Pabst Blue Ribbon: A timeline of America’s favorite lowbrow beer

Pabst Brewing Co, producer of notoriously lowbrow hipster beer Pabst Blue Ribbon, is up for sale and it’s expected to fetch up to $1 billion. The beer, informally known as PBR, has become ubiquitous in hip, wealthy New York City. The question is: How did this little, unambitious beer brand, one of many cheap beers from the heartland (now based in Los Angeles), become a trendy staple at New York bars and restaurants? Take a look at our timeline to make your best guess.

1979: Pabst Blue Ribbon makes an incredibly uncool, not hipster commercial with Patrick Swayze.

1986: Fans of David Lynch’s dark indie film, “Blue Velvet,” love to quote one of the movie’s most famous lines: “Heineken? F– that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!” as screamed by Dennis Hopper (R.I.P.). The critically acclaimed sleep hit has resonated decades later, and the line still rings true for PBR lovers.

1994: A feature called “White Hot Trash!” in New York Magazine by Tad Friend has a sidebar called “Finding the local color,” and recommends Hogs & Heifers saloon to New Yorkers looking to white trashify themselves. The owner Allan Dell boasts to the magazine, “I sell more Pabst Blue Ribbon than anybody.”

We talked to Michelle Dell Ramsey, current owner of Hogs and Heifers, who tells us PBR still outsells all of the other beers today. Dell Ramsey says that even though her Meatpacking District clientele has changed since the bar opened in 1994, from blue collar workers and artists to tourists and trendsetters, PBR is still the gold standard. “We’ve always sold more PBR than any other bar in New York City,” she says. “It’s always been a great go-to. Our locals and blue collar crowds and young artists drank it because it was cheap and iced cold. As the years have progressed, it’s become a trendier product and we still sell a lot of it, probably by the fact that it is a trendier product. We now have a customer base that buys it because of that.” Dell Ramsey sells PBR by the can for $2.

2001: PBR hits a low, selling under a million barrels. But sales rise in 2002 and the beer is endorsed in “The Hipster Handbook” in 2003, according to the New York Times.

2003: PBR becomes the number five beer in hipster capital Portland, Ore., according to the New York Times, and the trend migrates eastward. The New York Times says the rise in popularity stems from the fact that Pabst Blue Ribbon puts out virtually no advertising.

Mid-2000s: Cans of PBR spring up all over town at bars like Floyd in Brooklyn or Vazac’s Horseshoe Bar, an institution in the East Village. Nicole, a bartender at Horseshoe tells us, “It has to be at least five or six years ago. People were definitely asking for PBR.” When asked why they wanted it, she says, “I have no idea. Maybe because it has the red, white and blue it’s American to them?” She says the canned beer caught on so much the bar started offering other canned beers as well.

The culinary world’s favorite bad boy, David Chang, leads the food trends of the ’00s with his casual Asian fusion fare and brings PBR into the foodie limelight.

2013: PBR starts getting less cool. The Huffington Post asks David Chang, PBR’s biggest cheerleader, why he offers it at his Toronto Noodle Bar and he shies away from singing its praises. “I really like s–y beer,” he says. “I don’t really love Pabst but I just want cheap beer and that’s the cheapest beer we have. PBR is fine but it has this awful hipster connotation, and beer is f–ing expensive. Alcohol is so expensive here… Bud light bottle, that’s my only beer, but if I go to a restaurant I ask ‘What’s your weakest, lightest, s–est beer you have that tastes like Bud Light, anything that tastes like water.’” Uh oh, has PBR jumped the shark?

The biggest reason bartenders give for PBR’s popularity? Damon Dell, owner of the Hog Pit, has been selling PBR since 1995 and says the formula is pretty simple. “It’s popular because it’s the cheapest beer we offer,” he tells us. “We sell a shot of whiskey and a PBR for $5 and that’s our biggest seller. We sell about 100 cases a week of PBR.”

Makes sense to us.

Follow Andrea Park on Twitter: @andreapark


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