Are hipsters hiking Pabst Blue Ribbon prices?

Budget brews have gotten costlier recently, but the trend toward cheaper brands is more widespread than this group could account for.

By Jason Notte May 20, 2013 2:35PM
Man holding a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon (© Jeremy Hogan/Alamy)A beer once notorious for being cheap isn't cheap anymore? Blame the hipsters!

Yes, those tattooed, pierced, plaid-shirted, fixed-gear-bike-riding, black-rimmed-glasses-wearing, chicken-raising, (add your own stereotype for this ill-defined brood of people)-ing folks are raising the price of bad beer, making life all the tougher for people on the low end of the bar. At least that's what the tag team of research firm Restaurant Sciences and the New York Daily News would have you believe.

According to Restaurant Sciences, the price of "sub-premium" beers like PBR has ballooned by 6.8% since October. With the beer lobbying group the Beer Institute saying overall beer sales have dropped by 2.8% since January, the hipsters and their "love" for PBR must be to blame, right?

Well, kind of. Since 2009, sales of Bud Light, Budweiser, Miller Lite, and Miller Genuine Draft have all declined steadily. Pabst Blue Ribbon, meanwhile, saw its sales volume jump by 25.4% in 2009 alone before climbing by 17.6% in 2010 and 13.8% in 2011, according to Beer Marketer's Insights.

In fact, while the SABMiller and MolsonCoors (TAP) joint venture MillerCoors saw sales drop by 1.8% in 2012 and Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) reported only a 0.6% uptick, its first gain since 2008, Pabst sales soared by 4.4%.

That exceeded the 3.5% growth of Constellation Brands' (STZ)  Crown Imports, which imports Corona, and the 1.5% overall growth of the beer market during the same span. We're sorry, but there just aren't enough hipsters out there to warrant the 5.95 million barrels Pabst produced last year.

As the Beer Institute has noted before, the recession put the squeeze on the average middle- to working-class beer buyer. The folks who used to stock up on multiple 30-packs for Memorial Day weekend have cut back quite a bit, taking Bud and Miller sales with them. Pabst may have seen its price increase, but it's still a cheaper alternative along the lines of Natural Light, Keystone Light and Bud Ice, all of which have also seen sales rise over the past three years.

That downmarket shift, combined with the growth of Coors Light that pushed it ahead of Budweiser for the No. 2 spot in U.S. beer sales in 2011, accounts for much of the demand that has been increasing prices and dragging down flagship beer sales.

Also, aren't we more than a decade late on blaming hipsters for the popularity of PBR?

Anecdotally, the last time you could regularly find a PBR for $2 or less in Manhattan was around 1999. By 2000, PBR-slinging NYC bar Coyote Ugly Saloon had its own movie. A year later, it opened a location in Las Vegas. By that point, any tangential relationship between PBR and hipsters in Brooklyn's Williamsburg section or anywhere else had been severed.

Not that it mattered. PBR may now be the $4 gag beer on the menu of some places with wall curtains and marble bars that consider themselves "upscale" -- a word that has about as much meaning as "hipster" these days. But even when PBR was cheap, it wasn't exactly some anti-establishment choice. Though Pabst Brewing Co. was purchased by the Metropolous family for $250 million in 2010, PBR is still brewed under contract with MillerCoors.

Even cheaper legacy brands like Schlitz, Rainier, Old Style, Olympia, Stroh's, Ballantine and National Bohemian are all owned by Pabst and contract-brewed. Budget beer drinkers can blame hipsters all they want for rising prices, but it's not their fault that frugal barflies followed them to the cheap stuff.

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May 20, 2013 4:34PM
PBR,,,woo hoo, that's what I grew up on. God Bless America & PBR
May 20, 2013 5:30PM
Buy PBR it's American, don't buy Budweiser, it's foreign owned.  Shame on the Busch family for letting this happen.  Never liked Budweiser anyway.
May 20, 2013 4:29PM

So much for "Rednecks White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer".

Note to "hipsters". You may have to look that one up.

May 20, 2013 4:28PM
Dang hipsters!  I grew up on Pabst in Milwaukee.  And I'm in my 30s!  And not a hipster!  Oh well, if they start buying Schlitz and make it more popular so they start selling it outside Wisconsin that would make up for it.  Gotta love original 60's recipe Schlitz.
May 20, 2013 5:47PM


Geez, I can remember when a six-pack of any of the local beers was .99 to 1.19, and the 'good' stuff, the national brands, were maybe twenty five cents more. If only I had a time machine I'd head back to 1967 when beer, food, gasoline, movies and everything else was really affordable for the average person. These days, you need to see an FHA loan officer just to buy groceries for the week.

Peace to all ~

May 20, 2013 4:42PM
I serve my visitors a choice of Pabst, Schiltz, Blatz, and Hamm's.
May 20, 2013 4:30PM

Hey, "hipsters"...I was guzzling PBR in '79 when I was stationed in Germany. And if you think Hawaiian Punch and Shirmnoff is "cool", we were swillin' that stuff, too, all the beat of Puerto Rican salsa.


We made it mainstream before you asses were even born.

May 20, 2013 5:26PM
If all food and beverage manufacturers think they can squeeze another dollar out of consumers, you can be certain that they will. Pure Greed at its finest. God Bless America.
May 20, 2013 5:39PM
I prefer Dos Equis with my Acapulco Gold!  Stay high my friends and don't forget to share your joint with the ladies!
May 20, 2013 5:57PM
Schlitz, Schmidts, Piels, Ballentine, Strohs, Colt 45, Old Milwaukee, Miller High Life. The old beers ROCK.
May 20, 2013 6:25PM
drank that in Vietnam and paid 25 cents.
May 20, 2013 6:01PM
May 20, 2013 6:05PM
May 20, 2013 5:47PM

PBR tastes better than half the beers on the market, and it is a gold medal winner!! I hate micro brews, they are the ones jacking up prices for the beer market.

May 20, 2013 6:14PM
Keep raising the price and it won't be long it won't be selling again just like before.
May 20, 2013 6:46PM
After-all, it won the blue ribbon..... they just don't give that away.
May 20, 2013 6:23PM
My first beer was a Lucky, followed by PBR.  Use to drink that all the time.  Seemed pretty good back in 68. 
May 20, 2013 6:07PM
May 20, 2013 6:53PM

Regardless of the stereotypes surrounding Pabst, it tastes good to a lot of people. The price is whatever the market will bear.

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