Pabst Blue Ribbon: There is No Good Reason to Drink This Beer

PBRPabst Blue Ribbon has undergone a catastrophically successful rebranding over the last decade. What was once a heartland, working-class beer, brewed in Wisconsin and enjoyed by the Walt Kowalskis and Frank Booths of the world, has now become the beer of choice among hipster 20-somethings. In fact, the change has been so successful that the charitable organization that owns the Pabst Brewing Company is looking to sell it (since a charity cannot own a for-profit company and retain nonprofit status) for $300 million, despite the fact that the brewing company doesn’t actually brew anything. The Pabst Brewing Company mainly operates as a marketing company for the beers it sells, specifically PBR, which has significantly upped its sales figures recently.

Now, I suppose the company deserves credit for PBR’s recent success, but I’m reluctant to credit people for simply knowing how irrational American consumers are, particularly the brand of consumers commonly known as “hipsters.”

I’m reluctant to criticize hipsters because they are an ill-defined, much-maligned breed; like “racists” and “partisans,” “hipsters” are almost universally condemned, even though nobody can agree on what exactly makes one a hipster (although it probably involves skinny jeans).

With that said, we all know who drinks PBR, and it’s not people who like how it tastes. These are people who are trying to send one of the following cool, but factually incorrect signals to those seeing them drinking it (and the fact that PBR is rarely on tap means people generally will know what you are drinking):

1) I don’t care about mainstream tastes. Except that PBR is more popular than it’s been in decades. It’s sales and market share are up more than any other beer, and the only beers that outperform it are the corporate “monsters” put out by MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch.

2) I don’t like spending a lot of money. Except that PBR’s prices have actually gone up during its recent success. PBR now costs more than other crappy beers, like Keystone, Natural Light, and Miller High Life. And yet, its sales continue to rise. People are drinking it, then, not because it’s cheap, but because it is perceived to be cheap.

3) I’m not responding to advertising. It’s true that PBR doesn’t spend nearly as much on advertising as its competitors; in fact, I’m not sure it spends any money at all on national advertising. But this doesn’t mean PBR isn’t marketed. In fact, the Pabst Brewing Company has been working on a word-of-mouth campaign since 2004 that has tried to brand the beer as “ironic downscale chic.”

4) I like the way this beer tastes. HA! 

5) I don’t drink corporate beer. PBR only qualifies as a non-corporate beer if your only definition of corporate beers are those produced by MillerCoors and Anheuser Busch. As I said before, the Pabst Brewing Company isn’t actually a “brewing company,” but a holding company for over two dozen brands that subcontracts the actual process of brewing. This shouldn’t necessarily factor into your beer selection, but Pabst certainly isn’t an “independent” or “family-owned” brewery.

Basically, all the signals that drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon is supposed to send are inaccurate and inauthentic, and yet people persist in drinking it for these reasons. So the next time you’re faced with a choice of beers, remember this: There is no good reason to drink PBR.

28 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by doc on November 4, 2009 at 5:17 PM

    I recall when PBR and Schlitz were America’s beers, ran tons of ads, and they both sucked. Colt 45 Malt Liquor also was a big seller and ran a lot of commericals. They actually changed the recipe of Schlitz in the early ’70s which virtually wiped out the company.

    Coors was considered a good pale lager, fresh mountain water etc. It was not easy to get back in the 1970’s, unless you lived in Colorado. Budweiser, also a pale lager, has been pretty consistent as a mediocre, inexpensive beer. Sam Adams jumped in on the small brewery phase in the beer industry that occurred about 25 years ago and brought its beer into mass production about 15 years ago. People discovered that beer could taste good – their light beer is better than most regular beer.

    There is nothing wrong with pale lagers like Coor’s and Bud, in fact they are pretty good with fish and at ball games with hot dogs. But, once people try Sam Adam’s particularly with fuller flavored food, fuggedaboutit! It is now the largest American-owned beer company in America (some big American names were bought out by foreign companies, I could have left that out and been misleading).

    Interestingly, PBR owns what is left of Schlitz – how appropriate.


  2. Posted by Jason on November 4, 2009 at 10:52 PM

    One small point to add to bullet #5. Pabst contracts the vast majority (if not all) their brewing to Miller. So actually they are ‘corporate beer’.


  3. Posted by Chris on November 4, 2009 at 10:55 PM

    I don’t mind PBR. In fact, I consider it a good alternative when I’m low on cash. True, the price of a PBR might’ve gone up, but I normally drink craft beers like Dogfish Head 90min IPA, Stone Ruination IPA and other pricier brews.

