After 40 Years, Blue-Collar Brew Schaefer Slips Back Into New York Wearing Fancy New Clothes

Pabst will make the 178-year-old lager in the upstate town of Utica

The updated Schaefer is a cleaner, more refined version of its old Brooklyn self. Courtesy of Schaefer
Headshot of Robert Klara

As New York City lost its industrial base after World War II and entered its painful decline, locals said goodbye to one great brand after another. Brillo soap pads left for Ohio in 1955. Squibb pharmaceuticals packed up a year later, as did Eberhard Faber, makers of the famous Mongol no. 2 pencil. In 1957, the Brooklyn Dodgers walked away from Ebbets Field, boarding the train for Los Angeles.

A notable holdout? Schaefer Beer. In family hands since 1842, the F. & M. Schaefer Brewery had made a crisp, inexpensive lager that the city’s working-class denizens consumed with vigor. But dated facilities and competition from giants like Anheuser-Busch proved more than Schaefer could swallow. Schaefer shuttered its Brooklyn brewery in 1976. The brand itself never fully disappeared, but it had certainly disappeared from New York City.

Until now.

In a piece of news sure to be welcomed in a city hit hard by a wounded economy and an enduring pandemic, its owner Pabst has announced that the Schaefer brand will be made in New York again for the first time in four decades.

A can of Schafer from the mid-1950s.Schaefer

Pabst, which acquired the Schaefer brand in 1999, gave no reason for why it’s decided to brew the beer in New York again, but New Yorkers have shown a great deal of enthusiasm and support for local brews. There was a time that breweries proliferated in the Big Apple. In the early 1900s, no fewer than 45 breweries dotted Brooklyn alone. The craft-brew movement has witnessed a renaissance of local beer making in recent years, with outfits including Gun Hill Brewing Company, Coney Island Brewing Company and Brooklyn Brewery, the largest of the lot, leading the list.

Schaefer won’t be brewed in the five boroughs, alas. Land values in the city now preclude much in the way of huge industrial operations for a mass-market beer. Instead, Pabst will make Schaefer under contract with FX Matt, whose plant is in Utica, N.Y., 180 miles north of New York City. It’s an upstate-downstate debate, maybe, but a New Yorker is still a New Yorker.

Schaefer moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn in 1915, building a brewery in Williamsburg.Library of Congress

While Schaefer had historically been a working man’s brew, Pabst is clearly doing its part to elevate its profile a bit. The brand has partnered with Cherry Bombe, a magazine and podcast about women in the culinary scene, which has marshaled some of its names—including chef Sicily Sierra and recipe developer Rachel Gurjar—to develop dishes that pair well with Schaefer.

The beer also has a new look care of Brooklyn-based design and branding firm Joe Doucet x Partners, which has worked with brands including Braun, BMW and Swarovski. The new packaging features a spare white label and an updated typeface, among other touches. “We wanted to respect Schaefer’s heritage,” Doucet said in a statement, “so our redesign focused on sharpening up the brand aesthetic to give it a modern and more sophisticated look.”

A view of the bottling line, circa 1948.Library of Congress

If a fan of the old Schaefer might pause a moment before recognizing the new packaging, the same goes for the flavor: Pabst has updated the recipe. But as the company’s marketing vp Nick Reely explained, a return to New York warranted a spruce up. “Tastes have changed over the years,” he said. “New York has evolved, [and] so must we.”

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.