Skip to main content

Holiday Q&A, Volume 3: How did Pabst Blue Ribbon become cool?

Question from the audience: How did Pabst Blue Ribbon turn into a high class beer from a high school [headache] maker? 


Thanks, L., for another excellent question. The simple answer is: the hipsters got a hold of it.

First off, I think the PBR thing is over, having peaked right alongside the peak of the "hipster" movement, in 2010. It may have some leftover appeal, but only because, like a lot of cultural trends, it takes a while to fully cycle through the hinterlands.

It's not an outstanding beer. It's not even a "good" beer. It's a crisp, easy-drinking American lager that is light enough so you can drink 16 of them on a hot summer day and still be sober enough to call your lawyer from jail. You could stack it against beers like Stroh's, Miller High Life, Schlitz, Blatz, Carling, Rolling Rock, Iron City, Lone Star, Dixie, and probably only an expert would be able to tell the difference. Don't get me wrong, these beers have earned and should have a place in American life, but that place is in the hands of broke high school and college kids, underpaid blue-collar workers, and your chain-smoking grandfather. So how did the overly-educated, under-employed, over-grown children with carefully manicured, chest-length beards, tattoo sleeves, in skinny jeans and flannels riding fixed-gear bicycles get a hold of it?

You have to remember, hipsterism was all about irony. Taking what was once old and dorky and making it new and cool again, precisely because it was not new and cool. At a time when people were listening to music on Mp3s, they were listening to music on vinyl LPs. When people were wearing flared jeans, they came back with the skinny jeans. The 2000s were a mostly clean-shaven decade, but the hipsters opted for the beard. At first, in the late 90s and mid-2000s it was all very organic and original, but by the late 2000s, by the time the word "hipster" had reached the mainstream, it was really all over. Our generation's counter-culture had become a commodity, much like there were really no honest to god "hippies" left by the time the 1970s hit. It was all well-over by then.

Irony can be defined as "a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result." Applying the hipster love of irony to beer would mean that, while one would expect a trendy person to eschew a mainstream, macro-brew of middling quality, up to that point drank by mostly by working-class men in bars with no windows and those attending minor league baseball games in dilapidated stadiums, the hipster goes contrary to what is expected and adopts PBR precisely because it's not cool. 

Why PBR specifically, and not, say, Stroh's? That, I'm not sure about. Other than the simple fact of PBR having a great name and logo, and perhaps an existing market share that gave it wide distribution in places like New York where hipsterism bloomed, I can't think of a reason other than: that's just the way it shook out. 

However, just like skinny jeans, vinyl record collecting, fixed-gear bicycles, and handle-bar moustaches, America's PBR fetish is, I believe, headed for the dustbin of early 21st century culture if it's not there already. But PBR will likely survive and thrive, if for no other reason than: a.) People like me who will always still order it for its kitsch value, b.) It's existing history and market share make it a permanent fixture on the American beer landscape. Stroh's or Blatz could fade away and few people would notice. But an America without PBR? Now that would be weird. 

Keep the questions coming!


Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #146: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Issue: May 9, 2016

Story: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Rating: $

Review: I feel like this is a somewhat tired technique, straight out of Creative Writing 101: write a story consisting of three or four different snapshots or snippets out of a character's life at different ages, sort of like a series of written photographs. Fun perhaps, but strikes me as a bit amateurish. However, I also think L'Heureux succeeds here by pushing it a bit further, playing with the character's tentative attempts at something close to faith -- in childish, adult, and mature adult ways -- and tying all three "Short Moments" together in a subtle and readily decipherable way.

L'Heureux's prose and his frank humor and his ability to glorify and find the meaning in the mundane events and thoughts of every day life, and thereby turn the life of an ordinary person into a drama with meaning and significance puts me in mind of John Irving. As well a…

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…

Water Review: San Pellegrino 250ml Bottle

Damn you, tiny little bottle of San Pellegrino. So little. So cute. But what are you really good for other than to make me wish I had a full bottle of Pellegrino? 
Good as a palate cleanser after a nice double espresso, I will give it that. But little else. The suave yet chaotic burst of Pellegrino bubbliness is still there, but with each sip you feel the tragedy of being that much closer to the end of the bottle, that much faster.

This is a bottle of water made specifically for the frustrated, for the meticulous, for the measurers among us with a penchant for the dainty. This water does not love you in the wild, on a sunny porch or with the raucous laughter of friends. No...much the opposite. Whatever that may be.

Best drunk in tiny, tiny sips, while forcing oneself through an unreadable and depressing Russian novel one does not want to read but feels one should, on a cold, wet day in December that promises four months of gloom and depression...or in pairs or threes and poured over …