BOSTON - Pabst Blue Ribbon. It’s the bane of any beer drinker’s existence. There was a time when PBR was once reliable, if regrettable, the choice for a cheap six-pack when you wanted a change of pace from Schaeffer or Olympia on those nights when you couldn’t quite remember just why you were drudging through sub-arctic temperatures at 11:22 pm. Now, it’s a faux-ironic status symbol, enabled by self-satisfied man-children with dumb facial hair who see absolutely nothing wrong with shelling out $8 for a tall boy at speakeasy-themed hotspots because… well, aluminum cans are authentically accurate.
It’s enough to make you rue the day when Blue Velvet entered the cultural lexicon. Then again, you always knew David Lynch was a cheap messianic huckster, didn’t you?
But PBR’s easily assailable “wink wink” prestige has been threatened over the past two years, as much a victim of a $400 million dispute with its former partner MillerCoors which resulted in laying off 18 percent of its employees as it is shifting trends in alcohol consumption. More specifically, the $1 billion-plus hard seltzer market.
The revenue for Pabst may have exceeded $385 million in 2019, but its retail sales saw a decline of 6.1 percent. But why should the sales volume of a Milwaukee-based icon affect you?
Because of the marriage of two quintessentially Massachusetts favorites. Cheap coffee and even cheaper beer.
Pabst first introduced its Hard Coffee line into select test markets in July, directly on the heels of its Stronger Seltzer brand. Described as “a fun and deliciously unique drink made using Arabica and Robusta coffee beans and rich, creamy American milk” (as opposed to, say, Candian milk; apparently, the distinction is a critical one), the brand made national headways, including here in the greater New England market—despite the fact that previous attempts at fusing coffee and beer were met with a less than enthusiastic response. None other than Food & Wine magazine were quick to sing the praises of Pabst’s Hard Coffee, stating that the beverage’s “distinctive chocolatey, creamy notes” were reminiscent of Bailey’s. Presumably, that translates to “a great pairing if you feel like slumming along with your organically farmed beet and quinoa salad with EVOO, Becky.”
The brand hit select liquor stores in Massachusetts last Wednesday as a result of its successful preliminary test run and is anticipated to be available in most outlets at the end of the month with a retail price of $9.99 - $10.99 for each four-pack. And while it may have been referred to as “the new White Claw”, that’s not necessarily a selling point. Mixing coffee and alcohol isn’t anything new. Hell, you can even say Massachusetts pioneered it, as anyone who’s ever deftly lifted a pint of Allen’s Coffee Brandy from their guidance counselor’s desk in high school will attest to. You can claim all you want that the “Internet is freaking out” over hard coffee, but “the Internet” isn’t necessarily reflective of hard sales. Or long term interest. Or even good taste; simply homogenous Instagrammable pictures drenched in bitter and self-congratulatory irony.
Next on tap for the 184-year-old American icon? Their own line of specialty whiskey aged for literally five seconds. Watch out, Old Thompson. Looks like you’ve got some competition.
Image via Flickr/C. Kelly Roberts