Monday, July 04, 2005

The surreal absurdity of Pabst Blue Ribbon as alt-retro-chic.

“Just as young consumers might wear '70s-look sneakers or sip '50s cocktails, many are bellying up to the bar for the beers Grandpa drank — maybe a Rheingold, a Leinenkugel's or a Utica Club.

“They're sometimes called ’retro beers,’ brands that might bring to mind old men in ribbed undershirts but are finding new life with the young. It worked for Pabst Blue Ribbon, and now others are trying.”

From Marketers use word of mouth to pop the top on retro beer, by an unidentified USA Today staff writer.

Readers will be shocked to discover that I’ve had my share of Pabst Blue Ribbon, beginning in the 1970’s and continuing sporadically into the Reagan years, then screeching to a complete and well deserved halt for more than a decade until a mercifully brief refresher course was experienced during an evening or two in 2003.

One thing kept coming back to me as I read USA Today’s throwaway fluff piece about the latest marketing trend that has nothing whatsoever with the essence of the product being vended.

That’s the way Pabst tasted back when Grandpa actually drank it, long before the Internet and cell phones. It was a distinctly flavored product, and one that has very little to do with the inoffensive beer as it is currently manufactured.

Back in the day, you may or may not have liked Pabst, but you couldn’t accuse it of being watered down. In those days, you could pour it in a glass, and if you cared to risk your flatware, insert a spoon and see it stand straight up.

Now Pabst in a glass probably would be mistaken for Evian.

Today’s PBR, known primarily as Dennis Hopper’s beer of choice in “Blue Velvet,” and currently the darling of yet another blithely unaware target consumer group that drinks beer because of what they see and not what they taste, reminds me of the dastardly 70-calorie Pabst Extra Light of the early 1980’s.

The Pabst signature flavor is still somehow in evidence, but it is so compromised that it bears almost no resemblance to the rough-edged, grainy golden olfactory monster I remember seldom being able to get through without choking.

Oh, well. Sometimes I wish I could follow trends instead of always creating my own. It’s a curse, but at least the beer that passes between my lips does so because of its flavor -- and not because of an accrued image of Americana accepted as gospel by those who never experienced the genuine article.

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