The New National Premium

About eight years ago, Tim Miller had a conversation with current Coastal Brewing Company CEO, Jim Lutz about bringing back a retired beer brand. Tim had some interest in reviving an old Baltimore brew by the name of “Gunther” at that time. Jim indicated that he thought the idea, and Tim, was a little crazy. His advice to Tim was to pick one beer and do it well. Not to spread out his resources on several varieties of beer. After that conversation, Tim researched old advertising and brewerania sites looking for the perfect situation. In 2007, Tim read an article in the Wall Street Journal about the revival of Narragansett Beer in the New England area. That article confirmed everything that he already knew he wanted to do.

Tim never gave up on the idea, but earning a living, paying the mortgage and taking care of his children kept it as a part-time obsession. Fast forward to the spring of 2010, Pabst Brewing Company was sold. This transaction¬†transferred¬†the ownership of many classic brands and labels. He tried, without success, to pry away just one of those storied brews from the new owners. Tim kept trying and it was becoming obvious that they were not interested. In early November of 2010, Tim saw an ad for a Trademark Auction in the “Mart” classified section of the WSJ. One of the headliners was for “Meister Brau Beer” an old proud Chicago Beer in which he thought it was just a cheap competitor to Milwaukee’s Best in the 80’s. Although, it caught his eye and became interested. He ripped the ad out and went to look up the website to see what else was available. He discovered there were three offerings under the “Beverage” section. When he saw the tiny nondescript lettering that read “National Premium Beer” his heart skipped a beat and his mind began to race.

Tim showed up at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on December 8, 2010 with no idea of what to expect. He had a loose budget in mind but I was going see how things went before he laid down any hard rules for myself that day. Once the rules were explained with much fanfare the bidding started, the first “Mark” was selling for north of 40K. Tim was not discouraged, but that was way more than he had planned on spending. After the first few trades prices dropped like a stone and I was able to come away with National Premium Beer for what he considered to be a bargain.

After researching the brand as much as Tim possibly could, he realized that this was a high quality brand that folks remembered fondly and was certainly still relevant. During the holidays, Tim created his first and only website to see what kind of interest he could generate online. The very frist day the site went live Tim received an email followed up by a call from an excited National Premium collector and fan. He told Tim how much he and many others loved National Premium, he sent Tim photos of old advertising and gave Tim some good leads on getting the old formula. It has picked up speed ever since with stories and recollections coming in on National Premium’s website, Facebook and Twitter accounts. After much feedback Tim realized that he had to get the original formula that everyone remembered the distinctive taste of, and wanted it back.

After about six months of strikeouts on message boards, emails and phone calls to anyone who would talk to Tim about The National Brewing Company and the recipe for National Premium he became frustrated. In his office in Downtown Easton Tim was telling one of his fellow real estate agents, Craig Linthicum, about his crazy idea. Craig played Lacrosse and won a National Championship while attending University of Maryland Baltimore County in the early 1980’s. Craig told Tim that he would call one of his old teammates, Joe Gold to see if he could help. Joe had been in the beer business since their college days together at UMBC. A few weeks later Joe called Tim and told him to get in touch with Timothy Kelly, a former brewer at the Carling Brewery in Baltimore (Carling bought National in the mid 1970’s). Joe described Timothy as a gregarious Irishman that could possibly help me get the formula. On the road and excited, Tim immediately called Mr. Kelly and he requested a meeting. Tim suggested Snyders in Glen Burnie, a convenient spot that he knew and used to host many trade events when he was in the oil business. They met and had a few beers together. Timothy told him about what a great beer and proud brand National Premium was. But, what he really wanted to see is what Tim was made of. He was not going to put his reputation on the line for just anyone. After three or four beers and much conversation Timothy agreed to contact his old brewmaster to see if he would be interested in helping Tim resurrect this former worldwide brand. Ray Klimovitz contacted Tim a few weeks later and agreed to put the formula back together for him if they signed a consulting contract. A few weeks later, Tim had a “Statement of Process” for National Premium Beer that he had no idea what to do with or what brewery to give it to.

One of the first calls Tim made when he purchased the trademark was to Jim Lutz, current Coastal Brewing CEO, and former owner of Wild Goose Brewing. Jim indicated that he had just taken a new job with Fordham (Coastal). He indicated that he was extremely busy and would get back to Tim when he could. In the meantime, Tim contacted any and every brewery he could get a phone number for, most either weren’t interested, were at capacity or did not have the equipment needed to brew the National Premium style of Pilsener Lager Beer. Once again, Tim grew frustrated with all the rejections from the breweries. He started telling one of his lacrosse buddies, Mark Prossner, about his project and how it was coming along. Mark told Tim of a friend in Annapolis who he thought was involved in a brewery. Mark gave him his number and Tim called and left a message. Kyle Muehlhauser called Tim back a few weeks later and told him that he would have to talk to Jim Lutz and that he handles the brewery operations for them. Jim and Tim met at the brewery and discussed his idea, they agreed to attempt a test brew on an elaborate home brewing system that an employee owned and operated. In the meantime, Tim’s brewmaster Ray Klimovitz told him about an old colleague of his that lived in Grasonville, Maryland and suggested Tim contact him to discuss his new venture. He contacted Jack Ehmann who it turns out was the past president of the Master Brewers Association. He asked Jack if he would be interested in going to the brewery the day of the “pilot brew”, he accepted.

On November 23, 2011 they had brewed a 20-gallon test batch of National Premium Beer according to Ray’s Statement of Process. Roughly 30 days later they had some of the best tasting brew that Tim has ever had. It was unique tasty and near perfect in his book. At that point he was halfway through the legal and licensing that he had to do before going to market. One by one Tim cleared hurdles while coming across new ones almost daily. Finally, in March of 2012 with all packaging and licenses in place the first brew of National Premium Beer was a successful 50 barrel batch.