Sometimes, late at night, when the world has largely gone to bed and my mind is settling in for a restful slumber in my Bay View flat, the soft whispers of distant voices pass through my head as I hear the words that are oft repeated to me, Zac Brown Band is really good live. The words sit heavy on my heart as I give into a fitful night of sleep, tossing and turning, wondering if those proclamations are true. Is Zac Brown Band actually really good live?
But there’s got to be something said about Zac Brown. His idea of what relaxation looks very similar to what a good Wisconsin weekend is. Sitting by a lake, remembering that time you went to Mexico once, but not really Mexico, but rather a resort pandering to white people so as to not risk exposing them to too much culture (and drug cartels) that allows them to drink as much as they want for whatever they paid for the all-inclusive pricing. But the lake is good enough for you because you have an iced cold PBR and another forty-eight in the fridge that you’ve inherited from all your drunk grandparents and uncles and cousins and siblings. That’s summer in Wisconsin. A cabin up north, a lake, beer, cultural insensitivity and pretending you’re drinking local when actually, the beer you’re drinking hasn’t been brewed in Wisconsin in over twenty years. PBR. That’s right. The beer of hicks and hipsters alike. That’s what we’re talking about on this post. Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.
Wow, let me start by saying, this post chronologically comes in about halfway through the last one. Oktoberfest was both before and after this tour of ours, but I felt like this was better saved for afterwards. Unfortunately for anyone who is staunchly against my tangents and is fuming with rage over the fact that the last post was not a brewery post, I have terrible news for you. This isn’t either! It’s a historical tour of Pabst. But there was beer.
Honestly, this was such a delightful trip but it’s been so long, I don’t even know if I remember much about it. Included in the tour was two drink chips, which seemed like a sweet deal since I think Ashley bought this tour on Groupon for like $20 for the four of us. So that made the tour like $5/piece and then we all had beer. You get your first beer in this old little bar that the Pabst employees used to drink in back in the day when they were still headquartered in Milwaukee. It was cozy, for sure, and they were showing a football game on the television. This is where we all got our first drinks. Jake and Tim both got a Pabst Andeker first and Ashley and I got the Potosi Tangerine IPA. Very Wisconsin of us, if I do say so myself. The beers were fine. I don’t honestly remember being particularly blown away by them.
Then at the start of the tour we were all welcomed into this beautiful hall filled with tables and chairs. It used to be the corporate offices, but now is rented out for weddings and events. Also, important note, Pabst does not own this place anymore. A local historian bent on preserving the history of the city bought it. And honestly, it’s for the best. A lot of the old warehouses and factory buildings that used to be apart of the brewery are either being converted into urban lofts or being torn down so more condos can be built on top of the sacred, hallowed grounds of where one of America’s favorite* beers was once brewed. Say it with me guys. URBAN RENEWAL. Bet you thought I was going to say gentrification didn’t you?
In defense of forward development in the city, I won’t get into gentrification or well-worn rants about erasing lower income populations and minorities from the city’s landscape because that’s not what is happening here. These are just abandoned buildings that have not been used in decades and they are occupying many city blocks just sitting there, empty. On one hand, it’s sad to think about the history of the city being bulldozed, but on the other, the important buildings are being preserved while the ugly ones are being made into condos. It doesn’t make sense for that much land to be wasted by abandoned husks of memories. The land needs to be utilized. This is a city, after all, and that is prime real estate. Honestly, by converting and redeveloping this unused, uninhabited space into expensive, fancy condos, it probably staves off outward expansion and destruction of culture and heritage that thrives just north and south of downtown. And also, I know that gentrification isn’t necessarily a dirty word. Some people see it as a chance for a neighborhood to be revitalized and given opportunity for an economic boom. And I’m also not an idiot. I live in an neighborhood that was once populated heavily by Polish immigrants, who then moved further south and were replaced by a heavily Latin population. Now the neighborhood is very white, very young, very millennial. I am a part of the problem too, guys.
Anyways, we were in the beer hall. I don’t know if you remember that or not because I sure as shit did not. Here we sat through a forty minute long chitchat/video about the history of Pabst. We found out that it used to be called Best Beer, not because they were conceded assholes, but the man who founded Pabst’s last name was Best. It wasn’t until his daughter married a man named Fredrick Pabst who then took over the company so Mr. Best could enjoy retirement that the name changed. And honestly, dumb name change right? Like, it’s hard to get away with calling your beer “Best Beer” if that’s not your last name, but who doesn’t want to be selling their beer and telling people “oh, it’s the Best.” But I digress. It’s been 150 years and we’re still drinking it at frat parties and dive bars in the northwoods so I guess it doesn’t matter.
Also, at some point, Jake won a free beer because Jake knew what the word Pabst meant in German. This is appropriate to mention, because as I brought up in our previous post, Jake spent three weeks in Germany as a social experiment and I’ve spent years in the German Pavilion at Epcot. So, I will concede to him that his German education awarded him a free beer and my time in the German Pavilion has earned me mostly melancholic longing for experiences and people that I will never have the privilege to enjoy again. We’ll give Jake a win in this column.
Before we got to leave off from off from the beer hall into the old offices, we got more beer! Woo! Tim and Ashley got actual PBRs, I got my official beer selection of 2017, which if you do not at this point know what it is, you can show yourself out, and Jake got a Pabst Oktoberfest which he decided was his favorite Oktberfest beer (maybe of all time?). Then, we got to casually join a large group of people and check out some of the old offices. It was cool. I don’t really have more to say that is remotely intellectual other than the fact that it was just super neat. The old hall was neat. The abandon-y sad looking parts of the building were neat. Everything was neat. Someone even declared this the best Daze of Beer event thus far, and I would probably have to agree.
After the tour, we got to just hang out for a little bit. We drank some more in the beer hall. I finally got a PBR to just feel the spirits of the dead factory workers who once worked on those hallowed grounds, making this very beer for every man (or woman) to enjoy. It was nice. The building is beautiful and old and captures the spirit of this city that I love and hate. No one stopped us as we explored a cute little balcony. No one cared. Everyone was just chilling out and drinking beer on this beautiful Sunday afternoon.
As I wrap this up, I would like to mention that while I have been talking about how Pabst isn’t brewed in Milwaukee anymore, it’s not wholly true. A few years back, Pabst announced are turn to their homeland and owned a small craft brewery that brews actual beer. It’s just not Pabst Blue Ribbon. In fact, when I was googling to see what is actually brewed in Milwaukee, Jake and Tim’s Andekers were. Apparently they brew crafts and also older beers that had previously been discontinued to preserve the beer’s heritage and the connection it has to the city. I won’t get into it too much here because at some point in the future, we will probably check out the actual Pabst brewpub which is in the same mess of old abandoned brewery buildings still on Juneau.
While this wasn’t the best written or most interesting post I could have done, it was rather inspiring. Milwaukee has such a vast and rich history, especially when it comes to brewing, and it’s really cool to see something that has not only shaped this city, but has shaped pop culture. Pabst Blue Ribbon is a (in)famous beer. Country singers and rappers and my hipster roommate in Florida and JD Hartley all sing and talk and obsess over this rather unremarkable beer. Our grandfathers drank it. Someone of our grandfathers made it. But more importantly, this beer made us. This day was definitely something to remind us that Milwaukee hasn’t always just been a shithole, it used to be a shithole with a lot more beer.