Stroh Brewery Company
|Founded||1850 in Detroit, MI|
|Headquarters||Los Angeles, California|
|Owner||Pabst Brewing Company|
The Stroh Brewery Company was a beer brewery located in Detroit, Michigan. In addition to its own Stroh's brand, the company produced or bought the rights to several other brands including Goebel, Schaefer, Schlitz, Augsburger, Erlanger, Old Style, Lone Star, Old Milwaukee, Red River, and Signature, as well as manufacturing Stroh's Ice Cream. The company was taken over and broken up in 2000, but some of its brands continued to be made by the new owners. Stroh's beer is currently owned and operated by Pabst Brewing Company.
The Stroh family began brewing beer in a family-owned inn during the 18th century in Kirn, Germany. In 1849, during the German Revolution, Bernhard Stroh, who had learned the brewing trade from his father, emigrated to the United States. Bernhard Stroh established his brewery in Detroit in 1850 when he was 28 and immediately started producing Bohemian-style pilsner, which had been developed at the municipal brewery of Pilsen, Bohemia, in 1841. In 1865 he purchased additional land and expanded his business. He adopted the heraldic lion emblem from the Kyrburg Castle in Germany and named his operation the Lion's Head Brewery. (The lion emblem is still visible in its advertising and product labels.)
Bernhard Stroh's original beer selling operation consisted of a basement brewing operation and was then sold door-to-door in a wheelbarrow. The new beer (Stroh's) sold door-to-door was a lighter-lager beer, brewed in copper kettles; copper kettles enhanced the rich flavor of the beer, promoting carmelization of the wort "while the fire brewed distilling made the beer lighter", thus forming a tradition of "pure water beers" without the heavier mineral content. Making the "new beer" lighter did not reduce the flavor.
Bernhard Stroh Jr. took charge of the brewery on the death of his father. He changed the brewery's name to the B. Stroh Brewing Company. With the introduction of pasteurization and refrigerated rail cars, Stroh was able to ship some of his beer as far as Florida and Massachusetts. In 1893 Stroh Bohemian Beer won a blue ribbon at the Columbian Exposition. The company's name was changed to The Stroh Brewery Company in 1902. In 1908, Bernhard Stroh's brother Julius Stroh took over the brewery. After a tour of famous European breweries, he introduced the European fire-brewing method in the Stroh brewery. Common in Europe before World War I, the fire-brewing process uses a direct flame rather than steam to heat beer-filled copper kettles. The company claims that the resulting higher temperatures bring out more of the beer's flavor.
During Prohibition, Julius Stroh operated the business under the name The Stroh Products Company, producing near beer (beer with its alcohol extracted), birch beer, soft drinks, malt products, ice cream, and ice. Though production of most of these items ceased when Prohibition ended in 1933, a special unit of the brewery continued to make Stroh's Ice Cream (this facility remained in Detroit until February 2007, when the operation was moved to Belvidere, Illinois, though the distribution facility in Detroit still remains).
Growth and expansion
Upon Julius Stroh's death in 1939, his son Gari Stroh assumed the presidency. Gari's brother John succeeded him in 1950 and became Stroh's chairman in 1967. Gari's son Peter, who had joined the company following his graduation from Princeton University in 1951, became president in 1968.
In 1964, the company made its first move toward expansion when it bought the Goebel Brewing Company, a rival across the street. The company had decided it could no longer compete as a local brewer and was about to move into the national scene. One reason was a costly statewide strike in 1958 that halted Michigan beer production and allowed national brands to gain a foothold. When Peter Stroh took over the company in 1968, it still had not regained the market share lost in the strike ten years earlier.
Stroh ended a 40-year relationship with a local advertising agency for a large national agency and began targeting the larger national market. Led by creative director Murray Page, Stroh's came up with the slogan "The One Beer...", and by 1971, Stroh Brewery had moved from 15th to 13th place nationally. In 1972, it entered the top 10 for the first time. A year later it hit eighth place. Peter Stroh's willingness to depart from years of tradition enabled Stroh's to survive, but the changes were hard to swallow for many Stroh's employees. Stroh broke the company's tradition of family management and recruited managers from companies such as Procter & Gamble and Pepsico. He also introduced a light beer, Stroh's Light.
By 1978, Stroh's served 17 states when it produced 6.4 million barrels of beer. By this time, the original Detroit facility was 128 years old and had a capacity of seven million barrels annually. As it became difficult to make efficient shipments to new markets in the East, the company recognized that it required a new brewery. The F. & M. Schaefer Brewing Company had fallen victim to the Miller beer wars and Stroh's purchased all of Schaefer's stock. In 1981, the combined breweries ranked seventh in beer sales. In addition, Stroh was able to take advantage of Schaefer's distributors in the northeastern part of the country. The acquisition also brought Stroh three new brands: Schaefer and Piels beers, and Schaefer's Cream Ale. The company now had a volume of over 40,000,000 barrels (6,400,000 m3) and 400 distributors in 28 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and other Caribbean islands.
