Metro-East News

Stag Beer was born in Belleville. Now its L.A. owner has plans for an image makeover.

Stag Beer labels

Pabst Brewing Co., which owns the Stag Beer brand, plans to release a new label this summer in Southern Illinois and St. Louis, MO. Stag has had various labels over the years.
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Pabst Brewing Co., which owns the Stag Beer brand, plans to release a new label this summer in Southern Illinois and St. Louis, MO. Stag has had various labels over the years.

Will Hoey wore a Stag Beer T-shirt as he enjoyed a cold 12 ounces of the Belleville-born brew on a pleasant spring evening at The Corner Chill & Grill, where the co-owner says, “we sell a lot of Stag.”

Hoey’s Stag bottle and T-shirt feature a logo with 12-point buck. It’s the kind of mounted deer head you might see in a hunting lodge.

But Stag Beer fans like Hoey may soon be sipping from a bottle with a different label. The new Stag Beer logo is not expected to be revealed until this summer but a new light version called Stag Session, which ditches the 12-point buck and instead features a graphic silhouette of a deer, is available now. The nameplate “Stag” is in all capital letters with sharper ends than the traditional lettering.

And the possibility of the deer silhouette being used on the new Stag Beer label has stoked a debate on Stag’s Facebook page with dozens of “likes” and “loves” to counter the dozens of comments and “angry” emojis from people opposed to the Stag Session design.

Hoey remains loyal to the beer that was established 112 years ago in Belleville in 1907 and continued to be brewed there until the Stag Beer plant closed in 1988.

“It’s a Belleville beer,” he said. “It’s a hometown beer.”

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Will Hoey enjoys a Stag Beer at The Corner Chill & Grill in Belleville. Hoey said if Stag changes its label he will still drink the beer as long as the taste is not altered. A Stag spokesman said the recipe will not be changed. Mike Koziatek

Hoey says he’ll continue drinking Stag as long as the recipe isn’t changed.

Corey Smale, who recently took the job of promoting Stag Beer and Stag Session in the St. Louis region, says Hoey has nothing to worry about, then — the look may change, but not the taste.

“Stag lager is never, ever going to change,” Smale said.

Stag logo debate

Hoey, who is a carpenter, said a new Stag label wouldn’t bother him.

“It wouldn’t change my opinion,” he said. “I’d still drink it.

“It’s kind of hard changing beers anyways,” he added with a laugh. “I’m not a deer hunter so it doesn’t matter that much to me. It’s more of what’s in the bottle. It really doesn’t matter how they market it. I didn’t buy it because of the marketing.”

Cassandra Staley, who co-owns The Corner Chill & Grill at 341 Centreville Ave. with her brother, took a look at the new Stag Session logo and said, “I don’t like it.”

“I mean the beer is still going to taste the same so why change anything?” she said.

The Stag logo that has been used in recent decades is featured prominently on a mural affixed to the outside brick wall of Staley’s bar. It shows a Stag bottle with two bicycle training wheels and carries the message, “It’s not for beginners.”

Count Brad Sickmeyer of Steeleville as a Stag drinker who doesn’t want Stag to change labels.

“I was wondering, whose beer is this? Because I sure didn’t think it was Stag,” he said after first seeing the Stag Session label at the store. “I think it’s too far of a departure from the history of the deer, you know, subtle changes are fine. It would be like changing the Birds on the Bat for the Cardinals.

This Stag Beer mural is affixed to a wall of The Corner Chill & Grill at 341 Centreville Ave. in Belleville. Mike Koziatek

“Little changes are fine but this is such a radical departure, I don’t see it working,” Sickmeyer said.

Rob Girardier, who is known for his mega collection of Stag Beer memorabilia in his South St. Louis home, said the new Stag Session logo “doesn’t bother me a bit.”

“I think it looks nice,” said Girardier, whose front door has a Stag Beer bottle carving and his garage door has Stag Beer mural painted on it.

Los Angeles-based Pabst Brewing Co., which has owned the Stag brand and several other regional brands across the country such as Old Style, Lone Star, Rainier, Olympia and National Bohemian for about 20 years, wants to keep these brands afloat, according to Smale.

“Some of these small brands have fallen by the wayside and that was not about to happen to Stag on Pabst’s watch,” said Smale, associate brand manager for Stag.

Stag’s Facebook page and website have new promotional videos that include the phrases “Free to be bold” and “Stag is a classic beer, ready for a modern revival.” The Stag Session label includes the “Free to be bold” phrase.

Stag Session has an alcohol content of 3.8% and 110 calories per 12 ounces while regular Stag has a 4.6% alcohol content and 144 calories.

“There’s an energy being put into it,” Smale said. “Yeah, it comes with a new logo but I also think it comes with a whole lot more. It’s all in good nature, it’s all in pumping energy into this brand that so many people love and have an affinity for,” Smale said.

