Low in Cost, Not Necessarily in Quality
One aspect of the Pabst Blue Ribbon resurgence that hasn’t been much emphasized is the quality of the product. This is not to suggest that any beer connoisseur would list PBR among his top 100 favorite beers, or even among his top 500. But in the realm of cheap, commercially produced lagers that fuel college revels (and college misdemeanors), PBR is considered to be a cut above.
Where much of the most ubiquitous lager rates “poor” to “awful” on Beer Advocate magazine’s review page, Pabst Blue Ribbon rates “okay” to “good.” It’s hard to imagine that hipsters would have embraced Pabst Blue Ribbon if it had been judged by most drinkers to taste “awful.”
Pabst Looks Ahead
So a perfect storm of kitsch-factor, drinkability and unprecedentedly nimble marketing returned to robust health a brand that everybody (including its caretakers) had agreed was dying. If that were the end of the story, that would be enough. But Pabst (which was sold in 2014 to beer entrepreneur Eugene Kashper and TSG Consumer Partners LLC) has spent the last decade continuing to make smart marketing moves on behalf of PBR.
In 2010, Pabst made headlines when it started offering a beer dubbed 1844 (the year of the company’s founding) for $44 a bottle in China. Critics lambasted the company for merely repackaging its inexpensive American beer and slapping an outrageous price tag on it.
It’s hard to imagine that hipsters would have embraced Pabst Blue Ribbon if it had been judged by most drinkers to taste “awful.”
But Max Read revealed on the website Gawker that the beer was actually a new formulation. Whether that new formulation was and is worth $44 is up to every Chinese beer drinker to decide.
In 2014, Pabst launched its own music festival in Portland called Project Pabst. According to a blog post at Sponsorship.com, it featured “performances by Modest Mouse, GZA and other acts curated by the brand,” and a related event that included “a pinball and video arcade (‘PBRcade’), lawn games, and, of course, plenty of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.”
Pabst has also sponsored art contests that have involved putting fan creations on cans.
In August, Pabst was called a “brand to watch” by marketer Mike Seigel on his Social by Definition blog. Among the corporate traits and tendencies that Seigel praised were the Pabst social media team’s excellent and respectful interaction with consumers and fans, and the responsiveness of the marketing team to current events.
Pabst even recently returned to Milwaukee, a place where some people undoubtedly still hold grudges against it. The company, according to an article by Tom Daykin in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, plans to “open a microbrewery, including a tasting room, at the former Pabst Brewing complex on downtown’s west side.”
“The company,” he wrote, “will use the brewery to experiment with Pabst recipes for discontinued brands such as Old Tankard Ale, Kloster Beer and other beers made before Prohibition.” There are old recipes in Pabst archives at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Golda Meir Library and at the Milwaukee County Historical Society, according to the article.
Sounds like a pretty hip thing to do.