In 1982, Stroh bid for 67 percent of the Schlitz Brewing Company. By spring of that year, Stroh had purchased the entire company, making Stroh's the third largest brewing enterprise in America: it owned seven brewing plants and reached the market value of $700 million in 1988 (according to Forbes). During the takeover, Schlitz fought a fierce battle in the courts trying to remain independent. Schlitz finally accepted the takeover when Stroh raised its offer from an initial $16 per share to $17, and the U.S. Justice Department approved the acquisition once Stroh agreed to sell either Schlitz's Memphis or Winston-Salem breweries.
On February 8, 1985, Stroh announced that it would close its 135-year-old brewery on Detroit's east side. Chairman Peter Stroh said that the facility was simply outdated and had no room to expand. The structure was imploded the following year.
Turnaround and decline
Stroh's had taken on a heavy debt burden to finance the Schlitz acquisition. But it then found itself unable to compete nationally with the likes of Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing Company, and Coors Brewing Company. Stroh's began to lose market share and profit margins, leading it to begin laying off employees. After Coors passed Stroh's in size, Peter Stroh agreed to sell the company's operations to Coors, but the deal ultimately fell through. In the aftermath, Stroh sought to address the company's cash flow problems through real estate development of the company's former headquarters and by diversifying into other beverages—such as White Mountain Cooler, a fruit-flavored drink with 5 percent alcohol, and Sundance sparkling-water fruit drink. These efforts met with little success, and Stroh's sold its ice cream operation to Dean Foods Company in 1988.
Stroh then implemented a three-pronged strategy to revitalize the company: developing new products, brewing beer under contract for other brewers, and expanding overseas. The new product area was critical because the explosion in beer brand and types of beer in the 1990s undermined the market share for all established brands. Stroh's strategy when seeking to enter the market for a new type of beer was to extend one or more of its existing brands. In the increasingly popular non-alcoholic beer segment, for example, Old Milwaukee Non-Alcoholic was introduced in 1991, while Stroh's Non Alcoholic debuted in 1993. Old Milwaukee NA quickly became one of the top three selling non-alcoholic brews. In the ice beer category, Stroh launched Old Milwaukee Ice, Schlitz Ice, Schlitz Ice Light, Bull Ice, and Schaefer Ice, all in 1994. Another hot category in the early and mid-1990s was the packaged draft beer; Stroh made its presence felt in this category as well with Stroh's Draft Light, Old Milwaukee Genuine Draft, and Schlitz Genuine Draft.
Another important new product area was specialty beer. Its popularity in the 1990s was led by the hundreds of microbreweries that arose to craft the beers, not by the industry leaders. Stroh and the other leaders, however, were not shut out of this category; in some cases they purchased all or part of microbreweries, in others they formed units to produce specialty beers. Stroh did both. It purchased the Augsburger brand in 1989 and over the next several years developed and introduced both specialty and seasonal brews under the Augsburger name. In 1994, Stroh launched Red River Valley Select Red Lager, a regional premium specialty beer produced by a division of the company's St. Paul, Minnesota, brewery called Northern Plains Brewing Company. Two years later, Red River Honey Brown Ale was introduced.
The international market provided growth opportunities for Stroh that were very limited in the stagnant, hyper-competitive U.S. market. In 1986, the company created Stroh International, Inc. to begin to tap into these markets. Canada, India, Japan, Mexico, and Russia were the main targets of Stroh's overseas push. From 1992 through 1995, Stroh's international sales grew each year at rates exceeding 50 percent. In 1994, the company entered into a licensing agreement with Rajasthan Breweries, Ltd. (located outside Delhi) to produce, distribute, and market Stroh's and Stroh's Super Strong beers in India. Stroh's was the first foreign beer brand to be launched in India, and the first to be sold in cans. Rajasthan Breweries sold Stroh's all over India; the brand is still recognized and remembered in India despite its not having been sold there for several years. The following year, an agreement was reached with Sapporo Breweries Ltd. of Tokyo whereby Sapporo began distributing Stroh's beer nationwide in Japan. By 1995, exports comprised more than 10 percent of overall Stroh sales.
In early 1995, William Henry assumed Peter Stroh's CEO position to become the first non-Stroh family member to hold that position for the company. The following year Stroh finally landed a long-sought-after target when it acquired Heileman for about $290 million. The Heileman purchase brought more than 30 brands to the Stroh family, many of which Heileman had itself acquired since its founding in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, in 1858. Among the more important brands were Colt 45 malt liquor, which when combined with Schlitz Malt Liquor, gave Stroh more than half of the malt liquor market.
