Sunday, June 05, 2005

Another Brand Down The Drain

Falstaff is discontinued:

Pabst Brewing Co. of San Antonio has discontinued selling Falstaff beer, which once was an icon in the St. Louis area's rich brewing history.

Production of Falstaff left St. Louis in 1977, when the flagship brewery was closed, but many local residents remember the 102-year-old beer and Falstaff Brewing Corp. before its demise.

Pabst, which owns the Falstaff brand, decided to stop selling the beer because of dwindling sales, said Allen Hwang, Pabst's marketing director.

Pabst only sold 1,468 barrels of Falstaff nationwide last year, and that figure was falling, he said.

"It's now at such a low rate that we couldn't sustain any type of minimum (production) run on the product," Hwang said.

Last month, Pabst shipped the last cases of Falstaff beer to wholesalers.

The brewer hasn't yet decided what to do with the brand, such as selling it to another company.

I never drank Falstaff but I've heard the old-timers talk about it: apparently, it was never really a great beer, only a common one; and I doubt that its quality had changed much for the better under Pabst's stewardship, considering that PBR, the flagship brand, is utter (if, lately, fashionable) crap, its "lower-rung" brand, Falstaff, must be spectacularly bad.

Nevertheless, it's sad that Falstaff has gone the way of the dodo. As consumers, we are poorer for its demise.

Falstaff, in its St. Louis heyday, was the flagship brand of the Griesedieck Bros. Brewery. I collect Griesedieck (the filthiest pronunciation is the correct one: Greasy Dick) breweriana, a brand nearly as common in its heyday as, say, Busch is now. But Falstaff soon came to surpass it.

When I was a high school- and college-age alcoholic, one could still buy most of the old Heileman brands locally, as well as PBR, though Falstaff was nowhere to be found. Some places sold the Stroh's, Schaeffer, and Schlitz brands, and some of the especially shitty Texas beers like Pearl and Lonestar could be had with a little effort. I tried to sample every brand I could.

As a kid, I remember the variety being even more pronounced. Locals drank such brands as Cook's, Jax, and Olympia, as well as the brands I tried as a teenager.

Now, when I go into the same liquor stores, variety has only held in the import section. In domestics, it's gone from a genuine variety to a huge selection of pseudo-varieties from the big three of Coors, Bud, and Miller.

The regional brands are dead; microbreweries are a city thing, and often temporary.

Falstaff didn't deserve to continue if it had severe quality issues (like, say, Schlitz did in the 70s). But on the other hand, just because it was cheap brew didn't mean it was inferior to Coors Light or whatever. No, Pabst just doesn't have the clout to ensure shelf space for Falstaff in the same way that Coors, say, has to ensure space for the Silver Bullet.

Why Falstaff and so many other regional brands have gone extinct is explained in this collection of posts at the superb site Oligopoly Watch. You can also read about the brewing industry's consolidation and centralisation (and endless, cannibalistic advertising wars) in Philip Van Munching's (of Heineken) memoir, Beer Blast.