Let’s be honest. This isn’t the type of blog where you’d expect to read about Pabst. Most aleheads aren’t hipsters. We don’t ride fixed-chain bicycles. None of us have ironic mustaches. We don’t wear wifebeaters. We don’t live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And we sure as hell don’t drink Pabst Blue Ribbon. Over the past several years, Pabst has gone from trashy beer to the trashy hipster drink of choice. But it turns out there’s more than meets the eye to Pabst.
With all the recent hubbub about BrewDog, we had some interesting discussion about the brewing industry, what it needs, and what it doesn’t need. Of course, the Aleheads consensus is that more craft beer is good for everyone. Pabst (believe it or not) agrees with us. They’ve recently announced a craft brew exclusively made and marketed in China, of all places. They’re calling it China’s first craft brew, and it sells for around $42 a bottle.
When this news came out, Time had a reactionary story called “Pabst Blue Ribbon is Classy and Expensive in China,” implying that Pabst were going to charge $40 for a can of their awful brew. This proved to be utterly incorrect. Pabst has decided to break into the Chinese market by developing and marketing a new beer exclusively for the Chinese. It’s an entirely different beer called Blue Ribbon 1844 (for the year when Pabst was founded). So it’s not Pabst Blue Ribbon, but a true craft beer with a slick marketing campaign.
So what’s the brew like? Modern Brewery Age has this to say in their March 5 issue:
Alan Kornhauser, who started his brewing career at Jos. Huber, and subsequently worked at Anchor Brewing Co., Portland Brewing Co., August Schell and elsewhere, now works for Pabst in China six months of each year. Interestingly, he reports that Pabst China has started expanding its horizons beyond Blue Ribbon. “We just produced China’s first real specialty beer, an all-malt, reddish brown strong (15.7 plato) ale, dry hopped with Cascade (38 IBU) and aged in new uncharred American whiskey barrels,” Mr. Kornhauser reports. “It’s being bottled in a nice looking 720-ml brown bottle with an enamel label and it is called Blue Ribbon 1844, a reference to Pabst’s founding date. It will only be sold in China, and it’s going to sell for over $20 a bottle!
Quite a departure from the norm for Pabst, and I don’t know about you, but I’m interested! A cask conditioned Belgian strong? Unfortunately, we can’t get it here in the states (so if you live in China and have tried some, let us know!). What gives, Pabst? First you carpet bomb us with trashy beer, then when you finally come up with something that seems like it might be worth drinking, you only market it in China? This does little to decrease my hatred of Blue Ribbon and the people who drink it.
It turns out that Pabst’s interest in China is significant. Kornhauser, Pabst’s man on the ground in China, wrote a fascinating article about the beer industry there for bnet.com called “Making beer (and drinking it) in the Far Out East.” Impressively, Pabst is currently the only profitable foreign brewer in China, a feat that could turn out to be incredibly important in a market of 1.3 billion people. In my real life, I work in an industry that’s gutting US and European operations to gain a foothold in China, so it’s no surprise to see this happen in brewing as well. But I’ll be honest, it’s nice to see an American company making money from the Chinese instead of the reverse for once.
What’s it like to be a brewer in China? As you might expect, the counterfeit industry is large and detrimental. Apparently, Budweiser has had the problem of imitators making cans to look suspiciously like Bud and Bud light. This is something that Pabst sees as well. Kornhauser says:
“Some garage operation was supposedly taking empty cans of Pabst, removing the lid, filling them with local cheap beer, resealing them and selling them as the real thing.”
Think about that for a minute. Pabst was upset with local brewers for replacing their beer with a cheap one. Let that sink in for a minute before you go on.
For most breweries, profitability is years away due to state restrictions on the industry. But, China will soon become the largest beer producing nation on earth despite drinking drink far less than Americans or Europeans per capita.
It sure doesn’t seem like the craft brewing movement will take hold in China anytime soon, due to a lack of demand from the Chinese restrictions from the government, and the harmful counterfeit operations. I applaud Pabst for at least attempting to make a decent product, just wish they’d sell it to Americans. For now, we’ll have to settle for PBR in the states. Which means that Pabst won’t be getting any of my money for a very long time.