Yesterday, Mammoth Brewing Company announces that it will acquire Great Basin Brewing Company. The sale will be final  some time this summer.  Great Basin is the oldest and largest craft brewery in Nevada while Mammoth is the oldest in Eastern Sierra. Both are fairly small breweries; the sale will enable the new company to brew 40,000 barrels. Previously each produced about 15,000. You can read more about this merger here.

In the 1950’s and 60’s small and medium size breweries sought mergers and combinations to better compete against  Anheuser-Busch and the other large brewers. Here is a an excerpt from Brewing Battles about the various mergers.

From 1950 to 1980 there was much movement among the top ten producers of beer as the industry continued its trend towards greater concentration.

Liebmann Bros owned and brewed Rheingold Beer, which was sixth in 1950. After Repeal, the company expanded through acquisitions, but Pepsi Cola United Bottlers purchased it in 1964. At that time, only the Brooklyn and New Jersey plants remained in operation. Chock Full O’Nuts, the coffee company, bought Rheingold in 1974 and closed the Brooklyn brewery in 1976. In 1977 C. Schmidt and Company, tenth in 1980, bought the brand.[1]

In the 1990s, and again in 2003, the owners of Rheingold Brewing Company attempted to revive both the company and its famous Miss Rheingold contest. In 2005, Drinks America bought the brand; the company also distributes Willie Nelson’s Old Whiskey River Bourbon and Trump Super Premium Vodka.[2]

Although in 1953 Schlitz lost its number one ranking due to a Milwaukee strike, the brewery continued to expand, purchasing four breweries that all went out of business between 1949 and 1964. The biggest acquisition was, in 1961, Burgemeister, located in San Francisco and the third largest brewer in California. In 1964 Schlitz also purchased a thirty-four per cent share of Labatt of Canada which controlled General Brewing Company, San Francisco. Burgemeister and General were responsible for twenty-seven per cent of the California beer market.

Following Schlitz’s purchases in the early sixties, the federal government filed an anti-trust suit against the brewery. At the same time the government was also suing Pabst for its acquisition of Blatz in 1958, Falstaff for purchasing Narragansett, and Rheingold for buying Jacob Ruppert.[3] In the 1950s the government had pursued anti-trust action against Anheuser–Busch for its purchase of the Miami Regal Brewery.[4] In 1965, Norman Klug, president of both the USBA and Miller Brewing testified at the Schlitz trial that the company’s acquisition of Burgemeister had adversely affected Miller’s sales. In 1966 United States District Judge Stanley A. Weigel ruled that Schlitz had to divest itself of Burgemeister and could not acquire any new United States plants for ten years.[5]

In 1958 Pabst bought Blatz Brewing, which was the country’s eighteenth largest at the time. The company had been ninth in 1950; Schenley Distilling owned it. Because both Pabst and Blatz were Milwaukee brewers, the federal government sued under anti-trust laws, seeing their combination as monopolistic. Pabst denied the government’s claim, stating in its defense that the company was “a failing firm at the time of the acquisition and that therefore, there was no adverse effect on competition.”[6]

Although the combination of Blatz and Pabst would have created a concentration of brewers in Milwaukee and the surrounding states, it would have also created a larger company to compete with Anheuser–Busch and enabled Pabst to stay more competitive on a national level. Over ten years later, Pabst sold Blatz to Heileman following completion of litigation. Pabst Brewing currently owns the brand; Miller brews the beer under contract. It is for sale in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota. Blatz was one of the big three of Milwaukee brewers in the nineteenth century and was the first to go national.[7]

Blatz Beer. Photo courtesy of Pabst Brewing Company.

[1] Downard, Dictionary, 159; Will Anderson, The Breweries of Brooklyn: An Informal History of a Great Industry in a Great City (New York: Anderson, 1976), 100-111.

[2] Patricia Winters Lauro, “Advertising,” New York Times, February 2, 2003, C8; “Rheingold Beer,” (accessed January 24, 2007).

[3] Leonard Sloane, “Problems Are Brewing in Beer Industry,” New York Times, December 14, 1966, F1; Tremblay, Brewing Industry, 86.

[4] Anheuser-Busch Companies. Annual Report (St. Louis, Mo: Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc, 1958).

[5] “Sales Cut Cited,” New York Times August 18, 1965, 45;”Schlitz Ordered to Drop Holdings,” New York Times, March 25, 1966, 59.

[6] “Pabst Suit Revived By Court,” New York Times, June 14, 1966, 65.

[7]; “Advertising: Blatz Goes to Campbell-Mithun,” New York Times, August 18, 1969, 52;  Pabst Brewing Company, (accessed January 1, 2007); Downard, Dictionary, 23.

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