Stroh neared the start of the 21st century in a much stronger position than it had entered the 1990s, but by the end of the decade, Stroh finally gave in to the pressures of the larger brewers and was acquired.
The end finally came on February 8, 1999, when Stroh announced that the 149-year-old brewer was selling its labels to the Pabst Brewing Company and Miller Brewing Company. John Stroh III, now company president and chief executive, said of the decision to sell: "Emotionally, it was an extremely difficult one to make, knowing that it would impact our loyal employees, and recognizing that it would mean the end of our family's centuries old brewing tradition that had become, in essence, an important part of our identity." The Stroh family lost over $700 million, decimating its fortune.
After the company's dissolution in 2000, some Stroh brands were discontinued, while others were purchased by other breweries. The Pabst Brewing Company acquired the most Stroh/Heilman brands. It currently produces Colt .45 malt liquor, Lone Star, Schaefer, Schlitz, Schmidt's, Old Milwaukee, Old Style, Stroh's, and St. Ides. The Miller Brewing Company got Mickey's Malt Liquor and Henry Weinhard's. Most other Stroh/Heileman brands disappeared after 2000.
In Canada, some Stroh brands, such as Old Milwaukee, are still brewed by Sleeman Breweries Ltd.
In the spring of 1983, 15 bikini contests were held around the state of Louisiana in local nightclubs, sponsored by local radio stations and Stroh's Beer distributors, to choose representatives to pose as calendar girls for the upcoming 1984 Stroh's calendar poster. These contests were also preliminaries to the final competition, to be held in New Orleans that summer. The winner of each preliminary would secure her place on the calendar along with $500.00 in cash, and a two night stay for four at the Fairmont Hotel (now known as The Roosevelt Hotel), at 123 Baronne Street in New Orleans, where she would compete for the title of "Stroh's Rose of Louisiana 1984", and also pose for pictures for the calendar on the Natchez Steamboat. Sponsors for the state competition were Stroh's Beer, Ocean Pacific Swimwear, and the New Orleans Steamboat Company. Shreveport native Toy Phillips clinched the title on a Saturday night in June, and was awarded an all expenses paid, seven day trip for two to Lake Tahoe, as well as the title of "Stroh's Rose of Louisiana" on the calendar. The calendar was popular in liquor establishments that carried Stroh's beer in the state, and is a collector's item today. This would be the only Stroh's Rose of Louisiana calendar to be published.
Stroh TV commercials included:
- One was loosely based on the motion picture The Flight of the Phoenix. A plane crashes in the desert, they determine that the plane can be rebuilt to fly out if its weight is reduced. The passengers refuse to leave behind the Stroh's beer, so they strip the skin off the aircraft to leave the desert instead.
- One featured a youthful-looking fellow asking for a Stroh's beer at a bar, with the bartender asking him for identification (the age was not mentioned, due to the minimum legal age for drinking at the time being 18 in Michigan and Ohio and 21 elsewhere). The purchaser willingly furnished an ID, with the bartender serving him a Stroh's beer with the greeting "Happy Birthday!". The bar patrons all applauded as the customer thanked him.
- Another featured a man confronting his son with great emotion. "Son, answer me. Do you drink beer?" To which the son tearfully replied, "Yes, dad, I drink beer. I'm thirty-four years old!" The father put his arm around the younger man and asked to be reassured that the beer was Stroh's.
- A '70s spot featured a xylophonist performing in a lounge before a crowd of customers. The musician was playing the classic Stroh's "From One Beer Lover to Another" jingle using beer-filled glasses for bells, with each glass filled to a different capacity to sound a different note. As he finished the song, he struck the final glass with his mallet and cracked it; the glass was empty. The audience reacted in stunned silence, the musician recoiled in embarrassment, and a nearby customer (one of the musicians—with a rather satisfied look on his face) coyly looked away in feigned innocence.
- In an ad from the late '70s, a man apparently dying of thirst was crawling on his hands and knees through an unidentified desert when he came upon a campsite. He asked the camper if he had any Stroh's beer. The camper said no, but when he offered the thirsty man a drink of cold water instead, he turned it down, saying he really had a thirst for some Stroh's. As the man (back on his feet) walked away from the campsite, the camper said to himself, "There goes a real beer lover".
- Another late '70s spot featured two men adrift in a raft lost at sea. The first man is despairing of being rescued, but the second man comforts him saying they have plenty of food and, of course, a still-cold case of Stroh's, which quickly changes the first man's mood. Later, when a helicopter arrives to rescue them, the first man says to the second "Don't pay any attention to them; maybe they'll go away."