    Do I like the way it tastes? When comparing it to Bud, Coors, Natty, and Miller, absolutely. Does it stack up to craft beers? Absolutely not.

    Also, I don’t have a particular style. I dress in what’s comfortable to me. I don’t wear skinny jeans, in fact I wear normal fitting jeans. Jeans and t-shirts usualy. To say that PBR is the beer of hipsters (while I’m not even entirely sure what a hipster is) is a gross generalization.

    Contrary to your blog title, there are some good reasons to drink PBR:
    1. It’s pretty cheap for being better than the rest (of the crappy beers). If you’re looking for something cheaper then you probably don’t care about taste anyway and won’t recognize good from bad.

    2. It’s got more body than other beers in the same genre. It tastes less like water and more like beer.


    • Posted by Adrian on May 15, 2013 at 2:04 PM

      You’re spot on 100% right my friend, I love to drink my IPAs, Lagunitas IPA, Lagunitas Hop Stooped and West Coast IPA by Green Flash, are some of the best beers going. But when I have to buy cheaper beer I go straight for Pabst. Like you said it tastes better than the big name beers.. less water taste more beer taste. Plus you get a wonderful looking can or bottle. Whenever my friends and I throw a kegger, we always get pabst, if you havent had it out of a keg you must try it. Beats all beers out there for the price and flavor, this beer actually has flavor, not much, but it does.


    • Posted by nick on March 2, 2014 at 5:32 PM

      I also drink craft beers live in wisconsin and PBR is my beer of choice. I work in a factory and may be considered a redneck about as far from a hipster as you can get


  4. Posted by Dan on November 5, 2009 at 9:59 AM

    and it won a blue ribbon!


  5. Posted by Bryan on November 5, 2009 at 12:52 PM

    There is no “word of mouth” campaign or effort to brand itself as “downscale chic”. Pabst hires neighborhood reps to buy people beers and sponsor local events. And that’s about all they do. Hardly a secret or some kind of subversive plot against truth. If you are going to comment on this stuff, do some research rather than reading an article from 5 years ago that didn’t get it’s facts straight.

    As for quality, Chris is right. PBR routinely wins beer festivals (GABF, World Beer Cup, etc) against it’s competitors in its style. So if you hate domestic lagers, fine. But PBR is definitely one of the better tasting ones. But you probably haven’t even tried one…


  6. I you want cheap then it’s great. Personally I like something with a plesent flavor!


  7. […] Eats chronicles the top eight pizzas of 2009. And their favorite beers. John S isn’t devastated that PBR didn’t make the […]


  8. Posted by Bean on May 8, 2010 at 7:55 PM

    Millions of good reasons to support and drink Pabst!!

    Its 100% natural, Union Made, founded in American in 1844.

    First beer in can.

    Early supporters of the National Railroad Administration and WPA art Programs
    during the Great Depression.

    Served to the Troops in WWI and WWWII (ASK ANY VET)

    Brewed in America and owned by an American Company.

    Pabst is a great beer, and now they support local music, NPR, and many more local organization. The non-profit trust part of funds hospital research, educational grants, and cancer research.

    Pabst Blue Ribbon is part of American History, and its growth is only based on consumer support.

    Charlie Papazian, president of the Brewers Association, published the following tasting notes for Pabst Blue Ribbon in 2008: “A contrasting counterpoint of sharp texture and flowing sweetness is evident at the first sip of this historic brew. A slowly increasing hoppiness adds to the interplay of ingredients, while the texture smooths out by mid-bottle. The clear, pale-gold body is light and fizzy. Medium-bodied Blue Ribbon finishes with a dusting of malts and hops. A satisfying American classic and a Gold Medal winner at the 2006 Great American Beer Festival.”




    • Posted by Dean on March 3, 2016 at 7:05 AM

      I’m hearing you dude , it’s the best beer by a country mile with a rich history , I’m in Australia & there ain’t a beer that can touch it & I’m happy to pay $56 (aus) a case for the 473ml cans , yep beer is prohibitively expensive in oz .


  9. PBR is a refreshing change from the normal “American” beer trends (ie) Bud Light Lime, Michelob Ultra and Miller 64 calorie. What the hell happened to beer drinkers? I lived in Texas the past few years and could only get light beer in most bars, and what I see is robots walking up and ordering something with “Light” written on it. Now that’s a lost generation, give me PBR, Schlitz and Hamm’s anyday over Ultra and the worst beverage known to man “Bud Light”, which should be served out of a garden hose in a colored glass so people cant see the silver color and NO foam even when poured correctly.


