The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

20 April 2003

PBR for our times

The late Waylon Jennings sang of getting "back to the basics of love" in a relentlessly-untrendy place: Luckenbach, Texas. Shortly thereafter, of course, Luckenbach became hip, and eventually succumbed to a disease once described by Zen master Yogi Berra: "It's so crowded, nobody goes there anymore."

Bret Schulte of The Washington Post sees the beginning of another back-to-the-basics movement, this one packaged in bottles and cans:

Pabst Blue Ribbon, a forgotten if not forsaken brand, once the solace of the beleaguered working man, and, regrettably, a beer often associated with what people in polite company call "trash," has staged a surprising comeback. The resurgence is mostly among young adults, led by colleagues such as snowboarders and indie filmmakers.

Sales of Pabst are up 5 percent; package sales (as distinguished from over-the-bar sales) are up 12 percent. You could explain part of this as being simply a reflection of the general lack of health in the economy, but while PBR is cheap, there is no shortage of cheap beers out there. There's another factor at work here:

Pabst caught on among some elusive Gen-Xers for other reasons, namely because of what it isn't: mainstream.

The popularity of PBR is a lesson in reverse psychology. Young adults have taken to the beer because it wasn't forced down their throats. Like ugly clothes and extreme sports, Pabst's value lies in its expression of individuality and choice, a rejection of consumer society by those who feel manipulated by it. Pabst's selling point is its distinct unpopularity, its unself-conscious existence among beers that reinvent themselves as regularly as political candidates.

Of course, this lack of trendiness is itself sort of trendy, and fads die as quickly as they are born, but it does my old blue-collar heart good to see people bellying up to the bar and ordering the sort of beer that the self-proclaimed cognoscenti actively scorn. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a Falstaff revival.

Update, 6:55 pm, 21 April: Fritz Schranck will have you know that there were beers, even beers produced by Pabst, that didn't come up to the high standards of PBR.

Posted at 9:38 AM to Almost Yogurt


I like Colt 45-- but mainly because it's Lando's drink of choice.

Posted by: Donna at 12:39 PM on 20 April 2003

As long as Milwaukee's Best continues to be unloved and unappreciated the world is a tolerable place.

Posted by: Cam at 6:11 PM on 20 April 2003

I don't see this changing any time soon. Then again, I wouldn't have predicted a Pabst revival either.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:41 PM on 20 April 2003

Hmm. I remember seeing Falstaff cans in the fridge growing up. Also Burgie, Oly, a couple of other what you might call second-tier brands at various times, but Pabst doesn't seem to have made enough of an appearance, as I recall, for me to remember it from the fridge so much as from advertising and an old country song: "Rednecks, White Sox and Blue Ribbon Beer."

Posted by: Kevin McGehee at 8:54 AM on 21 April 2003

As one who was commissioned to make regular beer runs to the refrigerator for my father during the Cleveland Indians' games, I fondly remember not only Pabst, but Carling Black Labels and POC beer out of the Pilsner Brewary. Nobody really knew what POC stood for, but my father claimed it meant "Pride of Cleveland". Works for me.

Posted by: Vickie at 3:15 PM on 21 April 2003

"Mabel! Black Label!"

I didn't discover the joys of sorta-cheap beer until I got into the Army, where it was mandatory. Inasmuch as I was stationed in New England early on, I started inhaling Schaefer, which, you'll remember, is the one beer to have when you're having more than one. I remember it as being just slightly sweeter than usual, and a bit on the low side of the fizziness scale, both of which qualities I found appealing when I was 19 and didn't know any better. :)

Posted by: CGHill at 7:18 PM on 21 April 2003

One word: Schmidt.

Posted by: mtpolitics at 8:31 PM on 21 April 2003

I still can't get over the fact there really is (was?) a beer called Blatz.

Definitely not named by a Madison Avenue marketing geek.

Posted by: Kevin McGehee at 1:39 PM on 22 April 2003

I found this at beercollections.com:

Valentine Blatz opened his brewery in 1851, and married the widow of his ex-employer in 1852, acquiring Johann Braun's City Brewery in La Crosse, Wisconsin [which] was renamed to Blatz. By 1900, Blatz was Milwaukee's third-largest brewery. The Blatz Brewery Complex was bounded by Broadway, Highland, Juneau Avenue and Market Street. Although Blatz Brewing was the first Milwaukee brewer to go national, the Blatz Brewery was forced to close in 1959, and the Blatz label was sold to Pabst. Heileman purchased the Blatz label in 1969 after Pabst's anti-trust problems. In 1996, Stroh's bought Heileman, continuing most of their production.

And Stroh got out of the beer business in 1999, selling most of their brands to Pabst. The Pabst web site still lists Blatz among their brands. (Carling Black Label, Schaefer, Falstaff, and National Bohemian are there too.)

Posted by: CGHill at 7:49 PM on 22 April 2003

Get off the bar Mabel, the quarter's for the beer.

Posted by: lon at 11:05 AM on 10 July 2003