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Schlitz, Gansett Tap 'Old' Beer Revival

"People are just ready for a regular beer that has equity in a world that has all these boutique beers with citrus flavors, blueberry flavors and cans that turn blue when they get cold," Wortham says.

Despite that assertion, the top beer brands comprised 79% of the market last year, with Bud Light grabbing more than 19% alone, according to industry publication Beer Marketers. Bud Light, Budweiser, Coors Light and Miller Light accounted for nearly half of beer shipments in the U.S. Pabst Blue Ribbon, whose rise from has-been to throwback-hipster favorite seems like a blueprint for Schlitz and its ilk, made up less than 1% of total market share.

Where some of these brands see hope, however, is in the 2% share Budweiser has lost since 2007 or in the more than 9% that imported-beer sales have dropped in the first half of 2009. For a label like Rhode Island's recently revived Narragansett, which produced only 30,000 barrels last year (or 3% of the 300,000 barrels of relatively unpopular Bud Ice that were produced in the same period), the big guys' misfortunes open up the small patch of turf they're looking for.

Since buying back the Narragansett label from Pabst in 2005, former Nantucket Nectars chief Mark Hellendrung made his brew a fixture in 830 bars in New England and retirement communities in Florida. Originally founded in 1890, the brewing company once had a 65% market share in New England, was touted by Red Sox announcer Curt Gowdy during game broadcasts and was quaffed by big-screen shark hunter Quint in "Jaws." Though cuts similar to those made at Schlitz turned Narragansett into a vile concoction colloquially dubbed "Nasty Narry" in the 1970s, and led to its demise in 1981, the original recipe has returned and a new generation of fans and promotional "Gansett Girls" are helping the company's plans to stop contracting its brewing to a facility in Rochester, N.Y., and build its own brewery in New England.
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