Pt. 4: The
From 1947 to 1958, 185 breweries shut down or sold out to larger companies. This
period has been called the Great Shakeout.
Because of television and national advertising campaigns, local breweries
struggled. As a result, the amount
of beer that a brewery had to produce in order to survive doubled in just ten
years. To increase production,
Pfeiffer Brewing Company purchased the now vacant Ph.
Kling Brewery (formerly the Daily Brewery) of Flint, Michigan in 1947.
This Flint brewery simply became part of Pfeiffer Brewing Co and produced
only draft beer. This explains the
Flint references in many Pfeiffer collectibles and helps date those items.
At first, Pfeiffer benefited greatly from the shakeout.
Pfeiffer’s only real competition was Stroh and Goebel, but neither did
as well as Pfeiffer. In 1950, Pfeiffer Brewing Co. was the tenth largest brewery in the United
States with 1,618,077 barrels (31 gallons each) produced.
For many years, Pfeiffer was the best selling brand in Michigan. Its
low price and good reputation made the brand very popular with young
people. During this time, Pfeiffer was referred to as “The Giant that Scared Stroh.”
Rumors surfaced that Stroh salesmen would sit down bars, buy drinks for customers and find one who had been sick the night
before - not a difficult task for regulars at local pubs. The salesman would
then suggest to the regulars that Pfeiffer was brewing "green" beer. Continuing the "Great Shakeout," in 1954, Pfeiffer Brewing Co.
acquired the Jacob Schmidt Brewing
Company of St. Paul, Minnesota.
In 1958, the Great Shakeout was trumped by the Brewery Worker's Strike. The
strike began April 1 and lasted until May 20, 1958. By
allowing shippers from other states to enter the local market, the strike
devastated many breweries. The Goebel
Brewing Company was so hard hit that it went bankrupt in 1963. The Stroh
Brewery Company and E&B Brewing
Company were hit hard as well. Stroh did not regain its sales until close to
1970. Because of acquired debt from
recent purchases, the Pfeiffer Brewing Co. was hit very hard.
If Epstein had any connections in the union, they didn't seem to be
helping. As a result of the strike, Pfeiffer closed its Flint Branch in 1958 and
later was forced to close its Detroit operations as well.
With Michigan competition very fierce, Pfeiffer management made the decision to
become a regional brewer. In 1962,
Pfeiffer Brewing Co. purchased the E&B Brewing Company including its brands Weidemann
and Frankenmuth and renamed itself Associated
Brewery Co. Further mergers or purchases
included Drewerys in South Bend, Indiana and Chicago, Sterling in Evansville,
Indiana and Piel with plants in New York and Massachusetts.
The Associated Brewery was headquartered in Detroit. Pfeiffer Beer was
still brewed at the Detroit brewery along with such old favorites as
Frankenmuth, Schmidt and North Star. During this time, Pfeiffer Beer was also brewed in St. Paul,
The gamble didn't pay off. Building so
much debt while acquiring other breweries was not helped by 1958's strike and an
over 500% increase in state excise tax. Because it was cheaper to brew
beer in Indiana, in 1966, the Pfeiffer Brewery
in Detroit was closed down. After
closing the Pfeiffer Brewery in Detroit, Associated Brewing continued producing
Pfeiffer Beer until 1972 when it sold all its brands to other brewers. The
former Pfeiffer Brewing Company was renamed the Armada Corporation (the
name hinting at its former dominance in the market place) and it remains in business
to this day as a holdings company in the Penobscot building in Detroit. Alfred Epstein died shortly after in 1976 at the age of 81.
Over the years, Pfeiffer brewed various types of beer including:
"Pfeiffer's Würzburger Beer" (a dark
beer named after the Bavarian city of Würzburg), “Pfeiffer’s
Famous Beer”, "Pfeiffer Premium Beer", "Pfeiffer's Premium
Ale", "Pfeiffer Extra Special Beer" and "Pfeiffer's Beer."
Slogans have included "The REAL BEER
of the Great Lakes Country", "Say Fifers For Finest Flavor",
"An Old Time Favorite" and "Tastes Better Because it is Brewed
Better." Pfeiffer even had statues of its mascot, the fife player "Johnny
Pfeiffer was available in every type of container imaginable: kegs, 12 ounce flat-top
cans (even in 3-packs!),
12 ounce pull-tab cans, rare gallon
sized cans, 12-ounce squat-bottles, 7 ounce
bottles, 40 ounce bottle, 12
ounce longnecks, the G.I.Q. or Grand Imperial Quart and, of course, the famous Jumbo
Quart - the 32. (See more images in the "Image
G. Heileman era.
For more information on Detroit's brewing history, see
Peter Blum’s excellent book Brewed
The Pfeiffer name was purchased by G.
Heileman Brewing Co. of La Crosse, Wisconsin in June of 1972.
During this time,
Pfeiffer came in 32 ounce jumbo bottles, 12 ounce cans, 12 ounce stubby
bottles and 12 ounce long-neck bottles. The logo and labels for
Pfeiffer Famous Beer remained
virtually unchanged all the way through to the 1990's. In 1980, G. Heileman
Brewing Co. was the sixth largest brewery in the United States with 13,270,000
barrels of production and in 1992 was the fifth largest producing 5.3% of the
beer made in the United States. While Pfeiffer was still available in Michigan,
distribution was "limited" at best. At least in Michigan, the 12 ounce
Pfeiffers were only available on the Western part of the state.
Despite G. Heileman’s regional success, mounting debt forced the company to
declare bankruptcy in 1990. This
opened the door for a Dallas investment firm to buy out G. Heileman.
This unsuccessful venture caused G. Heileman to file for bankruptcy again
in 1996. In an ironic turn of
events, Pfeiffer returned to Detroit when the Stroh
Brewery Co. of Detroit purchased
G. Heileman Brewery in February of 1996 for $275 million. At the time, Stroh
Brewery Co. was the fourth largest brewery in the United States with nearly 19.7
million barrels produced annually. Instead of taking the opportunity to return a
classic Detroit beer to its home, Stroh Brewery Company decided to discontinue
the Pfeiffer line within days of the G. Heileman purchase.
It is hard to say were the Pfeiffer line stands now, or even who holds the
rights to it. After its purchase of G. Heileman, Stroh was hit by a lengthy
price war. On February 8, 1999, Pabst
Brewery bought out the Stroh Brewery Company, along with most of the Stroh
brands. Miller Brewing Co.
purchased the remaining brands, but Pfeiffer was never mentioned in any of the
A few times before, Pfeiffer has gone a few years without being produced.
Perhaps Pabst will one day decide to bring back the great beer tradition known
as Pfeiffer Famous Beer. But even if that never happens, Pfeiffer Beer continues
to live on as a legend. Collectors all over the country treasure their Pfeiffer
memorabilia and fans continue to let Pfeiffer live in their heart.
Brad Barbaza, updated July 16, 2004.
Special thanks to: Peter Blum (Brewed in
Thomas (Manning Brothers), John Stroh III,
Boyd, Noel Fisher, Dave Wheaton, Dennis
Kucharczyk, G. Heileman PR, Jay
P. Savage, Gary Bauer, Dan Morean, Dan Bora, Erik Amundson, John Smallshaw, Wes
Personal correspondences with the individuals mentioned above; "Stroh to
Acquire Heileman (G. Heileman press release); Brewery Sells Off Brands (Detroit
Free Press, Feb. 8, 1999); City of Detroit, Michigan, Vol. II (Burton); The Purple Gang,
CrimeLibrary.com (Mark Gribben) and Brewed in Detroit (Peter H. Blum).