It wasn’t long ago that Pabst Blue Ribbon’s former brewery in Milwaukee lay dormant, blocks of hollow buildings speaking to the city’s once-proud history as the birthplace of modern brewing and epicenter of beer manufacturing. Today, after millions of dollars in renovations that carefully weave modern creature comforts, state-of-the-art technology, and sustainability into the towering late Victorian architecture without casting aside its unique sense of place, the area is once again beginning to bustle. Boasting new hotels, offices, shops, restaurants, apartments, universities, and, soon, a park, the area is also, at long last, welcoming back the brand that started it all: Pabst Blue Ribbon. Their new brewery, located inside the historic compound’s old chapel, is a proud homecoming. Yet to many Milwaukeeans, it’s as though they’d never left.
“Pabst returning to Milwaukee is actually just a physical presence,” explained Milwaukee native and Executive Director of the Milwaukee County Historical Society, Mame McCully. “It never really left in the sense that it’s always been Milwaukee’s beer. Just because it wasn’t made right here on Pabst’s grounds anymore, it didn’t stop existing for us. This is forever going to be Brew City, MKE, and it’s forever going to be the place where the major beer industry was born. It’s a return to their heritage.”
Indeed, the depth of Pabst’s mark on the city’s culture is something that can’t be measured – they’re simply too ingrained in each other. One can’t turn around in Milwaukee without encountering the brand’s influence, whether in the form of vintage signage or the architecture itself. In a place that unabashedly loves beer so much they proudly adopted the moniker Brew City, Pabst is at their core.
“Every brewery that opens in Milwaukee, everyone gets so excited. But Pabst coming back, to their original location, it’s really neat,” Mame went on, noting that, Pabst aside, just last year sixteen or more new microbreweries opened their doors, with six more coming in the first half of 2017.
“It’s constant,” she laughed. But even with an overwhelming onslaught of choices, there’s something Pabst offers that others can’t. Comfort and familiarity.
“There’s a nostalgia and a heritage you connect with a PBR that isn’t ever going to go away,” Mame stated, suddenly serious. “As exciting as it is that there’s a new microbrewery down the road, Pabst are a symbolic Milwaukee brand that you can find everyhwhere. A lot of the smaller breweries opening here you can’t go get in New York and California and overseas, but you can with Pabst. And there’s still excitement for it. People like it when things come full circle, and we’re excited to have PBR home again.”
In fact, the city is so excited about Pabst’s history that they’re dedicating a park to it.
“Preservation Park is going to be a half block down from the new Pabst Brewery,” Mame explained proudly. “Instead of just a park for people to sit in, Pabst’s history will be etched into panels and depicted in shadow boxes, all set in the ground, even including artifacts and photos. The park is being built to honor the people who’ve worked for Pabst in the past and made all of this happen.”
Visitors interested in learning more about Pabst’s history, and the history of beer in Milwaukee, should visit the Milwaukee County Historical Society at 910 N. Old World Third Street, where they house a massive collection of artifacts, photographs, and materials. You can also see selections of it online, at www.milwaukeehistory.net.