Pabst, Blatz, and Schlitz: The Ugly Truth

We like beer.  Wisconsin has more beer history and credibility than any other state.  We take the topic very seriously.  Last month new information came to light which compels us to clarify a few things.  The news?  The Pabst Brewing Company is moving to Los Angeles.

LA?  That’s horrible!  But wait, didn’t Pabst leave Milwaukee?  Where did they go? What/where is Pabst, exactly? This is much, much more complicated than it sounds.  We really fell down the rabbit hole when we started this post.  In the name of Defending Wisconsin, here goes:

  • 1844: German immigrant Jacob Best founded the Best Brewing Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and made a beer named Best Select.  The capacity was 18 barrels per batch, which came to 300 barrels the first year.
  • 1862: Another German immigrant named Fredrick Pabst married Best’s daughter.  At the time Pabst was captaining a steamer on Lake Michigan.  Captain Pabst, aww yeah.
  • 1863: A storm ran his ship aground in Whitefish Bay (we would like to think he was completely sauced at the time, but there isn’t any mention of that) and he decided it was time to change careers.
  • 1864: Pabst started at the brewery with his father-in-law and bought him out two years later.  Best Select was later renamed Pabst Select.
  • 1874: Pabst was now the largest brewery in the United States. Fredrick was good at business.
  • 1882: Pabst started tying blue ribbons around the bottles as a marketing tactic, which they continued doing through 1916.
  • 1889: The Best Brewing Company was renamed the Pabst Brewing Company.  Captain Pabst, like a boss.
  • 1893: Pabst Select won the blue ribbon at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago and was renamed Pabst Blue Ribbon.
  • 1920-1933: In one of the most massive WTF actions of the 20th century, the United States banned alcohol from 1920 to 1933.  It hurts just to type that.  Being in Wisconsin and all, Pabst Brewing made cheese to pay the bills and eventually sold that division to Kraft.
  • 1934: Back to beer.  Sales broke the 1-million-barrel mark and Pabst Brewing opened up a second brewery in Peoria, IL.
  • 1935: They started using cans for beer.  Depression-era hipsters rejoiced.
  • 1946: Sales had tripled.

THIRRRRRSTY!

Things start getting complicated here, so try to keep up.  What happened next was a 60 year shit show of iconic Wisconsin breweries.

  • 1958: Pabst (then the 10th largest brewery in America) bought the Blatz Brewing Company (18th largest at the time and also in Wisconsin).

  • 1969:  Pabst sold Blatz to G. Heileman Brewing, another Wisconsin beer giant up in La Crosse.
  • 1977: Pabst’s sales peaked at 15.6 million barrels a year before beginning a slow decline.

Back when advertising was awesome.

  • 1984-85:  Pabst is bought for $63 million by Paul Kalmanovitz’s P&S Corporation, which was owned by the Kalmanovitz Charitable Trust (which was supposedly a tax-exempt, non-profit).  He made a lot of money in beer, but was notorious for doing so by cutting workers, plants, marketing, and quality control.  He did this to Pabst and things headed downhill.
  • 1996:  A rough year in Wisconsin beer history.  G. Heileman is bought by Stroh’s. Pabst Brewing laid off 70% of its Milwaukee workforce by early 1996 and later that year announced that it would shift the remaining production to Stroh Brewery Co.’s La Crosse plant, shutting down in Milwaukee (Pabst had already been outsourcing two-thirds of its production to Stroh’s in La Crosse).  Pabst screwed the Milwaukee plant employees hard, even canceling retiree health benefits. They also moved the corporate offices to San Antonio, Texas.  Yeah, TEXAS!  Damn.  Many in Milwaukee, rightfully, still hold a grudge.
  • 1999: Stroh’s sold it’s labels to Pabst and Miller before going under.  Schlitz was now owned by Pabst (for the first time) and Blatz was now owned by Pabst (for the second time).  Confused yet?  Oh yeah, Shlitz owned the Old Milwaukee brand, so Pabst got that too – yummy.

This post badly needed some T&A.

  • 2001: Pabst closed its last company-owned brewery (we don’t know where it was) and contracted all their brewing out to Miller.  The Pabst complex in Milwaukee, with its 28 buildings, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Today they’re working on repurposing it for condos, retail, etc.  At least they’re not tearing it down.

Historic is one way to describe it.

