05 Aug Long-defunct Drewrys brewery reopens in South Bend
Remember Drewrys beer?
Known for the large Gothic D and Mountie on its label, Drewrys was one of the biggest names in the brewing business in the 1960s.
Based in South Bend and later Evansville, Drewrys billed itself as “More Flavor, Less Filling, More Fun,” long before Miller Lite picked up a similar slogan in the ’80s.
By the 1990s, though, Drewrys was struggling to survive against big-name brands like Miller, Budweiser and Coors. Around 1997, Drewrys brewed its last beer.
But Drewrys is back.
Noting the popularity of craft beer and retro brands, such as Pabst Blue Ribbon,which is enjoying record sales, Chicagoan Frank Manso acquired the trademark, found the old recipe and opened a new headquarters in South Bend.
For the past year, Drewrys has been popping up in liquor stores and bars in northern Indiana, southern Michigan and Chicagoland.
Dan Blacharski, a company executive, described the beer as having a dry, crisp flavor with not much aftertaste. Drewrys used to bill itself as an extra dry lager.
“Many people are very excited to see it and to try it,” Blacharski said. “They want that very refreshing drink … a lager that is more European in character and more like what it used to be before the big brands took over.”
Drewrys’ South Bend story began when the Canadian owners decided to open a brewery in the United States after Prohibition. Founder E.L. Drewry bought a large, defunct brewery in that city in 1936 and began brewing Drewrys in earnest at about 1940.
By 1963, Drewrys was brewing 1.3 million barrels a year. By comparison, 3 Floyds, Indiana’s largest current brewery, will make fewer than 40,000 barrels this year.
The success wasn’t to last forever. The Drewry family sold the business to Michigan-based Associated Brewing in 1963. A decade later, Drewrys began to struggle and its new owners closed the South Bend plant and moved the operation to Evansville, where Drewrys was brewed in a more-limited capacity.
Drewrys never did catch on again, and the brewery went out of business in the late 1990s.
Manzo and his partners hope times have changed. They are contracting with a Wisconsin brewer to produce Drewrys for now, but ultimately hope to open a new South Bend brewery. Closed for four decades, they say buying and renovating the old Drewrys’ brewery would be too expensive a proposition.
Drewrys has visions of brewing more than a million barrels of beer again. But for now, it’s brewing 200 barrels at a time and is on pace for a few thousand annually.
Blacharski said South Bend and the beer-drinking community have rallied behind the beer. In fact, Drewry family members and former brewmasters got in touch with the new owners.
“Before long, we went from having nothing but the registered trademark,” Blacharski said, “to having the original recipe and all of the stories of Drewry going back before Prohibition.”
E. L. Drewry’s great grandson, Hugh Benham, 51, said the family is excited to see Drewrys hit the shelves again. Living in Alberta, Canada, he plans to make a pilgrimage to Indiana to try the brew.
None of his family members are in the beer-making business now.
“Having the name resurrected is awesome,” Benham said. “The group has done a class act.”