Depending on how you look at it, this beer is either still very much alive or in absolute purgatory.
Meister Brau beer has had a long journey since it was first brewed by Prussian immigrant Peter Hand on Chicago's North Avenue in the 1890s. In 1965, the Hand Brewery was bought by a group led by businessman James Howard and renamed Meister Brau. It expanded production, reaching 1 million barrels at the end of the 1960s, which is still impressive considering that only four brewers in the U.S. --
, MolsonCoors, Boston Beer and
D.G. Yuengling & Son
-- make that much beer or more.
Meister Brau's best days were still ahead of it. Joseph L. Owades, a biochemist with Rheingold in New York, brought the company a formula he'd first sold in 1967 as "Gablinger's Diet Beer." That formula became Meister Brau Lite in the late 1960s, but couldn't stop Meister Brau from hemorrhaging money. By 1972 Meister Brau had sold its labels to Miller Brewing, which relaunched Meister Brau Lite as "Lite Beer from Miller" in 1973 and packed its commercials with athletes to get men to drink it. Miller Lite was born, but Meister Brau was dead.
Miller eventually let go of the Meister Brau name, which was picked up as intellectual property by a holding company called
. In 2010, Brands USA held an auction for some of its defunct labels and let Meister Brau go for
a scant $32,500
to an unnamed buyer. While even the folks at
the name sold for that little, all the buyer got in return were the name and marketing rights. No beer formula, no brewing partner, not even so much as an indication of how he or she is going to use the name.
If a drinker isn't that attached to Meister Brau, a Miller Lite will do in a pinch. If the name and the original formula matter, however,
contacting the buyer
, learning to brew, reverse engineering the original recipe and teaming up to revive the brand is the only way "The Custom Brew" is coming back.