for 5 December 1996. Updated every THURSDAY.



What'll You Have?

A bit of American history came to an
end on October 17. The Pabst Brewing
Company, citing years of red ink,
announced that it will soon close
its Milwaukee brewery - the oldest
major brewery in the nation, dating
back to 1844 - and contract out its
meager remaining production to the
G. Heileman plant in La Crosse. With
Old Milwaukee and Schlitz ("The Beer
That Made Milwaukee Famous") having
abandoned the city in years past,
along with hordes of smaller
Milwaukee-based brands that either
left or fell by the wayside
(Remember Weber's? Of course you
don't), Pabst's departure leaves
Miller as the sole remaining major
brewery in a town once considered
synonymous with beer.
The decision to remove Pabst from its
own brewery and job it out to a
rival facility will reduce the brand
to nothing more than a logo on a
can. This fate, already suffered by
a caseload of other beers
(Schmidt's, Rheingold, Black Label,
Hamm's, Colt 45 - the list reads
like the inventory of a fraternity
fridge, circa 1974), is sorry news
both for those depressed by the
snowballing market consolidation in
so many American industries and
those, like myself, who got ripped
for the very first time on Pabst. In
retrospect, Pabst's fate was
probably sealed tighter than a
non-twist-off bottle cap back in the
mid-'80s, when the brewery was
purchased by a California
conglomerate that essentially ran
the company into the ground.
Advertising and promotion were
nearly eliminated at first, and then
restored ever so barely on a
regional basis. If you remember the
"What'll Ya Have...?" campaign,
you're older than you look (and have
watched way too much televised
football besides); and if you
remember the more recent "PBR Me
ASAP" campaign, then you must live
in the Midwest, because it didn't
play anywhere else. And by then,
Pabst's distribution didn't get much
beyond the Midwest, either.
Interestingly, the news of Pabst's
demise has coincided with a curious
elevation of the brand's profile in
some unlikely places. In the indie
film Trees Lounge, which opened mere
days prior to the Pabst
announcement, assorted characters
guzzle a great many cans and bottles
of beer - almost every one of which
is a Pabst. Another recent indie
flick, Palookaville, features Pabst
exclusively. While the beer's
previous appearance in indie cinema
no doubt ingratiated it among
Oedipal fetishists and gas-huffers alike,
neither Trees Lounge nor Palookaville
seems destined for Blue Velvet-style
cultdom, and they both lack lines
which deliver the mnemonic rhythm of
"Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst
Blue Ribbon!" In any case, it all
adds up to one of the more
inexplicable product-placement
trends in recent memory.
Of course, Pabst's cinematic
resurgence probably owes more to
coincidence, or to the respective
directors' drinking tastes, than to
an orchestrated marketing effort by
the brewery. Calls to the two film
studios and to Pabst were
unavailing, but it's tempting to
speculate that these low-budget
productions may offer a window into
the business mentality that held
sway in Pabst's waning days. Perhaps
the brewery, its promotions budget
down to next to nothing, was
desperate to establish a toehold in
Hollywood but could only afford to
buy itself screen time in small,
independent projects. Or maybe
Pabst, in a daringly calculated but
tragically misguided attempt to
connect with new demographic
segments, decided to develop a new
hipster-chic image by establishing a
presence on the art-film circuit.
Picture it: two tickets for Secrets
and Lies gets you a coupon for $1
off a medium popcorn and a PBR
draft. If so, it's safe to say that
such wrongheaded expenditures only
hastened the brand's demise.
Meanwhile, with Miller now the only
major brewery left in town,
Milwaukee's baseball team - the
Brewers - is saddled with a name
that is quickly becoming obsolete.
Perhaps the Brewers, whose home
games feature the antics of one
Bernie Brewer, a character who
celebrates home runs and victories
by sliding down a ramp into a giant
mug of beer, should consider an
alternate name. Harley-Davidson is
still headquartered in town, so how
about the Milwaukee Hogs? Or maybe
the Milwaukee Brats, in honor of the
city's sausage-driven culinary
According to Laurel Prieb, the
Brewers' vice president for
corporate affairs, no such changes
are in the offing. "So much of a
team's name is really built on
history," he explained. "Even if the
Miller Brewing Company,
hypothetically, were to leave, you
could make a strong case that the
heritage of southeastern Wisconsin
is so well-tied to the beer industry
that the name makes all the sense in
the world." If you dispense with the
mushmouth equivocating, Prieb is
essentially admitting, "We've still
got a lotta drunks in this town, ya
know what I'm sayin'?"
Fair enough, but Prieb has his own
reasons for retaining the team's
moniker - after all, the Brewers'
new stadium, which just had its
groundbreaking ceremony and is
slated to be ready for the 2000
season, will be called Miller Park.
Memo to the outgoing Pabst execs:
Now that's a product placement.

[Zero Baud Archive]

courtesy of the
Inconspicuous Consumer