  10. I love this post. I just moved into a hipster neighborhood in Philly and was gobsmacked at all the kids drinking “PBR” as they call it. When I was an up and coming drinker about 100 years ago this was the beer to drink after coming off the night shift. I thought maybe it had changed over the years so I tried it. Nope, it’s the same cheap tasting beer it’s always been. Kudos to the marketers for making this old man beer seem cool and counterculture.


  11. Posted by Dan McQueeney on September 16, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    I get a 6 pack of 16 ounces which is 8 beers for 5 bucks, I don’t think the other beers are much cheaper than that and I happen to like the taste of pbr.


  12. Posted by Joe on May 11, 2012 at 2:33 PM

    PBR is our go-to beer and as American as apple pie. And hopefully still union-made. I hope they continue to give headaches to that evil empire of beer, Budweiser.


  13. Posted by melanie on July 21, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    Real beer lover, lived in the UK awhile, tried local pub beers all over, and also in Germany, lived awhile in midwest near Milwaukee, and here in S Cali before the local Bud factory went to only light. Lived near beach where lots of concerns make their own. Have also tried most Mexical beers, and some asian, so I know a beer. Bought a twelve pack of Pabst bottles recently, and found it far superior to others I have tried recently. I usually have my beer over ice, don’t gasp people, makes it cold quickly, and I have noticed that there is a really masty chalky foam residue left from some beers I have tried recently. Not from this Pabst, very clean, crisp with a nice note of hops. It was really a nice commercial beer, inexpensive for sure, beats that gastly milky, orangey Blue Moon everyone loves, gag me!


  14. Posted by Ronny Mangrum on July 26, 2012 at 2:15 AM

    There is one good reason to buy Pabst. It does not giv emillions of dollars each year to liberal organizations liek Bud & Miller does. That is a good enough reason for me.


  15. Posted by cpr on August 30, 2012 at 2:32 PM

    1: I pay 13 bucks for a 30 pack of Pabst, so it is cheap. 2: Pabst tastes better than the watered down hops taste of bud light, and doesn’t give me that terrible Budweiser morning. 3:Every Applebees in my area has Pabst on tap. 4: I drink Pabst simply because I like it, and it is in stock at carryout that usually have just a few select American lagers. 5: I don’t care where it’s made.


  16. Posted by JW on January 11, 2013 at 3:12 PM

    I’m 60 years old and have been drinking PBR for 45 years. As a matter of fact I only drink two kinds of beer: PBR and Free…… F all you haters..


  17. Posted by Jaden on February 13, 2013 at 7:52 AM

    Pasbst has always been one of the worst beers that ever was.
    The reason that so many persons started drinking it and are loyal to it for no good reason is because they were programmed to do so, just like they are programmed as robots to do most everything else it is that such types are seen to do. They are all moving like a herd under a field effect.


  18. I Live Blue Ribbon. I pee Blue Ribbon. Yes Blue has been very very good to me! I’m 48, and have drinking Pabst for eight years now. Miller Gen. Draft was my beer of choice, until I grew tired of the “no taste” beers.


  19. Posted by wtfmeng on May 30, 2013 at 1:19 AM

    You gotta be kidding me….no, you can’t compare stale piss water ( busch, budwesier, keystone etc.)to pabst blue ribbon, not at all. It’s not an amazing beer, but it’s leagues better than the majority of cheap gas station beers. However, Yuengling still remains the best, relatively cheap beer out there, love that stuff. It seems to me that this whole article is thinly veiled attempt to bash hipsters.


  20. Posted by steve engelhardt on December 31, 2013 at 9:27 PM

    I’m an older gent that has been drinking PBR since i was a kid. It’s always been a very good tasting beer. The only way I will switch is if they stop making it.


  21. Posted by Charlie Brown on February 18, 2014 at 2:35 PM

    blah blah blah


  22. Posted by Kram Relfponk on February 28, 2014 at 9:47 AM

    I live in Europe, Denmark to be specific, and I just had my first PBR ever. I saw it on the shelves for the first time, and I decided to try it out, knowing that it would most likely be rubbish (like most big-brand American beer).It was $1.83, and I must say that I got what I had expected. The taste wasn’t very good, but atleast it had some, as opposed to Budweiser for instance. When compared to most Danish or other European lagers, it is definitely not worth buying, considering that you can buy higher quality beers for less money.
    Note: This was a PBR Export, I don’t know whether this matters or not, but in some cases the export versions are worse than the “original”. I’ve had Carlsberg Pilsners in different European countries, and the one brewed and bottled in Copenhagen is a totally different (and much better) beer, than the Carlsberg one buys in the UK.


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