Once in a while, all micro brew fans (ie. Beer Snobs),
need a break from the endless discussion of style,
IBUs, original gravity, color, type of serving glass and
the many other points to be considered when
searching for the perfect brew. Every now and then
we need just a plain ,old, “beer”.

That being considered, when I suggested to the
Commander in Chief of Draught Board 15 that we
might dedicate a meeting to the country’s fourth
largest marketer of malt beverages, he readily agreed.
Our May meeting was scheduled to be a tasting of the
products of the Pabst Brewing Company, which,
interestingly enough, no longer owns a brewery, all of
it’s beers being “contract brewed”. Pabst Blue Ribbon
has always been a sentimental favorite of mine since I
was eighteen, when I magically became “of age”,
halfway across the Outerbridge Crossing, on the way
to the wilds of Staten Island. A little shot and beer
joint we used to frequent had a glass fronted
refrigerator behind the bar which contained rows of
PBR in tall neck bottles, arrayed like soldiers on dress
parade. Being partial to John Philip Sousa, the Fourth
of  July and patriotism in general, the red, white, and
blue labels caught my attention, and I became a
dedicated Pabst  drinker, until I discovered Yuengling’s
, years later.

Pauly’s Tavern, on  South Orange Avenue in Newark,
almost in the shadow of the “Big Bottle”, provided  
fresh steins of  Pabst which were a delight every
modern day microbrew fan should have been able to
experience. The beautiful color, frothy head and ever
so slight sour aroma made for one of the best
American lagers ever brewed. The closing of the
brewery in Newark marked the end of my Pabst
allegiance and probably close to twenty  years passed
before I tried another. However, the new ownership of
Pabst had hit upon a novel marketing ploy which has
now rocketed the company back to number four in

During the twenty years of my “Pabst Drought”, they
had been busily buying and selling breweries,
acquiring rights and brand names of former national
and regional brewers, and instituting the idea of
“retro” beers to market their products. Former giants
Schlitz, Stroh’s,  Ballantine, and Schaefer are all
“brewed” by Pabst, and their portfolio includes
formerly famous regionals  such as Old Style, National
Bohemian, Piel’s and Carling. They are even the
purveyor’s of Mc Sorley’s Ales, widely known as the
only brews served at Mc Sorley’s Old Ale House in New
York City.

I volunteered to do the procuring for the meeting and
set out on a Friday night in April to see how many
Pabst products I could find in two hours. The  mass
market beer aisle at my regular store presented a
vista of floor to cieling stacks of Budweiser, Coors and
the other usual suspects in the headache and
hangover line. I usually avoid this section, so it took a
few moments before I began to notice the  cheapies,
stashed away to the rear. Virtually all of these retro
beers are available only in cans, and then usually in
only in 12 packs, cases, and thirty packs.

Even though this meant buying significantly more beer
than necessary for the tasting, it was not an
economic disaster because a case of Piel’s, for
example costs less than a six pack of some of the top
of the line seasonal craft brews. A thirty pack of Stroh’
s was offered for $11.99. I suspect that if the average
American drove a fork lift, some of these beers would
sold by the pallet! I picked up twelve packs of Piel’s ,
Carling Black Label, and six packs of Old Milwaukee
and Ballantine Ale. My next stop unearthed  Schaefer
and Schmidt. After this, the real fun began as I
ventured into Irvington in search of such classics as
Colt .45 and St. Ide’s malt liquors, which are brewed
by Pabst.

At this point the thirty pack marketing strategy was
not a problem, as these stratospheric gravity beers
are sold by the individual 24 oz. can and 40 oz. plastic
bottle. I rounded up one or two and moved on as I
still hadn’t located PBR. This was going to be harder
than I thought! I stopped at a small corner store
where a man named Harshad, speaking from behind
bullet proof glass, informed me that he had never
heard of this beer, but was able to offer me a couple
of 24 oz. cans of 9.6% ABV Pabst brewed malt liquors
at the bargain basement price of  99 cents a can.
Since both the alcohol and liquid contents are twice
that of the average beer, one can easily obtain a
“bigger bang for the buck” by purchasing these
“malternatives”.   I call them malternatives because
they DO include miniscule amounts of malt and also
because they are an alternative to sniffing aerosol
cans of spray paint, a practice which is also popular in
some of the areas where these beers are marketed.

A couple of more stops finally located Blue Ribbon and
Schaefer, and the only bottled variety I found, Mc
Sorley’s. I returned home in under two hours and
happy in the knowledge that I had obtained the
equivalent of almost four and a half cases for under
fifty dollars.

All of these beers should be served much colder than
craft brews, so they were delivered to the Gaslight a
day before the meeting and packed away under a lot
of ice. Artificial refrigeration just doesn’t cut it for
these beers. Only ice will do!

At the meeting, each group at a table was provided
with samples of each and left to it’s own devices as to
how to organize the tasting. As the beer began to
flow “The Beer that Made Milwaukee Famous”, “What’ll
ya Have?   …….Old Time Flavor”, “ Hey Mabel!...Black
Label!” and “Make the Three Ring Sign…..Ask the man
for Ballantine” came roaring out of my memory. When
the Piel’s was tasted I recalled TV ads of thirty years
ago featuring Jimmy Breslin advising us that “Piel’s is
a good drinkin’beah”. Thirty years later I’m still
wondering what uses Piel’s had besides drinking.
Polishing silverware? Flushing out drains? Also what
exactly is “beah”? A new style, or just Breslin’s New
York City attempt at “beer”?

With all due respects to Schaefer, ALL of theses
brews are the “one beer to have when you’re having
more than one”.  All, which are mighty similar, were
served in the usual three or four ounce tasting glass,
which really doesn’t do them justice. A frosted stein
or 16oz. picnic cup is the only answer. The malt
liquors, which, with the exception of Colt .45, were
unspeakable , were unfairly treated  as well. A fuller
appreciation of these brews requires them to be
consumed directly out of the can, disguised in a
brown paper bag, while standing on a street corner.
In fact , Harshad, a man who knows his clientele and
their tastes, offered  me just such a bag at the time
of purchase, which I declined.

In all seriousness, the popular favorites were Pabst
Blue Ribbon and Old Milwaukee. The undrinkable were
the malt liquors. Pie’s was deemed watery and
Schmidt’s ( the former North Central, USA version,
not Schmidt’s of Philadelphia) was described as harsh
to the taste. As would be expected by a bunch of
craft brew enthusiasts, Ballantine Ale and McSorley’s
were determined to be closest to our “thing”

While this venture into the world of retro beers was
appreciated by all members present,  a couple of
Gaslight pints welcomed many of us back into the real
world. Of course there’s no comparison, but when the
days grow long, the air grows steamy and the
lawnmower gets noisy, I have no problem with crying
out “ PBR ME ASAP!!


Another two
glasses up
article from
Dan Hodge!
has to say
these things
and it could
only be
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