Portland Blue Ribbon? The Death and Birth of PBR
In 2002, The New York Times Magazine “Consumed” columnist Rob Walker wrote about a group of super-hip Portland, Oregon, bike messengers who were gathered at an outdoor party underwritten by the Pabst Brewing Company. At the time, Pabst Blue Ribbon was in the first year of an unlikely comeback, with sales of the one-time Milwaukee stalwart, which had been sinking steadily since the 1970s, increasing more than five percent that year and more than thirty percent per year since. With Portland’s help, PBR—author of those awful “PBR me ASAP” commercials from the mid-1980s—has been one of the fastest growing beer brands in the nation throughout the
The president of the National Beer Wholesalers Association, Craig Purser, has called PBR “retro chic.” It has made its fortune by positioning itself as an alternative to “macrobrews” like Miller and Budweiser, even though it too is a macrobrew. Pabst was one of the nation’s top-selling beers and sold twenty million barrels a year at its peak in the late ’70s, but had declined to less than one million barrels in 2001.
Walker again focused on PBR in his book Buying In, published in 2008, when he interviewed patrons at Lutz Tavern in Portland, where PBR is the number one seller. The young, urban clientele typically consumes more than twenty cases of PBR in a single Friday night.
PBR is now sold in trendy bars throughout the United States, and is even endorsed in the Hipster Handbook. But Walker believes it all started in Portland, which also happens to be the nation’s capital for microbrews and brewpubs. Oregon has one craft brewery for every forty-two thousand residents, ranking only behind the much-less-populous Vermont and Montana in craft breweries per capita.
PBR is the fifth best-selling beer in Portland, but make no mistake: it is no craft beer. Its recipe is unchanged since its heyday, and even at that time it existed almost solely as a cheap dorm beer. It is also no longer brewed in Wisconsin or, for that matter, brewed by Pabst Blue Ribbon. There is no longer a Pabst brewery. The beer is made in breweries owned by MillerCoors and other breweries. Since the company left Milwaukee it has been headquartered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is currently headquartered in Woodridge, Illinois, and announced in May that it is moving its offices to Los Angeles.