A Melancholy Tale of Pete (the Beer)

A Melancholy Tale of Pete (the Beer)
The last known whereabouts of Strawberry Blonde.

If you walked into our 8th floor dorm room in Peoria circa 2000-01 you were promptly offered a Killian's, a martini and a hand drum. Even if you were there just to see what all the noise was. That's how I met my still-girlfriend L.

That's right: This is a tale of beer and rock 'n' roll (they go together better than many things behind the counter at Subway), but mostly about beer.

Anyway, things began this way because my roommate (and still bro), Taller J., was already a year or two beyond 21 when we were randomly thrown together by the system -- he refused to allow us youth to drink crappy college beer as long as he was going to be the "bad" influence. So, when we started drinking on the weekends it was Grolsh swing-tops, Sammy Smith's Taddy Porters, our famous punch (take a fifth of Captain Morgan and add as much CranApple juice as you think you need (this was more for the ladies)), or Belvedere. Imagine a bunch of happy hippies with martini glasses standing amidst a sea of kids spilling Beast Ice and Milwaukee's Best on themselves. That was us.

And Killian's. I'm still pretty sure the liquor store guy kept that beer on permanent sale just for us ($5.99 per 12 pack).

It became the fixture of our fridge as Djembes, Ashikos and acoustic guitars throttled the night. George Killian's Irish Red.

To this day, I'm still a huge fan of anything red, amber or brewed with rye.

By the time microbrewed beer started to drop around the country, we were ready. During the next phase of college (we'll call it 2002) Pete's Wicked Ale became the beer of choice in my apartment fridge. In fact, 12-pack mixers appeared that featured something called Strawberry Blonde Lager for the ladies. The other two styles included could have been old Zimas, for all I cared or remember.

This was a wonderful time. Our band filled-out, made a playlist and hit a few parties. We always began the weekend by cranking this song:

Onward and up...

From there, the band moved into a house, got bigger instruments, louder amps and even found a bigger liquor store (Friar Tuck's: central Illinois' Binny's). We got hip to plastering our walls with pictures of all the different beers we tried. By 2004 I lost touch with Wicked Pete.

The microbrew scene continued to boom and I found tons of new friends upon moving back to Chicago: Flying Dog, Bell's, Breckenridge, North Cost, Left Handed, Two Brothers, Three Floyds, Magic Hat, Metropolitan, Arcadia, Great Lakes and Samuel Adams.

For some reason, just a couple of years ago (2010, for the year-challenged), I finally had the thought: what the hell ever happened to Pete?

I've been in dozens of specialty liquor stores, tried hundreds of beers -- but suddenly I had stopped seeing the stuff. I called Binny's and even they had no idea.

Confusing the issue was the fact that Pete's still had (has!) somebody hosting two different websites (they don't answer if you email, even if you try to convey e-tears), but things didn't look good as one had "copyright 2007" posted at the bottom, the other, "copyright 2002." Uh-oh....

It came up again last night when WGN 720's Nick D. was discussing foods and other items from the past that he/we miss. I texted him about Pete's and he nearly had an on-air fit: "WHAT! No. That can't possibly be true."

So I looked it up again and, at long last, found confirmation: as of March 1st, 2011 Pete's Wicked has been discontinued.

I just missed getting that last taste.

Then I did some more research.

Turns out, Pete's is credited with starting the whole microbrewed beer movement in the U.S. along with Samuel Adams, Bell's and Anchor. (Bell's and Sam Adam's are still some of the best beers you can find.)

But here's where it gets interesting: Pete's had actually been bought-out last century (1998) by a larger brewer/distributor. I even found this message board where people were asking what the hell happened to Pete's Wicked Ale in late 2003, and lamenting its sudden turn for the worse -- it had become less a pleasingly-heavy, deep-brown ale and more a fizzy, light MACRO-brew that relied on just a few hops to please the indie-beer lover. The entire board concurred. Pete's was gone (or, at least, no longer wicked).

So, in a stunning twist to the story -- back in 2002 we were already drinking the last of Pete's real brew. My search had been futile.

Turns out we had good taste, even as ignorant youth.

Kind of a melancholy ending. But it's good to have closure.

Here's one to ya, Pete! To good friends. To old times.

Cheers.


"Who the eff is Pete?! Turn up the Stones!"

Comments

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  • Man I miss Pete's wicked! So overlooked and under appreciated for it's role in the "craft brew" explosion!

    Matt Feddermann
    http://www.mattfmusic.com

  • In reply to mattfeddermann:

    "Like."

    Fortunately, there's still no shortage of good stuff out there. Maybe not quite as 'wicked'...

  • Thanks for linking to my article on the demise of Pete's Wicked. Pete Slosberg went into the chocolate business after getting bought out of his beer brand, but the website that business, http://www.cocoapetes.com/, is now held by a domain parking service. He turns up as one of the collaborative brewers on an annual "Reunion - A Beer for Hope" series that honors a mutual friend, Virginia MacLean, who lost a battle with Multiple Myeloma in 2007. The beers do turn up on store shelves around here at times. The 2012 edition was made by Shmaltz Brewing and Terrapin out of Georgia.

  • In reply to Mark McDermott:

    You definitely know your stuff, bro. Thanks for the further info. Being a (small-time) cancer survivor myself, it's awesome to hear that he's involved in something like that. Go Pete.

    It's also amazing how many people don't believe me when I tell them that Pete's Wicked is no longer in production. I keep hearing "But I just saw it!" Haha -- and I just tasted it... ten years ago. Sweet dreams, wicked ale.

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