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Esther J. Cepeda Headshot

Ode to a Beermonger: Heileman's Old Style Beer Distributor Dead

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The man who made my father happy is dead.

William P. Schirmang, the beer monger who popularized Heileman's Old Style in Chicago -- and in casa Cepeda -- passed away November 13, according to the obituary in Wednesday's Chicago Sun Times.

Apparently, a decade before my mom and dad moved to Chicago, Old Style beer was virtually unheard of here. By the time I was old enough to be sent to the fridge to fetch a cold one, Schirmang had wheedled his beer out of his car trunk, and into Wrigley Field, not to mention the hearts of beer drinkers across town.

Schirmang ultimately brought over 2 million cases of Lacrosse, Wisconsin's finest to Chicago through the 70's, when it became a symbol of America in my refrigerator.

Now, most white people think that Mexicans love Corona. I can't even say that word in my father's presence without eliciting a groan. Nope, depending on what part of Mexico you hail from, it's all about the Tecate, the Negro Modelo, Carta Blanca, Bohemio. Whatever those tasted like, there must have been some whiff of nostalgia to be consumed along with the O.S. upon popping the keyhole-shaped tab.

I loved staring at the beautiful, artfully cryptic can, but to my six-year old palate, it was super yucky. On one of innumerable runs to the fridge -- I recall it being a sunny, but not hot day -- to retrieve the beloved beverage which was to accompany two salted, hard-boiled eggs, I begged for a sip of what was made out to me to be some sort of magical elixir.

I couldn't spit it out fast enough. Old Style tasted like a mouthful of rusty pennies, and frankly, I've disliked beer ever since (don't be alarmed, I have, in fact, tasted a variety of finer lagers over the years but the Old Style trauma seems to have sustained a decades-long aversion).

Either way, I count the moment as an important and happy childhood memory. As the years went on Old Style was eclipsed by the ferocity of Miller and Budweiser's dueling marketing budgets and, while still available, rolls off (or on to) the tongues of few I know.

But for a while, there, that Old Style -- and the man who brought it south to Chicago sure made a lot of people happy ... including me and my dad.

Esther J. Cepeda is a Chicago columnist who gets silly on Diet Coke. On the rocks, of course.