A Call To Arms     

By Glenn DeLuca

For BeerNexus.com

Well you know it had to be coming; the Russians have been lulling us to sleep.
They put on an Olympic extravaganza back in February; spent more money on a
rail line, than the entire previous 2010 Olympic Games cost. Then working with
Ukraine rebels, positioning their troops on the border, helping to shoot down a
passenger plane, shooting a missile in the Black Sea; think they want Ukraine
under their thumb. Oh yes, keeping us distracted until very quietly in late
September I happen to read that a Russian Brewery named Oasis is buying
Pabst!  WHAT, in this world of free trade we’re letting the Russians buy Pabst
Brewing Company?  

So there’s not a lot of information so I search out other articles. Almost every
article I’ve read focuses on the sale of Pabst, including the Schlitz brand, Old
Milwaukee and Colt 45. Not being up on what Pabst Brewing currently owns I
open their website and come to find out, as they put it, “with currently over 30 of
the country’s most cherished national and regional beers.” So I click on the
portfolio and the first four are the ones always mentioned, so that makes some
sense as to why I see them in every article. Then I peruse the rest and see many
names I am very familiar with; Lone Star (still have the glass mug I purchased
when I toured the brewery), Old Style & Special Export (both formerly of G
Heileman out of Chicago), Rainier & Olympia (out of the Northwest), National Boh
(who could forget the Land of Pleasant Living), Stroh (the fire brewed beer out of
Detroit), Schaefer (the one beer to have and yes I had lots more than that
growing up in NY), Schmidt, Pearl, Blatz and Ballantine(which just released their
original IPA).

I’m shocked! How did a company that was struggling many years ago purchase all
these brands overtime?  I’m guessing the obvious answer is they were all
distressed brands that had hit bottom, some not even being brewed, and were
not expensive.

Sure many of us love our craft beer now, with a new one out every day, but
hopefully we also appreciate our history and where we came from. Younger
drinkers may think of Pabst as the $2 Happy Hour Silo or possibly the inexpensive
beer they drank in high school or college. Pabst has a long and rich heritage.  
For those of us “more seasoned” drinkers we certainly remember the popularity
of Pabst and many of the others; and yes back in the mid to late 70’s I drank a lot
of Schlitz.

German immigrant Jacob Best founded Best Brewing Company in Milwaukee in
1844. Jacob’s granddaughter marries Frederick Pabst, who buys into the
brewery. From late 1860’s through the turn of the century it’s transformed into
one of the nation’s largest breweries; helped by the Great Chicago Fire that
destroyed 19 breweries and in turn positions Milwaukee as the leading beer
producing city. In 1890 the letterhead became Pabst and the Pabst Brewing
Company. Originally Best Select and then Pabst Select, in 1898 it’s officially
changed to Pabst Blue Ribbon.  

Some controversy surrounds that as the company line is they won a Blue Ribbon
or were named “America’s Best” at an 1893 exposition. Probably more important
is the blue silk ribbon hand tied around the bottle neck staring 1882 (ending 1916
with silk shortages due to WWI) and customers asking for a “blue ribbon.” Pabst
made cheese during prohibition, which they sold to Kraft and began brewing

After great popularity, peaking at 18 million bbl in 1977 and with a great balance
sheet, they fight off a hostile takeover in the early 80’s, but are finally sold to Paul
Kalmanowitz in 1985 who closes the Milwaukee brewery and stops advertising. No
question new ownership didn’t help but you wonder if they could have continued
their popularity or would have still befell the fate of many of our popular national
and regional brands back then with the increasing foreign introductions and
consolidations. It has seen a revival since 2000 with loyal drinkers, a chicness
among the young as well as movie and TV recognition.

Schlitz, another brand with great history, begun, where else, in Milwaukee by
August Krug in 1849 and acquired by Joseph Schlitz in 1858 by marrying Krug’s
widow. Also greatly helped by the Chicago Fire, Schlitz was the #1 US beer
producer in 1902.They are credited with introducing the brown bottle (still our
bottle of choice today) in 1911. A 1953 strike allowed A-B to takeover #1; a
mantle Schlitz/A-B would trade many times.

As should be chronicled as one of the bonehead moves of all time (somebody
writing “How to Ruin a Successful Company” would surely include this as #2 or 3)
they change the formula and brewing process in the 70’s, which loses much of
the original taste and spoils easily. They also vastly underrated the impact of the
Light beer market and were a “johnny come lately.”

Another ingredient change to avoid the FDA is a disaster and forces a 10 million
bbl recall and they’re in freefall. A strike in 1981 leads to their sale to Stroh in
1982 and became pretty much relegated to bargain brand beer category. The
1999 sale of Stroh to Pabst was a good thing for Schlitz. The original formula had
been lost, but they reformulated the classic 60’s formula and re-launched in 2008.

Oasis Beverages, the largest independent Russian brewer and beverages
distributor, was founded in 2008. Looks like money that has bought breweries in
Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine.  Eugene Kashper, the Chairman of
Oasis and an American citizen who moved here when he was six, will be CEO of
Pabst. He started in the beer business with Stroh in 1994, which would indicate a
familiarity with some of the brands. Kashper has said they say will keep its
headquarters in LA. It should be noted Pabst does not brew any of their beers;
they’re all contract brewed by MillerCoors.

So sorry for the history lesson, but this was a trip down memory lane,
remembering so many beers from my beer drinking past and it’s good to know
from whence you came.  And by the way when you start seeing the globe in the
Schlitz logo repositioned, lots of ads for The Red Bull (formerly the Schlitz Red
Bull), Pabst Red Ribbon, Comrade 45, National Bolshevik and Slaughter (The
beer that made Stalin famous) then you’ll know why this sale got me all excited…

Glenn DeLuca writes about beer and culture of drinking. He may
be reached by writing webmaster@beernexus.com.

***   ***   ***
Glenn DeLuca
Outtakes from a life of beer.
beernexus.com presents
Big G's Beer Beat
by Glenn DeLuca
BeerNexus is proud to
welcome beer writer
Glenn "
Big G" DeLuca
as a contributor to the
site.  A widely traveled
beer hunter, Glenn is a
leading advocate for the
growth of craft beer.
More from the BIG G
A Trip Up North
Oh To Be Young Again
click to enlarge pictures