Not My Father's Beer Anymore: A Review of Schaefer Beer


Sep 18, 2000 (Updated Apr 21, 2003)


The Bottom Line Schaefer is not the one beer to have anymore. Drink it purely for nostalgia.

Schaefer IS THE one beer to have when you’re having more than one…

One of the most classic American beer jingles ever. But what happened to the beer?

Founded by the Schaefer brothers (Frederick and Maximilian) in 1842, the F&M Schaefer Brewery was, during the time period roughly of the 1940—early 1970’s, a dominating presence in the beer consciousness of America.

It was one of the largest regional brewers in the Northeast, and you could not drink beer in the NY/NJ/Conn tri-state area without seeing Schaefer on tap, along with others such as Carling's Black Label, Schlitz, Ballantine, or Rheingold.

But something went seriously wrong. Bad business decisions in their quest to become a national may have doomed the brand. As noted in his tome on the beer business, Beer Blast, author Philip Van Munching does well to detail what went wrong:

1. Schaefer screwed up by entering the advertising wars with A-B's Budweiser and others with poor marketing vision.
2. The brewery added to a quality problem with recipe change to allow for more adjuncts* in the brew.
3. Schaefer's product line suffered under the changing tastes of the American beer palate.

[*Adjuncts are defined as "Fermentable material used as a substitute for traditional grains, to make beer lighter-bodied or cheaper." See Michael Jackson's Beer Companion, page 280. Copyright 1993, USA edition published by the Running Press.]

Dad's Brew of Choice
Schaefer was my Dad’s beer and his everyday drinking beer for most of his life. [Being from Queens, NY, my Dad drank Ballantine until a move to the Jersey suburbs introduced him to Schaefer.]

I vividly remember summer days in the backyard including barbecues of hot dogs and burgers, A&P soda, and a complement of Schaefer longnecks for my father and the other adults. It was "his" beer and the only one served in our house, unless you brought your own!

While others moved on to Budweiser or Miller my Dad stuck with Schaefer. His tastes began to change after trips to my sister in California in the late 1970s/early 1980s introduced him to Coors. He later abandoned his now well-worn Schaefer brand (which was increasingly hard-to-find) for the new thing of Coors Light.

The Schaefer brands went into a death spiral in the mid-late 1970s and never recovered. The brands were first sold to the Stroh's Brewing Company of Detroit fame which also acquired the G. Heilman Brewing Company and many others. Stroh's itself then ran into trouble and got out of the brewing business altogether.

With the demise of Stroh's in the 1990s, the Schaefer line and many other regional favorites in the company's portfolio went to Pabst Brewing Company. The Miller Brewing Company picked up others.

[See the article at http://celebrator.com/9904/stroh.html for more information.]

Now Schaefer is again facing the end of the line. A recent web search of Pabst and realbeer.com found that Pabst was transferring production of it due to the closing of the Pearl Brewery in San Antonio. It would now be made by a Miller facility in Fort Worth, Texas.

But, with memories awoken in me, I set off to find myself some nostalgia in a beer glass. My regular high-end package store did not carry it. Even the local bodega failed me. But my grocery store had some carefully tucked away in the beer aisle. I put away my "beer snob" thoughts and picked up a $3.49 six-pack in cans no less. The beer remains a cheap one.

Still billed as "America’s Oldest Lager Beer" and "brewed with the finest quality ingredients," Schaefer pours into my authentic Schaefer World’s Fair glass with the "lumpy" pour sound one of my father’s friends used to criticize the beer for.

[But, as I remember, that didn’t stop him from drinking it either.]

A slight foamy head forms.
Interesting nose or is that something else?
The taste?
The first mouth feel remains as sweet as I remember but then a sour, even astringent taste takes over.
The foam quickly dissipates and there is little happening in the glass. It's a beer without a strong flavor profile. Drinkable when ice cold, but that's about it.

Blah Beer?
Yeah, it’s pretty bland and bad.

Not the beer of my father's day, the Schaefer brand has clearly reached the bottom of taste, quality, and drinkability. Sadly, Schaefer has become a definite 1 star beer.

It’s not easy to find everywhere anymore, but my grocery store had it. [Go figure: they don’t carry Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, but they do have Schaefer.]

This is the beer for people on a budget, or those like me, taking a trip down memory lane to the beer of our fathers. On that note, I enjoyed the trip. But as with many nostalgia trips, the taste was bittersweet.

October 2002 Update
As of late, it does appear that Schaefer is making a comeback of sorts in the "budget beer category." It's now available in 30-packs for $11.00 in my area and the label includes a mailing address out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. No new brewery information is included. I've written for more information but have not recieved a response.

The Pearl Brewery is still listed on the Pabst Web site [www.pabst.com] and the site still includes Schaefer as a brand, along with Stroh's, Old Milwaukee, Schmidt's, Schlitz, Old Style, Lone Star, Rainier, and other regionals.

In fact, Schaefer Light won a gold medal in the "American-Style Light Lager" category at the 2001 Great American Beer Festival.

A recent taste testing (September 2002) confirmed my "tasting notes" above. Schaefer is just not the beer it was in its 1970s heyday. Still, the allure remains. It's not a bad bargain for those on a beer budget or those wanting to revisit a part of America's glorious brewing history.

[2003 Update: Another recent taste testing confirmed my overall impressions. To enjoy the 2003 version of Schaefer, one must drink it ICE COLD in order to cover up the lack of a taste profile. Still, it remains American beer nostalgia in a glass. More info to follow as I find it.]

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