I like to drink a beer now and again. My dad grew up in Wisconsin, where drinking beer is a big part of the social dynamic. Many of my uncle’s had beer on tap in their basements and my father had a draft beer box at our home outside of New Orleans.
Wisconsin was home to more breweries than some states combined. New Orleans at one time had at least four, Regal, Jax, Falstaff, and Dixie. My dad got his kegs from the Jax Brewery in the French Quarter but when he bought beer from a store it was almost always Dixie.
I didn’t acquire a taste for beer until I went to college. Back then the legal age to drink was 18 and as is typical for college men we drank what we could afford. But when I went home I always drank Dixie. It was my home town beer and it was what my dad drank. By this time the old Jax Brewery was now a shopping mall, and Falstaff and Regal were out of business as well. I even smuggled a foot locker full of Dixie back to my college dorm room. Our campus was alcohol free but I managed to keep a low profile and enjoy my local treasure without any ado.
As I grew older I became interested in craft beers. Abita Brewing had burst on the local scene and I even banked them for awhile. I learned about how beer was made and also the business side of distribution. I went onto bank two more breweries and joined the beer of the month club so I could sample beers brewed in micro breweries from around the country.
In the mid 1980’s I stopped off in Chicago to see an old fraternity brother while on my way to visit relatives in Wisconsin. We had tickets for a Cubs game. A very close friend and fraternity brother, Jay Greenleaf, told me to drink an Old Style at Wrigley Field and toast him. Of course I agreed to do this and once my buddy and I were seated in the park my first order of business was to order an Old Style.
Old Style came into existence in 1902. It was brewed by the G. Heileman Brewing Company headquartered in LaCrosse Wisconsin. The brewery is now located in Milwaukee and the company itself is now part of the Pabst Brewing Company, which makes Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. The company boasts that the brewing process employs the use of krausening, which the Germans invented. Simply put they introduce wort to the fermented beer to carbonate it. Old Style has been served at Wrigley Field since 1950. Old Style enjoys a strong following in the Chicago community and when it was learned the agreement between Old Style and the Cubs was going to be terminated after the 2011 season the outcry was unprecedented. As a result both parties reached an agreement that will keep Old Style at the iconic park through the 2013 season.
I didn’t place much significance on what I was doing that summer day in 1985. I was just humoring a friend and having a cold one at a historic ball park, but every time I went back to Wrigley over the years I made it a point to have an Old Style and toast my friend.
Last July I went back to Chicago. I was going to meet relatives and also help a close friend move his daughter into her new apartment as she was going to start medical school in the Windy City. My tastes in beer had also changed. I went from drinking dark stouts and ales to lighter lagers, pilseners, and blond ales. I was returning to my roots. And one of my missions on this trip was to bring back some Old Style to Louisiana. My close friend Jay had passed away suddenly a month prior. I was still missing him. The quest for Old Style was not only to keep a tradition alive it was also a tie to my fraternity brother.
I drank Old Style at Wrigley and at every bar I frequented while in Chicago. But as we left town I learned that my traveling companion had not been able to find any Old Style when he was out shopping with his daughter. I now had a problem, and it was going to require a new level of resourcefulness on my part.
Old Style has a limited distribution range. It can be found in parts of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan, and North Dakota. Once we got out of the Chicago Land area I was basically done like dinner.
I knew the brewery couldn’t sell to me direct, as all beer has to be sold through distributors. I knew that distributors sold directly to stores, and that shipping beer across state lines was illegal. If you tried to fly back with some stored in your carry on luggage the high altitude would freeze the beer and it would probably explode inside your suitcase.
I had a cousin in Wisconsin who was head of safety and soundness for a stone company. They had a plant in Marshall, Texas thirty miles from my home in Shreveport. He said he could carry some on the company plane in the pressurized seating area. The only problem was he never came to Marshall once. I had another cousin who owned a trucking company. I asked him if some Old Style could be carried down that way. He informed me that no alcohol was allowed on those big rigs and that the penalties for being caught were severe. I approached a local liquor store that specialized in selling hard to get beers but they too were unable to get any sent down.
In the mean time I liked The Old Style page on Facebook and another local friend bought me three 1980’s vintage Old Style beer mugs. He also bought an Old Style clock for the club house we use to play poker in once a month. All of this made me more determined to fulfill my mission, even if I had to get in my car and drive 12 hours north to get it.
A week ago I thought of one more opportunity. The friend I had driven to Chicago with almost a year ago had another daughter in college in the midwest. I sent him a text and asked if she was driving home for the summer, and if so do you think she would pick up some Old Style for me. A few days later I had my answer. She had agreed to get it and would be home sometime the upcoming weekend.
She arrived home late Sunday night and early Monday morning I had my beer. I learned that she had to call all over town to find a place that carried it and upon going to the store she was serenaded with chants of Cubs, Cubs, Cubs! I owe that young lady a big favor.
I now have a drink refrigerator full of Old Style, Dixie, and NOLA Blond Ale, a beer out of New Orleans that I discovered a few years ago. I also have some Leinenkugel, a beer my late Uncle Karl enjoyed. As I sit on my back deck I can enjoy beer that not only satisfies but takes me on a journey. To evenings and picnics with my Dad, sitting in my Uncle Karl’s garage playing cribbage or going to local pubs with him, or toasting my friend on a sun drenched afternoon in the stands of a glorious baseball field that is unlike any other in this country. The Dixie and Leinie’s I can get anytime, as it is sold locally. But it took a 21 year old co-ed in pre-med to get my Old Style. It was worth the wait.
Old Style used to be available in Texas in the 80s. It only lasted a short time and the Heileman brewery has changed hands numerous times since. The truth is that the smaller breweries are all in the hands of the big breweries. It is fun to see that craft beers are making huge strides. Hope you enjoy those beers and the memories. Try to get yourself some Schnoeling Little Kings from Cincinnatti next.