Anybody reading my column with any regularity knows my love for Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) beer. Pabst is one of those beers engrained in my youth that recalls hazy memories with each bottle consumed. Back in the 80’s when my vocation was a guitarist in a heavy metal band, PBR was our “band beer.” When you are a broke musician, 55 cents per-16 oz. bottle is too good of a deal to pass up – especially for a great beer. Alas, now you know my beer choices were not always GABF gold medal winners.
I sampled many budget beers before my PBR days. Like most of you out there, in a lot of cases these were beers of regional folklore. I had heard wild stories and beer-drenched tales of people doing wild and brazen things. There would be certain elixirs that would make the story so much more credible.
I can not tell you how many times I heard a story that would start with “I polished off a six pack off Haffenreffer… ”. That line would capture your attention. Anything that followed that qualifier would be a tale of great courage. You must understand: in Boston, where I grew up, Haffenreffer was a feared beer. This beer was a right of passage. If you could drink a six pack of this Malt Liquor and continue to function in any way, you became as much a legend as the beer.
The Haffenreffer brewery in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston has not made malt liquor in many years. The current resident of the building, Sam Adams, has not tied itself to the brand in anyway. So what happens to the crown jewels of defunct breweries? The lucky ones get bought out by Pabst.
Pabst Brewing has retained the names and recipes of some of the most notable old school beers in the country. Their portfolio of brews includes what I call “bonfire beers.” These are the brews that were cracked at deep woods parties across the country. If you meet someone from Seattle, ask them about the first time they had a Rainier Beer or an Olympia. Hand a Stag beer to a Midwesterner they will most definitely start to wax nostalgic about frat parties that were fueled with Stag or Old Style.
Pabst’s portfolio also includes what I call “Grampa’s beers.” These are the brews that I have rarely seen anyone under the age of 60 pull out of a beer cooler. They include Schlitz, Ballintine and who could forget Schaefer “the one beer to have when you’re having more than one.” For my friends in Canada that are looking for a nostalgic mouthful of suds, Pabst also has you covered with the re-issuing of Carling Black Label.
The nice thing about Pabst buying these old school brands and reproducing them is now they have the power of Pabst’s distribution channels. My local package store now carries Texas’ Lone Star, a staple in the Lone Star state but a new discovery for me. My walks thru the Pabst Brewing Company’s memory lane of brews send me back into the land of Malt Liquor.
As I said, I was happy to find Heffenraffer Private Stock in Pabst portfolio but was also surprised to find out they now made some of my favorite malt liquors from days gone by. Colt 45, 2002 Gold Medal winner Schlitz Malt Liquor and ghetto favorite St. Ides round out the high gravity section of beers along with one that is totally foreign to me.
Have you ever heard of Country Club Malt Liquor? I have never seen this beer in my life. Living next to a country club I have never witnessed a guy looking like he drank malt liquor. I am keeping my eyes open for this one as it has quickly moved into the must try category. It would be great if it came in a 64 oz. plastic bottle like Heffenraffer did in the days of old.
Speaking of the days of old, the music on Pabst website is even a throw back. They have the corniest version of Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” I have ever heard. Violins and muted trumpets aside their website is worth a visit. There is information on all 25 old school beers in their portfolio. They also have a lot of information on this history of the brands. But the coolest thing on their website is the online store. I have never seen so much awesome throwback beer swag in one place in my life. Need PBR golf balls? They have them. Have a hankering for a Schlitz Malt Liquor skull cap? They have you covered.
The most important thing to buy of course is the beer. Pick up a six and take a little blast to the past.
– Bruce G. Owens, Jr.