Pabst Blue Ribbon is a beer frequently seen in the background of house parties.
Cans of the beverage, crushed or left woefully unfinished, are today littered in the memories of countless college students and camping buddies. There are also those among us who will argue that it simply gets no better than a cold can of the largely flavorless suds born in Milwaukee over a century ago.
Pabst has itself enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years, thanks largely to its reputation as a refined yet (somehow) less flashy alternative to the types of domestic beers that battle for commercial views during the Super Bowl.
If this vibe was born organically, it was also one the suits at Pabst Brewing Co. quickly saw as their ticket to relevancy.
In a 2015 feature examining the brand’s (then recent) sizable surge in sales, Charles Passy of Market Watch explained that, for some consumers, PBR was seen as “a ‘drinkable’ old-school brew” on par with the likes of Budweiser and Coors.
“But it didn’t have the same ginormous advertising dollars behind it,” notes Passy. “That gave it a street-level, iconoclastic buzz, one that the brewery’s ownership further exploited… by connecting the brand with events like a bike-messenger rodeo and by promoting it heavily in hipster-minded cities like Portland, Ore.”
Regardless of how PBR has come across its success — one assumes beer pong cups in need of refilling still account for a decent chunk of their sales — the brand is now using the cache of its name to branch out into other facets of the beverage market. Those forays have thus far seen Pabst lend its likeness to spirits, hard seltzer, hard tea and hard cold-brew coffee.
In an interview with Adam Tschorn of the Los Angeles Times, Pabst Labs brand manager Mark Faicol shed some light on his company’s arrangement with the famed brewery.
While the operation does employ two former Pabst Brewing Co. employees — including Faicol — Tschorn notes that the nearly 2-year-old standalone company “shares nothing more than a first name with the beer brewing company that dates to 1844.”
Faicol went on to further clarify the arrangement between the two businesses.
“[Pabst Brewing Co.] can’t legally hold a cannabis license because it’s not federally legal,” he explained. “There’s no financial stake, and they’re not going to share in any of the sales. But they did give us the rights to use the brand with no fee. While I can’t speak on their behalf, what I think it’s really affording them is an opportunity to learn about the [cannabis beverage] space with a partner that they really trust.”
In total, Pabst Labs employs a staff of six, where they’ve worked to develop the first in what will reportedly be a multi-flavor line of cannabis-infused seltzer waters.
Thus far, the only option to see official release is a lemon variant of their bubbly. According to Pabst Labs, each 12-ounce can contains 5 miligrams of THC (plus 4 grams of sugar and 25 calories.) Officially announced on Wednesday, October 7, Tschorn described the initial release from Pabst as offering “an effervescent bite fans of LaCroix seltzer will appreciate.”
Despite the fact that Pabst Brewing Co. will not directly profit from sales of Pabst Labs’ cannabis-infused seltzer water, it’s a shrewd move nonetheless.
Until laws allow for alcohol companies to hold cannabis licenses, one way for brands in the spirits, wine, and beer industries to align themselves with weed is to simply gift their trademarks to companies that can serve as a “front” for the in-house product they cannot themselves provide.
Far from being shady, however, the gesture is one that, if genuine, could really help cannabis entrepreneurs desperately looking to distinguish their wares from a sea of competition. If seeing that classic blue ribbon is the reason a customer goes with your cannabis beverage, that’s arguably a win for all parties concerned (to say nothing of the product’s quality).
Is such a positive outcome truly possible?
Pabst Labs brand manager Mark Faicol suggested to Tschorn that he believes, in this case… or twelve-pack, depending on your preference, it might just be a win for everyone.
“If someone’s carrying a can of PBR,” Faicol said, “that’s going to elicit some type of response. That’s going to elicit a lot of curiosity, and people are going to ask: ‘Hey, what is that?’ With PBR and our brand coming into the space, we’re really hoping to kind of normalize the category.”