If you’ve been perusing local social media lately, you’ve no doubt come across a curious online campaign: a push to bring Pabst Brewing Company back to Milwaukee. The eye-catching effort was launched after the current owner of Pabst—wonderfully named food industry heavyweight C. Dean Metropoulos—began seeking a buyer for the Los Angeles-based company. The grassroots “Bring PBR Home” campaign—spearheaded by a Milwaukee woman and the Montana-based great-great-granddaughter of Captain Frederick Pabst—took advantage of the news by devising a bold plan: Milwaukee would band together and buy Pabst from Metropoulos, bringing the company home after a nearly 20-year absence. It would also transform Pabst into a community owned and operated entity, similar to the Green Bay Packers. Jobs would be created, local pride would be restored, Milwaukee would once again be a proud brewing giant, and everyone would get a “stock.” Or something.
Of course, buying Pabst would be different than buying a Pabst tallboy. The company is expected to fetch between $500 million to $1 billion, making it just a bit out of reach for well-meaning Twitter campaigns. “Bring PBR Home,” sadly, seemed doom to instant failure. Crowdfunding a stage at South By Southwest? Maybe. Crowdfunding a $1 billion company? Probably not.
But the “Bring PBR Home” campaign has refused to die, and has garnered an absolute glut of local, national, and international press. Unlike a similarly insane/inane campaign to bring the 2024 Summer Olympics to Milwaukee, the Pabst thing is being treated like an actual, well, thing. Today, organizers are planning a social media blitz to finally deliver their lofty intentions to Pabst leadership, ensuring that the #BringPBRHome hashtag will litter your Twitter feed like so many crushed empties.
But is the “Bring PBR Home” campaign feasible? Is there a chance it might work? Is it even a good idea? The answers, of course, are “no,” “no,” and “no.” Here’s why.
1. Pabst seriously fucked Milwaukee over in the ’90s
To call Pabst’s departure from Milwaukee in 1996 less than amicable would be a gross understatement. The fact is, it was downright ugly. The company’s exodus put an end to a glorious Milwaukee beer run that had lasted 152 years. The closure wasn’t even the worst of it: 70 percent of Pabst employees had already lost their jobs before doors were officially closed, and the Brewery Workers Union was already mired in a nasty legal battle with the company over pension benefits owed to retired workers. When Pabst finally pulled up stakes, it was more than just a company packing up and saying goodbye; this was a company that was packing up and saying “Fuck you.”
In response to this sordid history, “Bring PBR Home” organizers and supporters simply claim that time has healed all wounds, and that bringing the company back to Milwaukee would be a form of “poetic justice.” Or something.
2. Pabst Brewing Company isn’t a brewery anymore, and Pabst is already brewed in Milwaukee
Pabst’s exit meant moving what little production it had left to Stroh Brewing Company in La Crosse (two-thirds of its beer was already being brewed there), and relocating its company headquarters to San Antonio, Texas. It was then that it ceased being a working brewery, and became simply a brand. Today, it’s a “virtual brewer.” That fact doesn’t deter “Bring PBR Home” supporters, though, who seem to think that buying Pabst will magically bring a real, honest-to-god brewery back to the city.
Then there’s the small matter of Pabst already being brewed in a real, honest-to-god Milwaukee brewery. In 2001, Pabst contracted all of its brewing out to Miller Brewing Company (now MillerCoors). While headquartered in Chicago, Miller brews its beer in—you guessed it—Milwaukee.
3. Using the Packers as a model of “community ownership” is dumb
It’s easy to forget the price tag attached to this wide-eyed campaign: $500 million to $1 billion. So how does “Bring PBR Home” intend to raise that kind of scratch? By cribbing from the Green Bay Packers and selling “shares” to thousands (if not millions) of “investors.” These investors would never see a profit, but they would sleep well knowing they had brought a non-functioning brewery that already brews its beer in Milwaukee back to Milwaukee. Or something.
4. Look, it’s just not going to work
From all the attention and glowing press the “Bring PBR Home” campaign has received (and it’s received a ton), you’d think it was a well-oiled, strategic machine backed by a solid business plan. You’d be wrong. As it stands, the campaign is little more than a Facebook page and a petition website. Roughly 4,000 people have liked the page on Facebook, and less than 2,000 have “signed” the petitions. That’s nice for a band or an upstart website, but it’s far from $1 billion in the bank.
In the petition addressed to Metropoulos, “Bring PBR Home” opens with this: “Greetings from Milwaukee! It’s a nice place (really) and it has this crazy idea. Humor us for just a moment.” Pabst has remained mum on the proposition, saying only that it will be “considering financial alternatives” to help “aggressively pursue its next phase of growth through strategic acquisitions.”
If that doesn’t sound like a company ready to humor a grassroots Facebook campaign, we don’t know what does.