The History of Pabst Brewing


Pabst Brewing Company is a holding company which contracts the brewing of more than two dozen brands of beer and malt liquor. It includes its own flagship Pabst Blue Ribbon and as well as brands such as St. Ides High Gravity Malt Liquor, Ice Man Malt Liquor, and retail varieties of beers from McSorley’s Old Ale House and Southampton Public House. The company is currently headquartered in Los Angeles, California.


Pabst Brewing Company was first founded by Jacob Best as The Empire Brewery in 1844 and later became Best and Company. It was run by Jacob Sr. together with his sons Phillip, Charles, Jacob Jr., and Lorenz. In 1860, Phillip was the one who took control of the company.

The brewery started on Chestnut Street Hill in Milwaukee having 18 barrels. In 1863, a steamship captain and son in law of Phillip Best named Frederick Pabst, purchased 50 percent of Phillip Best Brewing and assumed the role of vice president.

In 1866, Best sold the remaining half of the business to the husband of his other daughter Lisette, named Emil Schandein. This move made Frederick Pabst the president of the company and Emil, the vice-president. However, Emil Schandein died in 1894, that’s why Lisette took over as vice-president of the company.

Phillip Best Brewing Co. was the nation’s largest brewer by 1874. Its best seller was a lager, Best Select, which was sold by the public in 1875.

Pabst in the 20th Century

In the 20th century, Harris Perlstein was the one who run Pabst. He was named president in 1932 by Frederick Pabst after a merger of Pabst Brewing and Premier Malt Products Co., the latter of which he had been president.  

Under Perlstein’s direction, research and innovation were emphasized. To produce the first beer cans, he worked with American Can Company. He also invested heavily in advertising and promotion. He became Chairman in 1954 up to 1972, and from that year up to his retirement in 1979, he served as the Chairman of the Executive Committee. In 1978 the sales of Pabst reached a peak of 15.6 million barrels or 2.48 billion liters before they entered into a sudden decline.

Pabst stopped making beer during Prohibition. It switched to cheese production during this time, and was able to sell more than 8 million pounds of Pabst-ett Cheese. The company then went back to beer production and selling when the Prohibition ended, and their cheese line was sold to Kraft.

Because of Pabst brewery tours, it was renowned in Milwaukee. Most of the time, visitors who go on tour were rewarded with bottomless glasses of beer. Some of the beers they serve in the pub were Pabst Blue Ribbon, Pabst Bock, and Andeker. The place was popular to locals most especially to students from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette University.

Kalmanovitz Era

In 1985, a self-made beer and real-estate tycoon named Paul Kalmanovitz bought the Pabst Brewing company for $63 million in an aggressive takeover through the support of his holding company S&P Co. which first brewery was Maier Brewing Company that was purchased in 1958. In 1987, Kalmanovitz died and that was when S&P became legally inseparable from the Kalmanovitz Charitable Trust.

The entire beer production of Pabst’s was contracted out to the Stroh Brewery Company in 1996. It utilized excess capacity it has absorbed earlier that year at the former flagship brewery of the G. Heileman Brewing Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin. With that, the Pabst brewery in Milwaukee was closed. It ended a 152-year association with the city and turning the company into a virtual brewer.

The Stroh label was purchased by Pabst in 1999 and the brewery in La Crosse was sold to City Brewing Company. The beer production of Pabst was then contracted to Miller Brewing Company in 2001. And what remained of the Pabst company was then operated out of San Antonio.

By 2005, the IRS ordered S&P to either sell the Pabst Brewing Company or lose its not-for-profit, tax-free status. However, Pabst Brewing was unable to find a buyer at market value that’s why they requested for an extension until 2010 which the IRS granted.

CEO Brian Kovalchuk resigned in 2006 and was replaced by the board with Kevin Kotecki. He moved the Pabst Brewing Company as well as its almost 100 headquarters personnel to Woodridge, Illinois which is a suburb of Chicago. The offices were located on the historic US Route 66.

From 2005 to 2010, its brand volume increased by 69 percent and Pabst’s gross margins increased 48 percent. Its operating profit rose 81 percent and its net revenue per barrel increased 28 percent.

Metrapoulos Era

Investor C. Dean Metropoulos purchased Pabst for about $250 million on May 26, 2010. On May 14 the following year, Pabst relocated to Los Angeles, California, but it retained its data center in San Antonio, Texas.

The shuttered brewery complex of Pabst in Milwaukee was targeted to be redeveloped into restaurants, stores, housing, offices, and entertainment venues. The project was estimated to cost around $317 million which became the subject of public debate in Milwaukee.

Kashper Era

Pabst Brewing Company declared on November 13, 2014, that its sale to Blue Ribbon Intermediate Holdings, LLC was completed. It is a partnership between American beer entrepreneur Eugene Kashper and TSG Consumer Partners, which is an equity firm based in San Francisco. The price agreed upon this purchase was $700 million.

The redevelopment of Pabst campus continued and the original brew house was converted into a hotel while other buildings into condominiums and offices. In July 2015, Pabst announced its plans to refurbish a former church and training center in Milwaukee which was on the site of the original Pabst Brewing complex, into a micro-brewery and tap room. Soon, this project was completed in the Spring of 2017.

In the present time, some of the product line of Pabst Brewing Company are Pabst Blue Ribbon, Jacob Best, Ballantine, Schlitz, Blatz, Old Milwaukee, Colt 45, St. Ides, Stroh’s, Old Style, Lone Star, Olympia, Rainer Beer, Schmidt Beer, and National Bohemian.

Pabst Brewing Company certainly went through a lot in the past years but it’s great to know that it still continues to brew famous beers up to the present time.

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