Whatever happened to Stroh’s beer?

Five trucks driving Stroh's beer from Detroit to begin sales in North Carolina.

“18 Wheels of Love.” Five trucks driving Stroh’s beer from Detroit to begin sales in North Carolina. The name “18 Wheels of Love” comes from a song performed by The Serfs, which included my friend Frank Buscemi.

From 1975 until 1989, I helped promote Stroh’s beer regionally, then nationally. The Stroh Brewery Company, a Detroit icon, began expanding its flagship brand Stroh’s in about 1973. When I began working with them through Anthony M. Franco, Inc. Public Relations, Stroh’s was sold in 11 states. Goebel, another Stroh Brewery Company beer brand, was in seven states. At the time, Stroh was the eighth largest brewing company in the United States, producing 5.1 million barrels of beer annually.

(To be clear, “Stroh” refers to Stroh Brewery Company, while “Stroh’s” is the beer brand. You worked at Stroh; you drank Stroh’s.)

From 1975 through 1985, Stroh expanded into all 50 states. At the same time, it acquired the Schaefer brand in 1981 and much larger Schlitz—the beer that made Milwaukee famous—in a hostile takeover in 1982. Stroh then grew to be the third largest brewing company, behind only Anheuser-Busch and Miller, brewing 24.3 million barrels of beer annually at its peak.

Stroh also added Stroh’s Light and Stroh’s Signature to its beer line, plus all the brands of the newly acquired companies. Eventually there were 22 brands of beer owned and marketed by the company.

As one Stroh executive put it, I had earned my “advanced public-relations degree” during my years working with them.

Working with the Stroh marketing team, we promoted the brands (mostly Stroh’s beer) in a series of special events and sponsorships, from regional snowmobile races to national venues like the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn. Also, major racing series such as Formula One, NASCAR and Indy Car, and teams, music concerts, Toughman Contests and more.

Ultimately, Stroh could not compete against the “big boys” at A-B and Miller in the long term. In my book, The Power of Ownership: How to Build a Career and a Business, there are 61 pages with photos telling, sadly I feel, the ending of a Detroit success story. I spoke with and interviewed numerous former Stroh execs to gather the information for the book. I also detail the closing of the original brewing facility on Gratiot Avenue in Detroit, and feature photos of the plant, including when it was imploded.

My experience working with the Stroh Brewery Company was the key to building my career and set the stage for the rest of my time in PR and in business. As one of the Stroh executives put it, I earned my “advanced public-relations degree” during my years working with them.

3 thoughts on “Whatever happened to Stroh’s beer?

  1. Bill Sledzik

    John,

    As one of your assistants back in the early 80s, I recall helping with expansion of the Stroh’s brand in Georgia. Several of our marketing pals at the brewery began to refer to the project as “Stroh’s March Across Georgia.” As PR counsel, you were quick to advise our clients that any references to Sherman’s March — especially from a Yankee company — would not sit well with our Southern customers. That was the last I heard it mentioned.

    Working with you on the Stroh’s business remains one of the greatest experiences of my career, John. And we got to drink a whole lot of free beer in the process!

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  2. Jed Dunkin

    I also worked for the Stroh Brewery. I started there in 1979 as a truck driver driving the red trucks where I would make runs to Perrysburg and Fostoria Ohio along with Charlotte Michigan. In 1980 when they purchased the Shaefer Brewery in Fogelsville Fred Lewis and Curtis the transportation manager from our terminal in Perrysburg Ohio asked me if I wanted to go to the top of seniority on the Tanker board running Allentown and later Memphis so I changed boards.
    We also hauled beer to Knoxville during the fair. When Stroh bought Schlitz that was the start of the down fall, Peter Stroh who I think was in charge at the time was looking to move Stroh’s out of Detroit. This was when Reagan came in as president and started Union breaking. As drivers we heard rumors that they had first looked at Allentown but after the strike there when their contract was to be renewed we heard they were going to Texas.

    I knew this was a mistake because with Pearl,Lonestar and Coors the 3 largest beers there and the fact that I grew up out west and had relatives there, no one liked or cared about Stroh’s. The Great Lakes States was the home territory for Stroh’s and a lot of people either worked directly for Stroh or worked at warehouses, bottle plants and rail yards shipping the beer and bought their products both beer and ice cream.

    They told us they didn’t know when they would close Stroh Transportation but that they would offer us driving positions out of Allentown or Longview Texas when the time came if we wanted to move. Then 2 days before Christmas 1984 they told us to hand in our keys we were done, unemployed in the middle of winter. When Stroh went bankrupt I said well they got what they deserved. They abandoned the people of Michigan and Ohio and the rest of the Great Lake States that supported them for many years.

    Did they not learn from their friends at Coors, they would never leave Golden Colorado because they are smart enough to know that’s their home.

    BTW Mr Bailey I miss the place, I am now in Nashville and a country music artist and songwriter and you can find my last CD “Dixie to Detroit City” on Amazon.

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  3. Zeus

    Jed, thanks for the insight and perspective. You hit it on the head that Stroh erred when they left
    their home field advantage. Funny how wealth produces arrogance in some people. Oh well.
    Hope Nashville treats you right, laid-back like a trucker. Most of the big brewers are missing the craft-craze anyway. ‘Cept maybe Sam Adams. Z.

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