Update (Dec. 26, 2013): Three years after I published this article (November 18, 2010), it remains one of the most searched posts in the Beeronaut’s blogiverse! I wish I could say the new owner has since relaunched Meister Bräu and done it right this time, but in fact the brand was sold to an “anonymous buyer,” and none of my beer business contacts, of which I have one or two, has heard anything (and many of them who remember the taste of Meister Bräu would rather keep it that way.
Out of curiosity, though, I did a search on the Trademark Office database, and found that the name is a “live” trademark, currently held by Red Sky Brands of Rye, NY. They do not have a web site, but further searches suggest it is another broker for dead brands and trademarks, including Red White & Blue Beer (a bargain brand once made by Pabst), Punch magazine, and Sports Heroes sporting equipment.
This suggests that at some point, someone may want to buy and revive the brand, like Pabst or MillerCoors, though it’s just as likely they could want to keep it buried. Still, National Premium was successfully re-launched in Baltimore, and we’ve seen revivals of other brands not quite noted for their “craft” cachet, like Drewry’s, Lemp, and even Griesedieck Brothers, so another “retro” brand return is still not out of the picture.
The trademark for Meister Bräu, once the most popular beer produced in Chicago, is among 150 commercial trademarks and domain names being sold at auction December 8 in New York City.
The auction is conducted by Racebrook Marketing Concepts on behalf of Michael Reich, CEO of Brands USA Holdings, according to Advertising Age. Brands USA appears to be one of many modern companies that trade in intellectual property, buying the rights to dormant brands in hopes of reviving them in the market, or selling them at a profit. Kind of like gambling on internet domain names like “SarahPalin2012.com” or “Cubsworldseries2012.com.”
Many of the trademarks are being offered with no reserve, and the winning bidder receives full exclusive ownership of the name once a Statement of Use is filed and Accepted by the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Meister Bräu beer was a product of the Hand Brewing Company, founded in 1891 by Prussian immigrant Peter Hand, on Chicago’s North Avenue. The Meister Bräu name was already in use before Hand’s death in 1899. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, the brewery employed 600 people in 1965 when it was purchased by a group led by James Howard.
The new management renamed the company Meister Bräu, Inc., and expanded production until it reached one million barrels at the end of the 1960s, with sales of $50 million. Meister Bräu’s place in history comes from a beer brought to them by Joseph L. Owades, a biochemist with Rheingold in New York, which first sold his formulation in 1967 as “Gablinger’s Diet Beer.” The beer was reintroduced as Meister Bräu Lite in the late 1960s. But Meister Bräu was losing money, and by 1972 it sold its labels to Miller Brewing of Milwaukee. The beer was launched in 1973 at “Lite Beer from Miller,” successfully breaking from the “diet beer” image by using a succession of ex-pro athletes as pitchmen.
Buying the Meister Bräu name, though, will not entitle you to take back “Lite.” You’d also be on your own in trying to recreate the recipe.
Reviving old trademarks can be profitable, but it may be difficult to establish interest in a brand that hasn’t come out in nearly 30 years. While the brand might seem a natural fit for Pabst‘s marketing, they had built their portfolio by buying active regional brands, closing the breweries, and contract brewing the brands elsewhere. And there has been no indication yet that its new ownership wants to continue that strategy. Then again, Schell’s in Minnesota has done pretty well buying the Grain Belt brand.
If you get squeezed out of the bidding for Meister Bräu, there are other brands available that a savvy marketer could pick up: The list of trademarks in the auction includes beer brands Fox Head (formerly of Waukesha, WI) and National Premium (Baltimore), candy brands Big Yank, Fruit Bombs and Pom Poms, foods brands like Cocomalt and Lucky Whip topping, Barrelhead Root Beer; Mum and Stopette deodorants, Handi Wrap, Phar-Mor pharmacy, Braniff Airlines, the Infoseek search engine, Victrola, General Cinema movie theaters, and old magazines Punch, Collier’s, the Saturday Review, and Changing Times. You could even start a new Continental Illinois bank (time heals all wounds, yes?).
The auction takes place at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Want to take a chance? Here’s where to register.