I live a few blocks from the baseball-playing ghosts of Sandy Koufax, Gil Hodges, and Jackie Robinson, legendary members of the dearly departed Brooklyn Dodgers. The major league baseball team played at Ebbets Field from 1913 until 1957, when the team went west to become the Los Angeles Dodgers, now playing for another World Series title.
Developers destroyed Ebbets Field in 1960 to build a sprawling apartment complex, no trace of the ballpark left, a sign warning people that no ballplaying is allowed. I often visit the adjoining Jackie Robinson Playground with my daughter, Violet, who clambers across the equipment that’s painted a rich Dodger blue.
She swings across the monkey bars while I sit on a bench, maybe writing, sometimes drinking beer. Call it tradition. Decades back, Dodgers fans likely parked themselves in the same place, rooting for the home team while drinking Schaefer lager.
The F.&M. Schaefer Brewing Co. opened in New York City in 1842, producing brisk-drinking, cold-aged lagers that fast found a following. The brewery expanded in Manhattan before selling its valuable real estate and opening in Brooklyn in 1916. The brewery survived Prohibition by brewing near beer, as well as dyes and ice, emerging strong and selling 1 million barrels of beer by 1938.
Schaefer ran a big ad on the Ebbets Field scoreboard, and letters “h” or “e” lit up if a batted ball resulted in a hit or error. In the 1950s, Schaefer became the country’s fifth-biggest brewery, and it expanded capacity by opening breweries in Albany; Baltimore; and near Allentown, PA. It shuttered its Brooklyn plant in 1976, and Stroh Brewery bought the company in 1981. Pabst Brewing gobbled the brand in 1999, and Schaefer has since limped along like some sort of lager zombie, not quite alive, not quite dead.
Just in time for Halloween, Pabst Brewing is bringing Schaefer back to life in New York City. Like any reboot, this one looks different. Instead of opening a brick-and-mortar operation in the five boroughs, Pabst outsourced Schaefer production to family owned F.X. Matt Brewing, in Utica. That’s nearly 250 miles northwest of New York City.
It’s a fresh start, which is good because my memories of drinking Schaefer during my 20s are fuzzy. The lager was sold cheap, canned, and cold, typically paired with a slug of bottom-shelf bourbon at some downtown dive. To me, Schaefer was “the one to have when you’re having more than one,” as the old slogan goes, mainly because cans ran around $2.
That Schaefer is gone, including its 4.6 percent ABV and dad-beer branding. The new logo is clean and retro, the brewery’s name styled in slanting curvaceous script that would look grand in neon. Pabst also reformulated the recipe and lowered the ABV to 3.8 percent, a move I’m not mad at.
As I often tell folks, getting drunk is easy. Maintaining while drinking is the real skill.
But the reborn Schaefer drinks somewhat thin, verging on watery, with an enduring bitterness that needs more balancing sweetness. The flavor should matter as much as the backstory and branding. Overall, the revived lager is ideal for brainless drinking while grilling, streaming Netflix, or watching some distant Dodgers play baseball.
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