History Continued..

Pt. 4: The Great Shakeout.
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, MN.

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 Fifer".

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 Gallery.")

The G. Heileman era.
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 press releases.

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.

For more information on Detroit's brewing history, see Peter Blum’s excellent book Brewed in Detroit.

Brad Barbaza, updated July 16, 2004.

Special thanks to: Peter Blum (Brewed in Detroit), Alyn Thomas (Manning Brothers), John Stroh III, Milt Boyd, Noel Fisher, Dave Wheaton, Dennis Kucharczyk, G. Heileman PR, Jay P. Savage, Gary Bauer, Dan Morean, Dan Bora, Erik Amundson, John Smallshaw, Wes Weaver and Leon Hampton.

Sources: 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).