Saturday, May 21, 2011

To Live And Imbibe In L.A. - Pabst Moves To the West Coast (?)

Yes, you read that headline correctly. The Pabst Brewing Company is pulling up its Midwest operation's stakes and moving to sunny Southern California. What could possibly go wrong?

Pabst Brewing Company - which has been long associated with blue collar, working class beer aficionados through the better part of the 20th century - has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity due, in no small part, to its popularity among urban "hipsters" in cities such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles. With nary an advertising presence, Pabst has enjoyed a strong brand recognition built seemingly on scenesters who view the Pabst brand as just outsider and quasi-tough enough to seemingly differentiate them from every other fixed gear-riding, indie-rock-listening-to-ing, tattoo-getting, shoe-hoarding, cheap beer-swilling individuals in really tight jeans.

Pabst Brewing Company, which is currently owned by billionaire investor C. Dean Metropoulos, has long considered itself (and its slew of subsidiary suds such as Blatz, Schlitz, Rainer, Old Milwaukee, Olympia, Colt 45, and many, many more) as the premier blue collar beer which made the Midwest the beer-brewing pride of America. Pabst, owned for about two decades by the charitable foundation of the late Los Angeles brewing mogul Paul Kalmanovitz was sold to Metropoulos after The Internal Revenue Service ordered the Kalmanovitz Charitable Foundation to sell the company due to federal law barring charities from owning a for-profit business for more than five years.

The reins of the Pabst Brewing Company's daily operations were handed over to Metropoulos' two sons, Daren and Evan, both of which live in Los Angeles, hence the operational move from the suburbs of Chicago to the Celluloid City (the brewing itself, which is handled by the Miller Brewing Company, will still take place in the Midwest). The Metropoulos' Brothers promise a sparkling new re-branding campaign involving celebrities and sports stars. But is all this high-glitz brand designing in sharp contrast to what made the Pabst brand so alluring and marginally profitable in the first place?

Pabst Blue Ribbon (or "PBR" as it is affectionately called) enjoys a certain air of understated/overrated working class, tough-as-nails charm. It's no muss, no fuss blue, white and red design has changed ever so slightly over the years (read: decades) and the Pabst brand succeeds largely in part to it's perception as both an "every man" beer, and the fact that its marketing campaign is virtually nonexistent and word-of-mouth (no insulting print or television advertisements featuring scantily clad women or doofus bro hams in idiot scenarios, it seems, were necessary to move this brew). Pabst is what it's always been; a decent beer at a nominal price.

Moving the Pabst Brewing Company's headquarters to Los Angeles (the one American city above all others which is perceived as being distinctly un-working class, un-blue collar) may hurt the Pabst image. However, it simply seems like an odd, perplexing move (both literally and figuratively). Adding a new marketing blitz featuring celebrities you know can afford and drink better, more expensive alcoholic beverages is akin to dressing Archie Bunker up in Phat Farm clothing and making him party with Jay-Z. Possibly not the best idea for this storied beer brand.


  1. It's all just business, Tony. Pabst is the Universal Music Group of brewing, which I believe old man Kalmanovitz (of Marin County, I believe) cobbled together starting with Lucky Lager and then adding a cornucopia of such cheapo suds as Regal Select, Fisher and Falstaff. In the '70s, "generic" beer was a Kalmanovitz product.

    When American brewers consolidated in the '80s, with Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser, Miller (then owned by Philip Morris) and Coors dominating the market, Kalmanovitz began buying up all the also-ran beer brands, such as Pabst (which owned Olympia and Henry Weinhard), Pearl (Lone Star), Stroh's (Schlitz) and a bunch of others. At some point, Pabst Blue Ribbon became the company's front-line brand.

    Kalmanovitz, according to most accounts I've read, was a notorious penny-pincher, and his reluctance to spend money on advertising, coupled with good distribution smarts - PBR was a popular draught beer, and local watering holes like Old Ironsides and the Pine Cove were pouring it as the default on-tap brew when most of today's so-called hipsters were still learning their ABCs in area grade schools - positioned Pabst to become the anti-Budweiser, especially after Anheuser-Busch got taken over by the Belgian-Brazilian consortium inBrew (AMA Stella Artois), Miller got acquired by South African Brewing Company and Coors got bought by Canadian brewer Molson (and then SAB and Molson consolidated their U.S. operations into a company called MillerCoors), plus beer snobs turned the handcrafted microbeer market into something altogether unappealing to average joes and hipsters.

    Now Pabst is owned by some billionaire who's turned it over to his kids to run (into the ground), and they appear to possess some variation of the Maloof DNA, so we can bet on how fast a special Ed Hardy or Affliction edition of PBR hits the market. Welcome to the world of business. Brands get corrupted all the time. My advice for hipsters is to start looking for another brand of beer now, although all the brands are manufactured by Pabst or the multinationals. So, brew your own.

    Dunno how I remembered all that. I guess being something of a high-functioning autistic old weird loner helps. Anyway, Tony, nice piece. Do look up the difference between "reign" and "rein," though - an old bane of my copy-editor existence. Cheers, Jackson Griffith

  2. Jackson, you should be writing for my blog. Being an RSA Agent doesn't pay one red cent, but if you ever have a a bunch of words arranged in some sort of order and need a place for them, they (and you) have a home here.

    Thank you for the copy editor assist. My wife usually proofs my stuff, but I feel lame tearing her away from her real publication duties just to proof the copy of my middling blog. Anyway, suggestions and tips are always welcome.