The Pabst Brewing company has managed to boost sales and maintain hipster appeal for its flagship Pabst Blue Ribbon brand for years. And it’s done so while the market has generally trended in the opposite direction—toward more flavorful, hoppier craft brews.
Now Pabst, which owns tons of brands that your grandfather probably used to drink, wants to kickstart some of the other cheap old-school beers in the company’s fleet. And it’s doing so by taking a page out of the craft beer playbook.
This week, a new version of Pabst-owned Stroh’s is on sale, and it will be the first Stroh’s product to be brewed in Michigan in more than three decades. Pabst Brewing purchased Stroh’s in 1999, and it recently decided to start making a new Stroh’s Bohemian-Style Pilsner at a brewery in Detroit. Stroh’s was first brewed in Detroit starting in 1850, but it hadn’t been made in the city since 1985. The new pilsner is more bitter and flavorful than the classic Stroh’s lager, and it’s priced along the lines of the taste–somewhere in between traditional Stroh’s and craft beers, at $7.99 a six-pack.
Another Pabst product, Old Style—often thought of as the PBR of the Upper Midwest, embraced as the cheap beer of choice at Chicago’s Wrigley Field—is being released in a special Oktoberfest version. It too is being brewed locally in its traditional hometown, LaCrosse, Wisc., with a hip, retro look and a taste more akin to craft beer than whatever’s stocked in your crusty uncle’s fridge.
Earlier this summer, Pabst launched Rainier Pale Mountain too. It’s an IPA offshoot of Pabst-owned Rainier, the reliably cheap brand that’s been a standard at college parties and no-frills backyard barbecues on the West Coast for decades. Pabst told AdAge that the company is thinking of bringing the classic Jax beer brand back to New Orleans, and hopes to reinvigorate the Schlitz brand in the near future as well.
But not everyone thinks the craft beer makeover scheme will work with today’s drinkers. “Your average beer drinker was born after Schlitz blew itself up. They have no idea who Schlitz beer is. Why should they give a damn?” Maureen Ogle, author of Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer, said to AdAge.
It should be noted that, according to standards set by the Brewers Association, none of the new brews mentioned would be considered craft beers. One of the requirements for craft beer status stipulates that the product must be owned by a small company—one that brews 6 million barrels or less annually. Pabst Brewing is too big to qualify.
On the other hand, at least Pabst’s products are more genuine about what they are compared to the so-called “crafty” beers like Shock Top and Blue Moon and sellouts like Goose Island and 10 Barrel Brewing, which are all owned by the world’s largest brewing companies—though you’ll be hard-pressed to find any sign of corporate ownership on any of their packaging.