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For Sale: The Beers that Made Milwaukee Famous

Pabst Brewing Company, with its roots firmly in Milwaukee, but now with executive offices in Woodridge, Illinois, is up for sale. The company was acquired in 1985 and is currently owned by Kalmanovitz Charitable Foundation, located in California, which must sell it as part of an IRS mandate that forbids charitable organizations to own for-profit companies. Apparently, the charity has attempted to sell the brewing company since an initial 2005 ruling with a 2008 deadline; no buyer has been found and the foundation was granted a 2010 extension. Estimates of the company’s asking price are reported to be approximately $300 million.
Pabst is the nation’s 4th largest brewing company and the largest independent, American-owned beer marketer and has seen ups and downs during its struggle to survive. Originally founded in Milwaukee in 1844 by Captain Frederick Pabst, the company is best known for its Blue Ribbon brand of beer. Pabst closed its Milwaukee brewery in 1996 and has since contracted with MillerCoors LLC to brew its brands, which, in addition to Pabst Blue Ribbon, include acquired old-line brands Blatz, Old Style, Carling’s Black Label, Colt 45, Lone Star, Kingsbury, Schmidt, Special Export, Old Milwaukee, Schlitz, Olympia Genuine Draft, Pearl, Rainier, and Stroh’s-over 25 distinctive brews in all.

While most of Pabst’s beer sales have declined over the past few years, one bright spot has been Pabst Blue Ribbon, which has found a following among younger beer drinkers, primarily in their 20s. Sales of that brand actually increased 21 percent during the past year.

It remains doubtful that Pabst will remain independent, or even American-owned, once a buyer is found. Likely buyers include Anheuser-Busch/InBev (headquartered in Belgium) or North American Breweries (headquartered in Buffalo, NY and consisting primarily of Labatt’s beer brands). So, order up and enjoy one of the last great brews that made Milwaukee famous while you still can.

Alan Bergstrom is a principal and Chief Strategy Officer with Brand Insights, a leading brand research and strategy firm based in Madison, WI. He has been a leader and pioneer in the branding field for over 20 years. To see more about Alan and his other articles, visit

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Tuesday, December 12, 8:33 am

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