- Continuing the tradition, a late '70s ad started with a Midwestern farmer and his wife quietly eating dinner in front of a window in their kitchen. Suddenly, a powerful bluish beam of light appears out in the field accompanied by a low-pitched humming noise. The kitchen door is then flung open as the beam invades their kitchen, questing fitfully around the room, opening every drawer and cupboard that it touches. Finally it lands on the refrigerator, the humming sound increases and all the Stroh's beer in the fridge is sucked out the door in the beam. The door slams shut, the light is seen receding in the field and the humming dissipates. After a moment looking out the window, the wife says, "All that way for a Stroh's," and after a laconic pause the farmer says, "Don't surprise me none."
- From the early '80s, there were two commercials involving a man who was constantly leaving his case of Stroh's in various vehicles, and having to run after them to catch it. The first one involved him getting out of a taxi and realizing he didn't have his Stroh's just as the cab took off, but was never shown getting it back. In the other one, he had gotten off a plane, and managed to chase down the plane. When he came back with the case of Stroh's, his shoes were smoking.
- In the '80s, Stroh's was known for its amusing "Alex the Dog" commercials, where Alex would fetch a Stroh's from the refrigerator for its owner. One commercial ended with Alex lapping a liquid after pouring two glasses of Stroh's, with his owner shouting "Alex, you'd better be drinking your water!".
- The '90s saw a series of ads featuring "Benny, the Stroh's-loving bellhop", who was constantly devising schemes to trick hotel guests out of their Stroh's.
In the late '70s and early '80s, Stroh's was known for its "From One Beer Lover to Another" campaign that had science fiction and phantasmagorical themes. The brewery won two awards for its "Beer Lover" ads. In 1985, Stroh moved to the good times-good friends-good beer theme popular in the beer industry. Its slogan was "Stroh's Is Spoken Here." The company felt the theme was more relevant to the all-American beer drinker and showed more confidence in the beer, rather than being merely entertaining.
Launch in India
The product placement of Stroh's Beer by Rajasthan Breweries in an Indian movie, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, marked the launch of the brand in India in 1995. The product caught the eye of the consumer and became a well known name in India overnight, assisted by extensive marketing events and promotions held by Rajasthan Breweries all over the country.
In the 1980s, the company also turned to corporate sponsorship to gain needed national publicity. Stroh was a sponsor of the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, an event that strengthened Stroh's new national standing considerably. For many years Stroh had received little television exposure because of an agreement between the major networks and Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Company which allowed the two top brewers exclusive advertising rights. Stroh fought the agreement and in 1983 was allotted advertising time on ABC's Monday Night Baseball, on two NBC boxing events, and on other popular U.S. television sports shows. Confronted with nearly prohibitive network costs, the company began "The Stroh Circle of Sports" on cable television and independent stations. The program featured live events with reporting and analysis. For increased publicity opportunities, Stroh also turned to such sports as hockey—which had been overlooked by Anheuser and Miller—and sponsored broadcasts of National Hockey League games on the USA cable network. The company also sponsored the 1984 Dallas Grand Prix, an event considered an important boost for Stroh's international name recognition. "High Rollers", a contest for amateur bowlers, was also developed and sponsored by the company. Stroh's most popular non-sports promotion during this period was the "Schlitz Rocks America" concert series. It also sponsored NASCAR legend Mark Martin in the Winston Cup Series during the 1988 and 1989 seasons. National Hockey League Hall Of Fame center Mario Lemieux signed a two-year deal with Stroh's on October 20, 1997 that allowed Lemieux to appear in print ads and in public appearances but allowed him to remain away from television ads. Lemieux's image was also featured on several Stroh's commemorative cans.
During the late 80's and early 90's, sponsorship could be seen on various off road racing Jeep Comanche trucks driven by Al Unser, Jr., Walker Evans, and various others.
Stroh's in popular culture
- In the 1989 movie The 'Burbs, Tom Hank's character is drinking Stroh's Light in the back yard.
- In 1989, Hip-hop artist Tone Loc referenced "Alex from Stroh's" in his song "Funky Cold Medina".
- Stroh's Brewery appeared in the 1990 film RoboCop 2.
- In the 1994 movie The Shawshank Redemption, prison inmates are drinking Stroh's beer on a rooftop.
- In the 1999 movie October Sky, Homer and his father had an argument in the kitchen about Homer not wanting to be a coal miner. His father goes to the fridge and pulls out a bottle of beer. He pops the top and takes a swig of the "Stroh's Bohemian Beer" brand. (1957)
- The alternative rock band The Offspring mentions Stroh's beer in their song "One Fine Day" of its 2000 album Conspiracy of One. "Now excitement seems to grow, when we're hangin' with the bros, when we're chillin' and we pound a case of Stroh's."
Alcohol content/nutritional value
|type||% alcohol by weight||carbohydrates||energy|
|Stroh's||4.6 (5% in Canada)||13||142||590|
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