In PBR's Big Milwaukee Homecoming, The Brewing Giant Goes Micro It's been nearly two decades since Pabst Blue Ribbon left the city whose reputation it helped craft. Now, the longtime brewer is returning to its old stomping grounds with a new microbrewery.
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In PBR's Big Milwaukee Homecoming, The Brewing Giant Goes Micro

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In PBR's Big Milwaukee Homecoming, The Brewing Giant Goes Micro

In PBR's Big Milwaukee Homecoming, The Brewing Giant Goes Micro

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/429725655/429774017" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Pabst Blue Ribbon beer is back, though you might not know it was ever gone. Pabst shut down its Milwaukee brewery nearly 20 years ago. Latoya Dennis of member station WUWM reports that now the company is headed back to its hometown.

LATOYA DENNIS, BYLINE: Think about Milwaukee, and probably two things come to mind - cheese and beer. The most famous of the Milwaukee breweries is now Miller, but it used to be Pabst

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) ...Sparkle million's favor. Taste that smoother, smoother flavor - Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

DENNIS: Established in 1844, Pabst Blue ribbon was the first of the great Milwaukee brewers. They were the first beer company to produce a million barrels a year. The historic Pabst compound spans seven city blocks. And it's here, in one of these old buildings where Pabst will open its first microbrewery next year. Jim Haertel owns a bar in another former Pabst building just down the street.

What beer are you having today?

JIM HAERTEL: This is a mixture of Pabst and a new brand that Pabst just brought back called Ballantine IPA.

DENNIS: Haertel sips his beer surrounded by Pabst memorabilia. A PBR clock hangs on the wall, and some of the building's original furniture from the mid-1800s is still in use. Haertel says it was a sad day when Pabst left town in 1996. Pabst contracted out the production of its beer to other brewers, including Miller.

GREGORY DEUHS: We want to return to Milwaukee and return to our roots and support the community that we started with.

DENNIS: Gregory Deuhs, master brewer for Pabst, says opening a microbrewery in Milwaukee is about more than coming home. It's about bringing back some old favorites.

DEUHS: Of course, Pabst Blue Ribbon, as well as the other Pabst products that were under that umbrella like Andeker, the Pabst Bock, Kloster Beer.

DENNIS: Deuhs says the microbrewery will also be the testing ground for new recipes. If successful, they could be produced for a wider consumption. Caleb Warren is a marketing professor at Texas A&M University.

CALEB WARREN: It could seem like a natural progression. Microbrews are, in many ways, the antithesis of mainstream breweries.

DENNIS: Or, Warren says, things could go badly.

WARREN: It might seem like the brand is just doing this to try to gain money or gain market-share, which is basically the death toll of saying the brand's no longer autonomous if it's doing it just to try to make money.

DENNIS: Brand autonomy is not on every Pabst drinker's mind.

Do you drink Pabst?

JESSICA DESIMON: I do, almost exclusively (laughter), sadly.

DENNIS: Seriously?

DESIMON: Yeah, people always make fun of me, but I'm a pretty big Pabst fan (laughter).

DENNIS: Pabst is often the choice for younger people like Jessica Desimon.

DESIMON: I always - wherever I go, I still bring, like, a 12-pack or something of PBR, and I always just get made fun of 'cause I get kind of prideful 'cause it's, like, in Milwaukee.

DENNIS: Depending on how the microbrewery pans out, PBR intends to open others outside its hometown. For NPR News, I'm Latoya Dennis in Milwaukee.

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