Pabst Blue Ribbon May Soon Be Gone Forever, As Two Brewers Battle Contract Issues In A Milwaukee Courtroom

Cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon on ice.
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Pabst Blue Ribbon, the beer that, for better or worse, has become synonymous with urban hipsters, may soon be a thing of the past, theGuardian is reporting.

The famed lager is owned by Pabst Brewing Company, which is itself a holding company that owns much in the way of shares and copyrights — and little in the way of manufacturing or distribution facilities. That means that, for a couple of decades, the company has had to outsource production and distribution to Milwaukee brewer MillerCoors, which has done so according to a contract that the two companies signed back during the Clinton administration.

The problem is, MillerCoors doesn’t want to make the beer anymore after that contract expires in 2020. This means that, in less than two years, the beer — which has been a thing for a century and a half — may soon be no more. Further, its end would also be the death knell for other cheap beers produced by the brand, including Lone Star and Old Milwaukee.

In a Wisconsin courtroom, the two sides are arguing it out. Pabst obviously doesn’t want to close up shop, or to have to find another manufacturer to take over production, distribution, and advertising. To that end, they’ve taken MillerCoors to court, claiming that the larger manufacturer is unfairly trying to push it out of business.

“We are deeply disappointed that MillerCoors, the US subsidiary of multinational brewing conglomerate Molson Coors, has willfully breached our 19-year agreement in an effort to stomp out the competition. Even though MillerCoors’ market power is much larger than Pabst’s, we will not allow this industry bully to push us around.”

MillerCoors, for its part, says that it needs to devote what manufacturing capacity it has to its own, more successful brands — and that Pabst isn’t paying the manufacturer enough, according to Fortune.

Begun in 1844, the lager that is now known as Pabst Blue Ribbon was, for a few decades after the turn of the century, one of the most popular beers in the country. Even its name, “Blue Ribbon,” is a nod to the multitude of awards and honors the beer won in its early days.

Unfortunately for the company, American beer tastes have evolved over the decades. By the 1970’s, the beer had developed an image problem — being more associated with blue-collar Americans who wanted a cheap brew, rather than its award-winning past. The band was revived for a bit in the aughts, when for inexplicable reasons it became popular with young, urban hipsters.

But unfortunately, its popularity in a niche market doesn’t appear to have been enough to save the brand.