PBR buys its way into craft beer market

Jared Rogers-Martin

I had just 10 minutes until my chance to purchase alcohol would be up and tomorrow would become a shameful drought. I was to host a Sunday, pre-Vikings game barbeque, and friends from out of town expected to imbibe cold, adult beverages. At the time, I was new to Minnesota and not acquainted with laws that prematurely close liquor storesâÄô doors two hours before midnight. In a mad scramble during the meager few minutes I had before the bottle shop shut down for the weekend, I made an instinctual choice. I snagged a familiar, safe and agreeable red-and-white label with a blue pennant that read âÄúPabst Blue Ribbon.âÄù The taste of PBR is about to change, though, and this comes with consequences for independent craft breweries. Pabst Brewing CompanyâÄôs chairman and chief executive officer, Eugene Kashper, recently announced plans to add more diversity to the beer. Kashper, in a brilliant move, is opening a kitsch beer garden in downtown Milwaukee, the site of its original brewery. For horn-rimmed-glasses-wearing millennials, Milwaukee immediately became a âÄúdreamâÄù vacation spot. The new beer garden will feature a brewery that aims to pump out new craft beer PBR products. Part of me cannot wait to try the new, secret PBR beers, but I also harbor skepticism about what the change means for the independent craft beer market. Bank of America Merrill Lynch recently released a report stating that just four beer companies produce nearly half of the beer consumed around the world. While the independently-owned craft beer market has experienced a boom in sales and market share in the last few years, these small companies collectively only hold a fraction of the larger beer market. The craft beer explosion is strong in the United States, but the demand âÄî in other words, the number of people legally able to drink beer âÄî doesnâÄôt grow as fast as the supply of new breweries, leaving room for larger corporations to muscle their way into craft beer sales with fistfuls of cash and merger acquisition lawyers. Pabst is not one of those top four companies, but itâÄôs still a large corporation that owns the likes of Colt 45, Old Milwaukee, Schiltz and a few other nationally-recognized brands. Corporate breweriesâÄô expansion into the world of craft beer will threaten the emerging small craft brew businesses. PabstâÄôs return undoubtedly intends to stir local loyalty with its new beer garden, but the decision is marred by the fact that the Pabst headquarters still remains outside Wisconsin and far outside the Midwest region. The new breweryâÄôs presence will steal business from the locally owned and operated breweries in Milwaukee, curbing the brewing tradition that exists in the Midwest region, which skunks this enthusiastâÄôs favor in the homecoming.