As far as the giant Schlitz brewing company is concerned, some 68,000 cases of its beer and malt liquor lost their gusto when the roof of a Maryland warehouse collapsed on them after a February snowstorm.
Figuring that the damaged batch would not live up to the reputation of the beer that made Milwaukee famous, the Schlitz company has gone to court to thwart any attempt to sell the beer.
When the roof of the Jessup warehouse collapsed, according to a Schlitz inspector, some of the cans were severely dented, suffering "compression damage" and raising the possibility of "microleakers," - tiny leaks that can cause beer to go flat.
A new Jersey salvager, however, believes the Schlitz people are being entirely too particular, and wants to fix up the damaged containers and put the beer back on sale. To prevent this, the brewing firm went to U.S. District Court in Baltimore this week and won a temporary restraining order banning any transfer of the damaged goods.
"We don't want second-rate Schlitz products out there in the marketplace," Schlitz' vice president of public relations, John Rourke, said yesterday. "We don't make them that way in the first place, and through an act of God like a snowstorm, we don't want them to end up second-rate."
But Harold Ruddy, owner of the New Jersey salvaging firm, asserted yesterday that the beer "looks fine . . . and tested fine" at a food laboratory.
"What Schlitz did here that makes everybody mad is they went in and carte blanche said everything is no good," said Ruddy.
Schlitz, in its lawsuit to prevent transfer of the beer, said as many as 90,000 cases worth about $400,000 were in the Albright Wholesale Company's warehouse when the roof collapse last February 21.
Within days, Phillip A. Himmelfarb, Schlitz director of quality assurance in Milwaukee, and a second expert from its brewery in Winston-Salem, went to the scene to supervise nine days of inspections, according to the lawsuit.
Schlitz said in its lawsuit that although Albright Wholesale was informed most of 90,000 cases could not be transferred or resold, they began to transfer them to their insurer, the Insurance Company of North America, and salvager Ruddy.
Albright, through a spokesman, refused to comment yesterday.
A lawyer for INA said yesterday that the cases were only moved to Ruddy's Glen Burnie warehouse to protect them from further damage, and are still legally "owned by Albright.
INA's view on what to do with the beer is still unclear. Yesterday, lawyer Phillips Goldsborough said: "I don't have enough information to tell you what INA's position is."
But Ruddy and Schlitz are certainly clear about their positions on the 1.6 million bottles and cans of beer.
"The damage is more cosmetic than anything else," said Ruddy. "The beer is fine. If I didn't think the stuff was safe I wouldn't want to put it on the market."
To which Schiltz's Rourke responded: "I can't comment on what he calls cosmetic, but if the problem is a fouled-up label, unreadable or whatever, we consider it a sufficient reason to keep it off the market."
The fate of the beer is expected to be decided by a federal judge later this month.