PBR: Beer of Chicago Steampunks?

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Before you slag off PBR as being the beer of choice for skinny-belt wearing bearded folks and other hipster types, consider the role of the Pabst Brewing Company in Chicago history.

Jacob Best founded the Empire Brewing Company in 1844. His son-in-law, steamboat captain Frederick Pabst, bought into the company in 1863. Their Milwaukee brewery tours were known for ending with free beer at the Sternewirt Pub. A statue showed Frederick and a waitress pouring from pitchers of Pabst product.

In 1893, they won the (debatable) title of “America’s Best Beer” at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Their Best Select Beer, later Pabst Select, sported a blue ribbon tied to the bottle from 1882 to 1916. Hence, it came to be Pabst Blue Ribbon.



Concurrently, August Krug began brewing in Milwaukee in 1849. His bookkeeper, Joseph Schlitz, took over management in 1856. In 1858, Schlitz married Krug’s widow and the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company was formed.

In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire broke out and killed hundreds. Schlitz donated thousands of barrels of beer as relief for the city. This helped establish a distribution network. Schlitz also opened tied houses throughout the city, bars that basically rented from the company and were required to carry the product. Many of these tied houses still exist, like Schuba’s Tavern, where you can see a relief of the Schlitz logo on the building.




The G. Heileman Brewing Company began brewing in La Crosse, WI, in 1858. They launched Old Style Beer in 1902. The beer is kräusened, which adds wort to beer as it is bottled and fermented.

The 1970s and 80s saw a decline in brand popularity. Strohs bought Schlitz in 1982. In 1999, Strohs and its assets (including Schlitz) were sold to Pabst.

The Pabst Brewing Company became a holding company for G. Heileman, Schlitz, and Stroh’s. On May 14, 2011, they made an announcement that they would be moving their headquarters in Woodridge, IL, to Los Angeles.


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