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In Bars & Clubs

Pabst Brewing Company's roots are evident in its logo, but that's just the beginning of its rich history.

Pabst and present: Tapping into the history of Pabst Brewing Company


"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun articles on bars and clubs -- including guides, the latest trends, rapid bar reviews and more. Grab a designated driver and dive in!

Here's some quick trivia: What does the "B" in the Pabst Brewing Company's logo stand for?

Don't worry if you're stumped. Nine out of 10 people don't have a clue, according to Jim Haertel, president and historic tour guide at Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery.

"Most people guess it's for 'beer,' some for 'brewery,' some for 'Bavaria,' and then the fourth most popular choice, for some reason, is 'barley,'" said Haertel. Actually, the illustrious "B" stands for Best and Company, which pays tribute to the brewery's founder, Jacob Best, Sr.

In its 167-year history, the brewery that would become Pabst Brewing Company has contributed more than just the iconic blue ribbon and Tall Boys to society, having had its hand in everything from the creation of Miller to aspects of Milwaukee still seen today.

Best and Company was founded by Best and his four sons in 1844, having moved to Milwaukee from Germany after giving up on an unsuccessful wine venture in the 1830s. The Best family did well considering there were a fair amount of breweries in the city at the time. Charles and Lorenz, two of Jacob's sons, left soon after to start the Plank Road Brewery, which quickly changed hands.

"Lorenz passed away from the cholera epidemic, and Charles, who was distraught over losing his brother, went out of business," said Haertel. "And who ends up buying the Plank Road Brewery but Frederick Miller. So the Pabst Brewery and the Miller Brewery, two of the biggest breweries in the country at one time, were both started by the Best family."

In the meantime, Best and Company rose quickly, becoming the No. 5 brewer in the city, and eventually No. 2 after it changed hands (and names) under Jacob's son Phillip. But it wasn't until Captain Frederick Pabst got involved that Phillip Best Brewing Company really took off.

"He resisted joining the brewery for a couple of years," Haertel said of Pabst, a sea captain who married Phillip Best's daughter. "When he had a particularly bad steamboat ride, he got insurance proceeds and some equity and he ended up buying a 50 percent interest of the Phillip Best Brewing Company."

Phillip Best Brewing, like all the other breweries at the time, was still struggling to find a way to increase their market while still keeping their beer cold and fresh. A solution arrived in the wake of 1871's Great Chicago Fire.

"National shipping was born more out of figuring out how to help Chicago get some beer," said Haertel. "Schlitz and other breweries were sending down railroad cars of water. Pabst was one of the first that said, 'The breweries are decimated; they need beer down there, too.' Somebody suggested putting ice blocks on the railroad cars like they did in the brewery to keep the beer cool in summer. So the light bulb goes off to have a series of icehouses along the railroad tracks."

With Pabst at the helm of a now-national brewing company, the brewery officially changed its name to Pabst Brewing Company in 1889. Four years later in 1893, Chicago did Pabst another favor and delivered the brewery its iconic trademark following a beer competition at the World's Columbian Exposition.

"A woman put little blue ribbons around the necks of the bottles to bring them in to celebrate with the executives when they won, so Pabst had little blue ribbons put around the neck of every bottle they shipped out," said Haertel. "It was called Pabst Select then, but people were asking for the beer with the blue ribbon on it, or the Select blue ribbon beer, or Pabst's blue ribbon beer. Pretty soon it was just called Pabst Blue Ribbon, and they changed the name officially from Pabst Select to Pabst Blue Ribbon." Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)

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Talkbacks

local_yokel | Feb. 27, 2011 at 8:27 a.m. (report)

A most welcome article, Renee. Informative and nicely done. But I do have one quibble: that sentence about contributions made by Pabst due to their old-fashioned shipping roots. I think you would have been better off getting more specific right away. As in: "And thanks to Pabst, Milwaukee police still use Percheron horses to this day." You probably would not need the line about the horses being good in crowds. I think I know what you were trying to do, summarizing in transition. And I admire your ability to slog through, but the sentence as written really stands out from the rest of the piece, and not in a good way. Just some free advice. Enjoy your day!

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