I will attest, and my friends will attest first hand, that I am not a man of fine tastes. I do not like nice things, and I feel guilty when I receive nice things. I judge consumer products by value rather, quality, and as such, I regard Pabst Blue Ribbon as the best beer of my generation, and my personal salvation when journeying to Kroger looking for the best price for mediocre alcohol.
Some call P.B.R. the “hipster beer,” but I believe that such a label robs the product of its true essence. P.B.R. is not a hipster beer for me. I know it is a commodity among the hipster community, but P.B.R. is also beer for common people such as myself, people who scoff at the prices of craft beer and even nicer domestic beers. On Beeradvocate, P.B.R. has an almost average rating of 2.94/5 stars. P.B.R. has even been condescendingly ridiculed by South Park, being labeled by the show as a beer for white trash. Rob Walker, in Buying In: What We Buy and Who We Are, discussed the ’90s connotation of P.B.R. as “a crappy, cheap beer you only drank if you didn’t have the money to buy better beer.”
I will admit that at times, its taste is strikingly mediocre, tasting a little more like water than your average specimen. However, in assessing based on taste, we are judging by the wrong standards. I am not a frequenter of breweries. As much as I have drunk in the past, I cannot tell you the finer differences between different types of dark lagers or sour beers. What I can tell you, however, is the P.B.R. has what no other beer has: humility, style, and affordability.
I recall the early days when I turned 21, and my first legal drink was a Casa Modelo Mexican beer. Although I still, to this day, love Corona and Modelo and even prefer its taste to the common man or hipster beer in P.B.R. I will always be a man of P.B.R. not as a matter of quality, but of principle. P.B.R. may be the “beer version of ramen noodles,” but is that supposed to shame me?
P.B.R. is, historically, is stereotypically a beer for rural rednecks. P.B.R. has stereotypically resurged a beer for urban hipsters. I am admittingly not a redneck or a hipster by any stretch of the imagination, but if we are talking about symbols and principles, these two groups of people have, of late, been at odds, polarized against each other, and its symbolism as a point of unity for the two could be a selling point in the 2020 election for a 2.0 New Deal coalition (looking at you, Democrats).
In 2003, Rob Walker of the NYTimes wrote that “the most interesting theory is that P.B.R.’s fan base grew not despite the lack of marketing support, but because of it. The beer industry as a whole spends about $1 billion a year to pitch its product.” I notice now that I never see advertisements for P.B.R. on cable networks, and perhaps what makes the beer appeal so much to hipsters and rednecks alike is P.B.R.’s humility “long-neglected P.B.R. had no image. It was just there.”
In 2003, when P.B.R. saw a resurgence in its sales after almost 30 years of decline, the key for the company was to “always look and act the underdog.” Any kind of negative press or opinion from elitist beer drinkers or elitists in general only boosted P.B.R.’s reputation as the underdog and common beer, but for the past 16 years, P.B.R. has been able to strike a fine protest as the beer of the common man and the beer of dissent. Its lack of marketing was its marketing. The humility in the fact that it did not boast in itself was its biggest selling point.
There’s a good chance I’m simply speaking in hyperbole, and the rise of P.B.R. and its resurgence in my generation has been a purely arbitrary movement without meaning. Beer consumers on a budget likely just started buying P.B.R. more as time went on. But a fundamental rule of nature is that things do tend to happen arbitrarily, but meaning will be attached to them. Every P.B.R. can has, on its side, that tells us it was established in Milwaukee in 1844, but the Pabst company right now has no ties with Milwaukee. For many, the fact that P.B.R. has also become a “hipster” beer is more of hipsters trying to symbolically stand with blue-collar midwest workers than actually being like them.
But lastly, in the words of Walker, P.B.R. is “very much a politics of individual freedom, of rejecting overt pitches and elite tastes…Turns out that P.B.R. actually does have an image, but it’s an image that its consumer base can hardly complain about, because they’re the ones who created it.” And although the article was written nearly 16 years ago, Walker’s commentary on P.B.R.’s lack of marketing and floundering of the beer establishment ring even truer today. As a matter of symbols, but more so as a matter of affordability and value, Pabst Blue Ribbon is the best beer of our generation.