A PBR of another color

Somewhere along the way, a few years ago, Pabst Blue Ribbon graduated from being the beer of papaws everywhere to being a cheap choice for hipsters who want to drink ironically amongst crowds of people paying $6 a pop for IPAs and imperial porters.

That, of course, is the classic PBR lager.

The brand dates to 1890 and, while sales dipped in the early 2000s, new leadership — and lots of money devoted to marketing — has returned it to prominence in recent years. It’s often the cheap draft beer of choice for beer-centric bars and taverns.

Well, last year, Pabst announced it was going to crank out an American pale ale in cans and bottles. I never saw any reach Louisville, but, then again, I didn’t really look too hard, so I forgot about it. But when I walked into a local watering hole recently, I bellied up to the bar, looked at the tap handles and was stunned to see a Pabst handle like I’d never seen before.

Splashes of bright red and blue made it look like it had been hand painted — by someone’s 4-year-old. I asked the bartender about it and he told me it was, indeed, Pabst American Pale Ale and it was $4 a pop. I decided that was a fair amount for journalistic research, so I ordered one.

And it tasted every bit as cheap as the price, extremely light and malty sweet.

The skinny is that it’s brewed with Liberty, Chinook and Cascade hops, contains 5-percent alcohol by volume and is listed at 25 IBU. But after taking a couple of drinks, I found there was almost no hop character to it. Up front, what that meant was it was missing that dirty-tasting bite (that’s the best way I can come up with to describe it) at the end of every drink. It was cleaner than the lager. It wasn’t bad, per se — yet it just tasted, er, cheap.

I did pseudo-enjoy it for a while, not enough to want more, but I wasn’t having severe buyer’s remorse or anything. As I got about halfway through my pint, I began to realize my palate was rejecting it. What simply was a light, smooth, neutral beer took a turn into that dirty territory, just enough to remind me I was drinking Pabst. The bartender even agreed that the beer wasn’t too bad for awhile, but getting to the end of one was a bit of a chore.

It’s a strange phenomenon.

My question, however, is less about flavor and more about the market. It seems to me this beer might only confuse the PBR devotees. So, is PBR hoping to capture some of the craft beer audience with Pabst APA? Are they hoping we’ll say, “I won’t drink that cheap, suspect lager, but the pale ale has to be a winner!”

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Here’s what the Pabst marketers say about it: “We brewed this beer for those who refuse to be ranked and filed: those who are inventing their own American Dream with grit, optimism and ingenuity.”

I have no idea what any of that even means.

I just get the feeling this is marketing (and money) gone wrong. I kind of feel about this like I felt about the “Home Alone” and “Back to the Future” sequels — they were unnecessary to the point they almost sully the originals.

Then again, if it just tastes like more PBR, I guess there’s no harm. Either way, I don’t have to drink any more of it; my research is done.

What’s in the fermenter?

I bumped into Kyle Tavares and Matt Landon of Mile Wide Beer Co. the other day and asked them, “What’s in the fermenter?” I’ve actually been asking several brewers that question lately, thinking it might be a fun addition to I’d Tap That … Beer, to let people know what’s coming. So, here’s installment No. 1.

Tavares said Mile Wide had brewed a barleywine, most of which has been moved into barrels. (Yes, I know, technically it’s no longer in the fermenter, but I’m not going to be that anal-retentive about this.) Tavares said they used all English malts and American hops, with molasses and brown sugar. Now, it’s in Four Roses barrels, getting all delicious for a winter release.

He also said some of it may transfer to a different barrel to create an even more complex version. We’ll have to wait and see on that one.

“It will be one of those whale beers,” Tavares said, referring to those brews that are so rare that it turns collectors into legions of Captain Ahabs.

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