Lazarus beers: 6 brands that should be raised from the dead

WHEN PEOPLE ask me to name my favorite beer, I usually say, “My next one.”

But beer drinkers can be a nostalgic sort (you still know the words to the Schaefer jingle, right?), and sometimes I find my thoughts drifting back to beers of the past – beers that are gone but not forgotten.

We’ve got a lot of them in Philly, of course: Schmidt’s, Esslinger, Gretz, Ortlieb’s and so on.

A couple weeks ago, WIP sports talker Glen Macnow and I asked listeners of our weekly “Bar Talk” podcast what beers they’d like to see brought back from the dead. We got more than 50 replies, from those that are long gone (Valley Forge) to some that are still alive but hard to find (Molson Brador).

Some listeners pined for beers they never tasted. “Pabst Red, White & Blue,” said Tim Klady, recalling the Milwaukee brewery’s discount brand. “Just one case, so I can drink what my grandfather did.”

It’s not just those retro lagers from the 1950s that bring back memories. Modern craft beer – now entering its fourth decade – has its share of extinct brands: Bert Grant’s Scottish Ale, Arrowhead Red Feather, Red Bell Black Cherry Stout and so on.

Remember Gravity Brewing, the tiny operation that three ex-Penn students operated in a short-lived brew-on-premises spot on Spring Garden Street 20 years ago? Another listener, John Sabol, does; he’d like another taste of Gravity Pale Ale, which I recall as a particularly good brew made with malt extract.

Was it as good as, say, Dogfish Head Shelter Pale Ale, a beer that is readily available today? Maybe not, but that’s how it goes when you’re looking in the rearview mirror. Faded memories are often wistful.

My favorite beer will always be my next one, but here’s a sixpack whose absence makes the heart grow fonder:

Prior Double Dark labelPrior Double Dark (circa 1939): Really old-timers remember this smooth, dark lager from Norristown’s Scheidt brewery. My generation remembers it from the early ’80s, when Schmidt’s had acquired the brand and had it pouring throughout Center City (45 cents a mug at Pop Edwards, on Market Street).

Olde Frothingslosh (circa 1954): The pale stale ale with the foam on the bottom came in collectible cans decorated with a photo of the reigning Miss Frothingslosh, a corpulent beauty named Fatima Yechbergh, whose hobbies included arc welding. It was a gag beer from Pittsburgh, and I do mean gag.

Pete's Wicked ale labelPete’s Wicked Ale (circa 1986): Founder Pete Slosberg is one of the undisputed pioneers of craft beer, and the introduction of his flagship beer was a seminal event that revived America’s lost brown ale. Never mind that history – my enduring memory of this beer is from 2001, when Slosberg sold the brand and the new owners invited me to attend its relaunch with Miss August, Miss December and a bunch of other Bunnies at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles.

Celis White sixpack and bottleCelis White (circa 1992): This once-popular wheat beer has had a fitful history in which it died and was reborn a half-dozen times. At one point, it was produced by Miller Brewing, and today the brand is in production in both Belgium and South Carolina. The version I’m remembering, though, is the cloudy, refreshing ale brewed in Austin, Texas, by the late Pierre Celis, the guy who revived Belgium’s classic style known as witbier.

Weyerbacher Raspberry Imperial Stout labelWeyerbacher Raspberry Imperial Stout (circa 1997): Hard to believe, but 15 years ago, raspberries were a thing. The Great American Beer Festival actually had an entire category for them. This rich, dark and coffee-like brew – made with a full ton of raspberries in the secondary fermentation – was a medalist at the World Beer Championships.

Samuel Adams Scotch Ale bottleSamuel Adams Scotch Ale (circa 1995): In August, Boston Beer will ask fans to select two extinct beers from its “brewer’s vault” to be returned to circulation in 2016. This smoky, malty ale – a style that is not particularly popular these days – is my pick for a return to the living dead.

What beer would you like to see brought back to life? Email me or comment online.
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Comments

  1. Art  June 4, 2015

    I share your fond memories of Pete’s Wicked and Celis White. I’d also nominate Poor Henry’s Summer Wheat. Loved going up to American Street to buy a case and have a couple since I was there. Lemons never smelled better than dropped in a pint Summer Wheat.

    • Art  June 4, 2015

      Oh and of course Dock Street’s Illuminator and Savage beers. Savage’s spiked mace tap handle holds up as the best tap handle ever.

  2. Mike Barton  June 4, 2015

    I was pleased to see Prior Double Dark in your list of beers to revive. Back in the 60’s and 70’s when there wasn’t much else but mass produced quasi pilsner Prior DD was a revelation, when you could find it. A beer with real flavor. How novel for those days. I’d love to see it again.

  3. Rich  June 4, 2015

    Anything from Heavyweight. Those were beer drinker brews.

    • Zak  June 4, 2015

      Old Salty, to be precise

  4. Rich  June 4, 2015

    Of course, my standard response to the question is “the one in my hand.”

  5. Jim  June 4, 2015

    Caffrey’s Irish Ale is my choice. Dead in the US but still sold in Canada and UK.

  6. jcr  June 5, 2015

    I would love to see Victory revive Hop Wallop, even if just for the taproom(s). To me that was the quintessential pre-citra double IPA. Love dirtwolf, but HW is a nice counterpoint.

  7. Jack  June 5, 2015

    I would like to see the Gretz beers brought back! It is held close to my heart as my father was the brewmaster for
    some 20 years in Philadelphia! His father was a brewmaster in Germany….myself just an all grain home brewer here, but I guess that qualifies me as a 3rd generation brewer!!!

    Jack F

  8. Robert Boileau  June 5, 2015

    Gotta go with Mike Barton’s Prior Double Dark post. It was really great. Especially when you got a pitcher at the German Restaurant in the Schmidt’s brewery @ 2nd. & Girard. They would bring it out fresh from the brewery.

    Also miss the Hop Wallop. It was my fav Victory. Don’t have one now. The Dirt Wolf stinks.

  9. Bill  June 7, 2015

    I’d like to see “Curve Premium” brought back to my city. it was brewed by Altoona Brewing, the city where I was born (and still live). I would love to taste the beer that my dad, mom and aunts all drank. The local brewery closed in the early 70’s before I developed a taste for beer (and was barely old enough to drink) It would be interesting to compare it to today’s craft beer.

  10. Greg  June 8, 2015

    Bert Grant’s Perfect Porter.

    I was so sad his brands faded away after his death.

  11. daryn  June 9, 2015

    I miss Flying Fish’s Porter. A solid, locally brewed porter that’s time came too soon….

  12. Pete Maher  June 9, 2015

    Independence Ale. I bought a case before they owned a filter, and it was the best beer I had tasted at the time. The Franklinfest was also a great beer. I worked at Red Bell and the Philadelphia Original Lager could have been a flagship product with staying power. Unfortunately the timing was not ideal to resurrect a lager amid fruit beer madness and the Yuengling fascination in the 90’s. The Wee Heavy was a good one as well. And someone mentioned Caffrey’s. Lovely ale and would die to see it pouring in Philly.

  13. Daniel  June 11, 2015

    I always enjoyed Neuweiler “Stock Ale” great hop presence before all the hop madness, I believe it was a fall, early winter release I would buy a couple cases and stock up for the holidaze.

  14. Pete Maher  June 17, 2015

    Just thought of another 90s Classic, the old Wild Goose’s Snow Goose Winter Ale. Would love to try it against the Xmas beers of today.