Since the beginning of this decade, Pabst Blue Ribbon's audience has changed from old guys with refrigerators in their garages to arty young urbanites. An unexceptional and declining brand, a former top-three beer turned redneck also-ran, Pabst reinvented itself as the coolest of brews in a movement that began in a Portland, Ore., dive bar and spread to indie-rock shows across the country. But now Pabst is trying to move on from its success with hipsters to conquer a far larger and very different demographic: all-American beer drinkers alienated by Anheuser-Busch's sale to a Belgian corporation. In its campaign to snatch Budweiser's title of Great American Lager, Pabst is already employing the kind of slick, misleading marketing that's bound to turn off hipsters who've embraced it as the anti-Bud. It may be exactly the right move.
"Pabst Brewing Company will be the last of the famous iconic U.S. brewers to be fully independent and American-owned," the company gloats on its Web site. "Most of our brands ... have been around since the 1800's."
In an online survey, Pabst asked customers this question: "Would information about Pabst's American ownership on packaging, like bottles or cans, impact your decision to purchase our products?"
If it does, they're either chumps, or they're already drunk. First, Pabst isn't even a brewer. It closed its Milwaukee brewery in 1996, and now does business out of an office in suburban Chicago. Second, its beers aren't made in American-owned breweries. Pabst farms out production of its brands to Miller -- which belongs to a South African corporation.
So what beer is tabbed as “the Next Great American Lager” by McClelland and the Salon crew?
Yuengling. Yuengling has been making beer in Pottsville, Pa., since 1829. It's the oldest brewery in the United States. After all these years, it's still owned by a guy named Yuengling, and he intends to keep it.
"We just never chose to divest ourselves of it," said Dick Yuengling Jr. Yuengling has been courted by beer-making giants, but selling out would mean closing the brewery, and "there's not a lot of employment here. We're loyal to the area."
Yuengling is also cheap. You can get a case of premium for $14.35 at Riverside Beverages in Pottsville. (But hurry. That's a sale price.)
I have only one reservation about handing this crown to Yuengling. I've never had a Yuengling. The beer is available in only 10 states: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama. To verify Yuengling's quality, I called a friend who used to tend bar in the mountains of central Pennsylvania.
"It's a little richer and deeper than Bud or Coors," he said. "It's got a little more body. It's halfway between a craft beer and a production beer. It's still a lager, so it's got that crisp, uni-dimensional taste. I'd drink a Yuengling before I'd drink a Bud or a Miller or a Busch."
I got a tremendous kick out of reading this, primarily because my mother loves Yuengling. (She almost went into a coma when I informed her that I saw Senator Barack Obama chugging it during a photo-op in PA.) She gets a little perturbed when people refer to it as a cheap beer (“It’s not that cheap”) but she pays a bit more for it because she had to frequently cross over to SC to get the stuff. Personally, I’ve tried Yuengling and it’s not a bad little brew (I prefer Rolling Rock, to be honest—which definitely ain’t cheap) but I can safely stay out of the fray since I have no dog in this fight.
This article is complemented by “an incomplete, biased guide to this great piss-beer nation” that lists a fistful of cheap brews across the great land of ours—many of which I haven’t thought of years and a goodly percentage are either extinct or owned by Pabst. So, if you’re looking to reminisce over the past glories of “favorite legal beverages” like Narragansett (“Hi, neighbor—have a ‘Gansett!”), Genesse Cream Ale, National Bohemian, Iron City, Stroh’s (my college pal Mike Hart’s brew of choice), Falls City, Old Milwaukee, Milwaukee’s Best (“The Beast!”), Schlitz, Hamm’s, Falstaff, Lone Star, Pearl and Olympia—check out this article; it’ll fill you with nostalgia…followed by a unslakable thirst.