What’ll You Have? A Brewed Awakening in 2014

When a local pub ran an ad touting PBR for the special price of $1, I was puzzled. What was PBR? Peanut butter and raisins? Unlikely.

I turned to my 30-something daughter for help. She immediately knew what it meant: Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Was Pabst Blue Ribbon still around? Really?

Growing up in the ’50s, I remember Pabst Blue Ribbon thanks to its incessant TV commercials and their memorable jingle: “What’ll you have? Pabst Blue Ribbon…Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.” I associated it with a bunch of other blue-collar beers brewed in Milwaukee, and I even have a dim memory of touring a Milwaukee brewery with my family–either Pabst or Blatz—when I was a kid.

It seems that PBR’s sales slumped badly between their peak of 18 million barrels in 1977 and less than one million about 20 years later. But after this two-decade slump, sales began to revive in the early 2000s, largely because of its increasing popularity among “urban hipsters.” Who knew?

My re-encounter with Pabst Blue Ribbon inspired a host of other beer-related memories to emerge from my subconscious.

First, I remember watching my father occasionally drink beer. I once asked to taste it, and when he obliged, I was shocked to find that it tasted awful. Tasting Daddy’s beer is stashed among many treasured memories of my father, who died when I was 12. Among them: His singing “Peg o’ My Heart” or “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” to help me fall asleep. His leaning back on his favorite olive-green upholstered chair, leaving a Brylcreem mark that must have infuriated my scrupulous-housekeeper mother. His impromptu soft-shoe dance across our living room floor when he was in a particularly ebullient mood. His fondness for smoking a pipe–although he usually smoked cigars (probably why I’m a rarity among women; I don’t mind the smell of a cigar).

I didn’t learn to drink beer till my law school years, when I happily joined my male classmates in convivial gatherings over steins of beer. Suddenly I found it palatable. It must have been the testosterone-laden atmosphere that induced me to change my opinion. I’m pretty sure my taste buds hadn’t changed.

One male classmate took me out for a beer in the basement of The Wursthaus, a Harvard Square institution…until it wasn’t. (It closed in 1996.) Before the beer arrived, he told me it would taste like raspberries, and indeed it did. I’ve since learned that it was a German beer called a “Berliner Weisse,” a lightly carbonated white beer infused with raspberry juice. Although I could have drunk much more raspberry-flavored beer, which was vaguely reminiscent of soda pop, for some reason I never did.

After leaving school, I usually preferred a different beverage, but I occasionally quaffed a beer or two on dates. And when I met and married my husband, we often had a beer together, especially with pizza or Mexican food. But even before the PBR slump began around 1977, we chose brands like Michelob, Heineken, and Dos Equis, never Pabst Blue Ribbon.

When my daughters were born, I took up the challenge of feeding them the old-fashioned way, via my breasts. Folklore had it that imbibing beer was a good way to speed things along. Although I may have sipped on a beer or two, I found I didn’t need any help and abandoned the idea pretty fast. Luckily, as it turns out. Medical experts now advise against even a small amount of alcohol for breast-feeding moms.

Thanks to my travels, I’ve sampled unusual beers found in distant corners of the world. In Cardiff, Wales, for example, I tried a local beer called Brains. It tasted just fine, but above all, I loved its slogan: “it’s Brains you want!”

More recently, I’ve encountered a whole new world of beer. When I traveled to Alaska with a beer-loving friend, he introduced me to a hefeweizen in Anchorage, and we shared an Alaskan Amber and an Alaskan White in a small pizza joint in Nome (yes, Nome). On another trip, this time to Denver, we sought out Wynkoop Brewing Company, a brewpub founded in 1988 by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and friends, where we sampled deliciously spicy pumpkin beer.

Now my son-in-law has taken up beer-brewing. A techie with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford, he brews beer at home, then bottles it with his own labels. It works for him because it combines his interest in science with a complicated recipe that requires a dedicated focus to the task at hand. He finds it a welcome departure from his demanding computer-science work. And, like a chef who prepares fine food using a cookbook like Julia Child’s, he enjoys sharing the result with his family and friends.

I don’t follow the trends in beer-brewing very closely. But almost every day I read about new varieties of beer, from winter IPAs to nitros. All these new varieties had surely shoved aside the old blue-collar beers like PBR. Or so I thought.

But here comes PBR, rearing its foamy head among the new guys.

“What’ll you have?” Whatever you choose, bottoms up!

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One response to “What’ll You Have? A Brewed Awakening in 2014

  1. Thanks for sharing this! Captures a great slice of personal history along with a healthy dose of hops and foam.

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