How Detroit Lost Its Biggest Brewing Company

We didn't just make cars and music here. At one point, Detroit was home to the nation's third-largest brewer behind Anheuser-Busch and Miller. And then suddenly, the family pissed it all away.


Forbes has a fantastic must-read on the rise and fall of the Stroh family empire. Count me in as one of the many who didn't know until some months ago that all of Stroh's Detroit connections had evaporated.

We still make beer around these parts; hello, Atwater and Dragonmead and Motor City Brewing Works and everybody else. But the downfall of Stroh, rife with Grosse Pointe scandals, bad business decisions, failure to adapt to changing markets and spending money like there's no tomorrow, is spectacular.

Stroh's biggest flop? Perhaps not introducing a light beer, which may be a good thing in retrospect for hop enthusiasts but fatal when you consider the rise of Bud Light, Miller Lite and its clones:

But Peter Stroh's grand vision of a thriving U.S.-wide brewer failed to materialize. It largely missed the boat on the biggest industry trend in a generation: light beer. And Stroh's core product–cheap, watery, full-calorie beer–was a commodity. But saddled with debt, Stroh couldn't afford to match the ad spending of its bigger rivals, Anheuser-Busch and Miller. Unable to spur demand through marketing, Stroh turned to price, introducing a 15-pack for the price of 12 cans and a 30-pack for the price of a case of 24. While the latter had legs, it wasn't enough to outrun the shrinking margins.

Meanwhile, an ambitious family from Colorado began moving into the Stroh markets. "It became a competition between Stroh and Coors," says Scott Rozek, a former director-level employee who spent 12 years at Stroh. "At that time there were four big breweries in a three-brewery industry–there was really only room for three." By the end of the 1980s Coors overtook Stroh as the country's third-largest brewer.

Stroh's also stumbled with marketing, a failed sale to Coors and internal strife among family members who controlled the company. Today, there is no family involvement in the company, and most of the family fortune is gone.


Steve Zissou

Atwater and Dragonmead and Motor City Brewing Works

Uh oh...another case of a Gawker "journalist" confusing metro Detroit with the city of Detroit. What with Dragonmead being located in Warren and all. Wait till Aaron gets ahold of this...