Pabst Beer Seeks Buzz With Hard Coffee : The Salt Americans are buying less beer from big breweries, so companies are getting creative to attract customers. Pabst is testing what one customer describes as a "Frappuccino" — with an alcoholic kick.
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Pabst Blue Ribbon Seeks Buzz With Hard Coffee

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Pabst Blue Ribbon Seeks Buzz With Hard Coffee

Pabst Blue Ribbon Seeks Buzz With Hard Coffee

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Americans are buying less beer from the country's largest breweries, and that has companies looking for new ways to attract customers. Walk down your beer aisle these days, and you will find products such as spiked seltzers and hemp-infused ales. And the 175-year-old Pabst Blue Ribbon brand is trying hard coffee, which sounded intriguing. So we sent NPR's Jeff Brady to a bar outside Philadelphia to try it.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: At Jerzee's Sports Bar, a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon hard coffee arrived last week. There are only four cans left.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAN OPENING)

DAWN JOHANSSON: Oh, my.

BRADY: And the drink is a hit with Beth Mancini and Dawn Johansson.

BETH MANCINI: That was actually pretty good. It just tastes like coffee. I don't even taste any kind of hard...

: That is really good.

MANCINI: And I could probably take it to work, and no one would know (laughter).

: Yes.

BRADY: If front of the beer cooler, employee Nicole Schmid looks over the craft brews. She says smaller breweries have experimented with coffee for a while now.

NICOLE SCHMID: So, like, your java head stout - and that's from Troegs. That's from Pennsylvania.

BRADY: And that says, brewed with coffee bean.

SCHMID: Yes.

BRADY: So not a totally new idea that PBR has come up with.

SCHMID: Yeah, but it's PBR, and everyone wants to try it.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAN OPENING)

BRADY: So let's try it here.

SCHMID: All right.

BRADY: Cheers. So definitely get the coffee - it's creamy. It's pretty sweet. And then right there at the end, there's some sort of alcohol, but it's not beer. What kind of alcohol is it?

SCHMID: You know, I really don't know much about what's in the product.

BRADY: Pabst calls it a malt beverage, which is related to beer. It's malted barley that's fermented. Then the flavor and color is removed, leaving a neutral alcohol. That's combined with coffee, sugar, milk and vanilla to create hard coffee.

As beer sales decline for big breweries, John Newhouse of Pabst says his company is trying to change perceptions about its brand by expanding into different beverages.

JOHN NEWHOUSE: Into different beverage types because, you know, we want to be a little more nimble and diversified in what we make. So for a while, people are going to say, well, this isn't a beer; I'm confused. And that's all right. We're trying to change that.

BRADY: Next month, Pabst plans to introduce a whiskey. For now, the hard coffee is being test-marketed in five states - Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maine, Georgia and Florida. The company says sales are strong, but it hasn't yet announced plans to expand nationwide.

Back at Jerzee's, not everyone is a fan of the concept. One guy sitting at the bar said his name is Hank Williams. I don't know about his heart, but I suspect he's cheating on the name. Still, he's more forthcoming about his opinion of PBR's hard coffee. For him, it's not big fun on the bayou or anywhere else.

HANK WILLIAMS: Oh, yeah. That wouldn't be my thing, man.

BRADY: Yeah. How come?

WILLIAMS: Because I've been drinking Budweiser for 40-some years.

BRADY: You don't really want coffee in your beer?

WILLIAMS: No, man. Beer should taste like beer, dude.

BRADY: Do you want to try it?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely not.

BRADY: Well, you can't please everyone.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia.

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