“We hear the conversation. We are listening. More people are talking about Stag than ever before in recent memory. Good or bad, it’s exciting. It means that there’s a love. It means that there’s an affinity and a passion for this brand. We love it just as much as the people do and we’re hoping that we can show that with the things that we’re about to do.”

Stag distribution

Instead of operating its own brewery plants, Pabst Brewing Co. contracts with MillerCoors to brew Pabst Blue Ribbon, Stag and the other regional brands it owns.

Stag Beer is brewed in MillerCoors plants in Milwaukee and Indiana, said Smale, who previously co-founded Strange Donuts and the now-closed Good Fortune Chinese restaurant in St. Louis.

Smale said 90 percent of Stag’s business is in the St. Louis and Southern Illinois area while parts of Arkansas and southern Minnesota also see Stag sales.

Sickmeyer said if Pabst wanted to increase Stag sales it should widen the distribution area, but that its plan is to target the beer’s traditional markets.

“We want to grow it here,” he said. “Right now the main focus is to show the city and the region the love that it has been shown by its customers for a long time.”

In the early 1950s, Stag was sold in 22 states and its then-owner, Griesedieck Western Brewery Co., was the 11th largest brewery in the country, according to local brewery historians and book authors Kevin Kious and Donald Roussin.

Kious and Roussin, who wrote an article titled “The Breweries of Belleville, Illinois” for the November-December 1997 issue of the American Breweriana Journal, noted that at one time Stag Beer outsold Budweiser and Falstaff in the St. Louis metropolitan area in the mid-20th century.

Stag Beer was started in 1907 when the Western Brewery launched a naming contest for a “Special Christmas Brew” that was sold over the holidays, according to a newspaper ad unearthed by the Belleville Historical Society. “We want the public to supply us with a name for our new beer,” the ad reads.

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This is a Stag can from about 1948, according to local brewery historian Donald Roussin. The can is part of the Belleville Historical Society’s collection. Mike Koziatek

The eventual winner was George E. Wuller, who received $25 in gold for coming up with the name “Stag Beer.”

At this time, Kaiser beer was the leading beer for the Western Brewery but the owners wanted to downplay that brand “with the growing unpopularity of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany,” Roussin and Kious wrote.

Roussin said in an interview that some breweries across the country stopped using German-related names on beers on the eve of World War I but others, including Budweiser in St. Louis, did not.

Stag Beer was produced in Belleville until the G. Heileman Brewing Co. closed the Stag brewery in 1988.

Different labels

If the Stag Beer label is changed this summer to follow the pattern established by Stag Session, it wouldn’t be the first time the Stag drinkers saw a new label released by the multiple companies that have owned the brand.

One of the consistent features of the label has been the name “Stag” in red letters with only the “S” capitalized. Meanwhile, the “Stag” badge on the company’s Facebook page now shows Stag in red letters but all of the letters are capitalized with sharper tips on each letter as compared to the traditional lettering.

In some Stag Beer designs over the years, a deer featured on the label.

A 1920 Stag bottle label shows an image of a deer. Roussin said since this was the start of Prohibition, Stag would say it had 4.5% “flavor” and 1.5% alcohol content.

A cone top can with a black background dates to about 1948, according to Roussin. There isn’t a deer on this label.

Some designs have a black background with a red Stag while in recent decades the labels have had a gold background. The Stag Session label has a white background with gold lettering and the deer silhouette is in black.

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This 1984 Stag Beer can was produced when the G. Heileman Brewing Co. owned the brand, according to brewery historian Donald Roussin. The can is part of the Belleville Historical Society’s collection. Mike Koziatek

The current Stag Beer label has the motto “Golden Quality Since 1851.”

This year comes from the “centennial” celebration Griesedieck Western held for Stag in the early 1950s when the brewery flew a blimp that had Stag Beer plastered on it. Stag apparently wanted to show that its parent company was older than its local competitor, the Star-Peerless Brewery, which traced its roots to 1854 in Belleville.

But questions have been raised about the 1851 used on Stag labels.

Research by the Belleville Historical Society shows that a German newspaper in Belleville in December 1856 carried an announcement from Philipp Neu and Peter Gintz that they had established a new business called the Western Brewery.

Land for the brewery was purchased in 1855 and the mortgage was for $950, according deed records checked by the Belleville Historical Society.

And Roussin and Kious found a 1934 newspaper ad stating that the Stag owner at the time, Griesedieck Western Brewery Co., proclaimed it had been “Brewers of good beer since 1857.”

Mike Koziatek joined the Belleville News-Democrat in 1998 as an assistant editor and is now a reporter covering the Belleville area. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee and grew up in St. Louis.