Will Russian ownership affect hipsters' taste for Pabst Blue Ribbon?

Will Russian ownership affect hipsters' taste for Pabst Blue Ribbon?

October 10th, 2014 by Lynda Edwards in Life Entertainment


Illustration by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

Lagunitas IPA beer

Lagunitas IPA beer

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

Yuengling beer

Yuengling beer

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

It must be a diabolical plot to corrupt America's coolest youth: A Russian company named Oasis Beverages recently bought the maker of Pabst Blue Ribbon, the beloved beer of U.S. hipsters, for $700 million. This means PBR and other Pabst Brewing brands such as Lone Star, Old Milwaukee, Colt 45 and Schlitz are now owned by a company headquartered in Moscow with main offices in the Ukraine and Belarus.

Of course, selling to a foreign company hasn't dethroned rival Anheuser-Busch as "The King of Beers." Acquired by Belgium/Brazilian brewer InBev in 2008, the St. Louis-based brewer accounted for 11 of the Top 20 best-selling beers in the U.S. last year, with Bud Light in the top spot.

PBR, whose taste has often been described as mediocre by beer aficionados, was No. 16 and the only Pabst product to make the Top 20. But that outlier status is part of its hipster appeal. The brand sponsored cool events like bike messenger rodeos and facial hair contests for musicians. And it became a crucial prop in cult TV favorites "Breaking Bad" and "South Park."

A recent article in the Journal of Consumer Psychology attributed PBR's hipster love to the brand's rebel attitude toward repressive social norms. Russia proudly represses all outside its norms. For example, West Hollywood hipster bars are boycotting Russian vodka in protest of President Vladimir Putin's anti-gay crackdowns.

So what beer will hipsters embrace as their next ironically cool beer?

Three experts respond:

• "The ideal replacement would be a craft beer; I would pick Lagunitas. It has the handmade appeal that hipsters love. So much of our craft industry has been localized in particular cities. Now the industry is exploding, so craft beer and more breweries are opening. Lagunitas opened an East Coast brewery, which makes the beer more accessible nationwide. Sam Adams may not be perceived as a craft beer because the brand is so big. But it is a good artisan beer, and it makes enough special brews and small batches that it could be the next brand the hipsters love." - SturmHaus Beer Market owner Marsha Sturm

• "PBR will be hard to replace. If you don't have the money for a craft beer, a dollar or so could buy you a PBR. I don't see hipsters ever choosing Coors or Bud over PBR. I think hipsters may stick with PBR if Russia keeps the Pabst recipe." - Beverage World owner Mitul Patel

• Yuengling seems to be readers' front-runner. Founded in 1827 by a German immigrant in a Pennsylvania coal-mining town, the beer's cool history includes the brewery sending a truck of Yuengling to President Franklin Roosevelt as a thank-you gift the day Prohibition ended. - RateBeer.com

Contact Lynda Edwards at ledwards@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6391.