  • 2005-06: The IRS caught up with the Kalmanovitz Charitable Trust and asked them to sell Pabst or lose their tax-exempt status.  The trust said they couldn’t find a buyer and got a five year extension.  In ’06 the Pabst corporate headquarters and all 100 employees were moved from San Antonio, TX to Woodridge, IL (a suburb of Chicago full of FIBs).
  • 2010: C. Dean Metropoulos bought Pabst for around $250 million and gave control to his sons Daren and Evan, who live in Los Angeles.
  • 2011: Pabst announces that it will move the corporate headquarters from Illinois to Los Angeles and start a new marketing campaign involving a bunch of slick LA types.  Brands Pabst currently owns include: PBR, Blatz, Schlitz, Colt 45, Falstaff, LoneStar, Old Milwaukee, Old Style, Rainier, Schaefer, Schmidt, Special Export, Stroh’s, and Stag.

Works every time.

So what the hell does this all mean?  When you’re drinking any of these Pabst brands you’re supporting an LA-based holding company which contracts brewing out to Chicago-based MillerCoors which brews the beer at a number of breweries across the country (including Milwaukee).  Pabst Brewing hasn’t been in the state for 15 years now.  Are you supporting Wisconsin?  Besides the Miller brewery in Milwaukee, no you’re not.  You’re mostly enriching Evan and Daren Metropoulos (the two clowns pictured below).  Expect to see these historic Wisconsin brands completely defiled in the coming years.  We agree with the Chicago Tribune article (first link in this post) in saying that the better option would have been to move the HQ back to Milwaukee and work with a marketing firm in LA (or just leave the marketing alone, like this NYT article suggests).

Fortunately, Wisconsin can still boast a strong brewing industry even if you don’t count quasi-resident MillerCoors.  Check our “Approved Beverages” section for examples, and feel free to let us know of your favorites we may have missed.  As a small piece of Pabst sunshine in this sordid history, we’ll end by pointing you to Isaac Pabst’s new Milwaukee bar, Vintage.  We’re not much for trust fund kids, but he is the great-great-great grandson of ol’ Fredrick himself and seems like a nice guy.  We encourage you to head down to Vintage for a drink or ten.

Captain Pabst would keelhaul these douchebags.

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7 Responses to Pabst, Blatz, and Schlitz: The Ugly Truth

  1. Aldo Bushong says:

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  2. Ryan Hiscox says:

    Interesting article. At first glance, I believe you have most everything correct. However, Pabst never won a Blue Ribbon. It was a gold medal like they have always given out for beer. No beer has ever won a “blue ribbon.” The reason Pabst changed the name was because when they started putting ribbons on their beer, people started asking for the beer with the “blue ribbon.” Pabst took this notion and ran with the idea and marketed the beer as the beer that the people named.

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  4. C Pokoski says:

    Okay, I grew up in St Louis and I live in NW suburbs of Chicago, so I probably don’t have any credibility here at all, but I have to say your info on the demise of Pabst, Schlitz and all those old brands has totally bummed me out. I think Schlitz tastes great and buy it often since I re-discovered it a couple years ago. PBR just got my attention when I couldn’t tell the difference between it and Stella Artois, which oddly both were on tap at a bowling alley. And now I discover that two losers own the brands. Argggh. It is sad.

  5. JJ says:

    Thanks for the information, I had no idea all of this was going on. It just goes to show, if something is popular these days, someone is getting rich off it. I live in New England and young people started drinking PBR here maybe 5 years ago as a result of it being “retro” or “blue collar” and as a reaction to the snobbish $12 microbrew six-packs that had also become popular at the time. Funny how it turns out that they ended up lining the pockets of these jerks. I wish we had a De-Douchify MA website. Good work on the site.
    Cheers!

  6. Matt Mailer says:

    I had the unfortunate displeasure to meet Dean and Even Metropoulos and I can vouch they are truly a couple of spoiled, trust fund douchebags who think they are better than everyone else. These guys through such a tantrum over their lunch buffet at a hotel in NYC that security had to be called and now they are barred from conducting meetings at any of the hotel groups locations and the one location in SoHo that actually serves PBR will be discontinuing it’s service. I actually know one of the Pabsts and it’s a shame that these selfserving, homophobic idiots are running her family’s namesake into the ground.

    • Thanks for the comment Matt, your insight is much appreciated. It’s difficult to think of people who more blatantly defile traditional Wisconsin values. Rest assured that the Metropoulos boys remain squarely in the Defend-Wisconsin crosshairs.

      And a point of correction: In the original post we screwed up the names of the Metropoulos family (possibly because we often write while intoxicated). C. Dean Metropoulos is the father who bought Pabst before giving control to his sons Evan and Daren (pictured in the post). We went back and corrected the mistake. We strive to be as accurate as possible and regret this error.

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