) where Walter Matthau gives the whole team Lucky Lagers to celebrate.
Also, more recently in the film Kalifornia, Lucky lager is the favorite drink of Brad Pitt’s character.
After being sold to millionaire Paul Kalmanovitz, who we have previously seen as the owner of the Pabst brewery and others, both the California and San Francisco breweries were closed towards the end of the 1970s.
Lucky Lager continued to brew at Vancouver, Washington, and Cranston, Rhode Island.
When in the late ’70s the generic beer brand took off, producing beer with plain white labels and the word “BEER” emblazoned across it, rumors surfaced that “BEER” was simply Lucky lager which had been repackaged.
When the craze for generic beers died down following the rise of the craft beer scene, the Lucky Lager brand’s fortunes started to decline.
Although it tasted no worse than some of the expensively advertised premium brands like Budweiser or Miller, it didn’t impress many beer lovers for who the larger image was often more important than the taste.
When the Vancouver brewery shut down in 1985, Lucky Lager brewing was moved again.
The Olympia Brewing Company in Tumwater, Washington continued to brew Lucky Lager in the US where it continued to be sold in its original Californian variety as the unofficial value brand of Lucky Stores supermarkets (no affiliation, they just share a name).
Unfortunately, the brewery in Washington closed in 2003 after the Lucky Stores supermarkets were bought out by Albertsons, who changed the name of the stores around 2000.
So much for Lucky by name, but not by nature, it seemed time had finally been called for Lucky Lager.
However, Lucky Lager has been given a revival, courtesy of Pabst, and since 2019 has been brewed by 21st Amendment Brewing in San Leandro.
You can now find Lucky Lager in your local 7/11 stores, larger supermarkets, and local bars and restaurants.
Beers of Yesteryear Remembered
I hope you have enjoyed this look back at some of the beer brands of the past, which may not be as widely available as they once were, but are fondly remembered. Maybe you are not old enough to remember beers like Burgie, but I’m sure your dad does.
In the days before the craft beer revolution and the dominance of the domestic market now, global brands like Coors, Budweiser, and Miller, and beers like Burgermeister, Lucky Lager, and Schlitz were the main choices in your local beer hangouts.
Let us know if there are any other forgotten beer brands of yesterday that we left out. Keep an eye out for our future pieces on the biggest beer brands from the 1950s to the 1980s, looking at each decade bit by bit.