Past Blue Ribbon Beer (PBR) has seen increased popularity over the last ten years. With Generation X and Millennial populations consuming this beer in unprecedented numbers, this beer has become a staple again in bars and icy coolers wherever beer is sold. The iconic blue ribbon, so recognizable to us, is probably reminiscent of our childhood. Our parents gripped these cans at weekend barbecues, the green grass tickling our bare feet, while they threw horse shoes or bocce balls across the lawn. These two generations, Generation X and Millennial, tend to reminisce and see the past through rose colored glasses. So the cans of beer our parents drank in our formative years, evoke a feeling of authenticity, and we search for the dark corner bar. We populate the old neighborhood bar, complete with years of smoke stained walls, drinking PBR.
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, The Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery, capitalizes on this current upward trend of PBR obsession, but in a good way, in the way only beer lovers can. The Best Place housed in one of the old buildings at original Pabst Brewery, and is a unique glimpse into the past of this once great empire.
The day we arrived in Milwaukee, it had been unseasonably warm for December, and raining for days on end. We drove from Madison to Milwaukee for the day, having exhausted all options of entertainment in that isthmus city—short of power drinking the day away—and when we drove into Brew City it looked evacuated, with nary a person on the streets. A mist rolled through the urban streets, and it seemed as if we were on the set of some zombie apocalypse movie, Milwaukee left behind in the fog of the past. To be fair, it was Sunday, and any city can be sleepy on that day, recovering from the revelries of the night before.
Eventually, we pulled out our phones, and directed the Rover toward The Best Place, hoping they were open for tours. We drove through the city, a pleasant downtown with tidy streets, and headed back toward the seven city blocks of brewery we had already passed, unaware of what it had once been. The Rover slightly tilted its nose upward, as we climbed West Juneau Avenue, and realized we were at our destination, spying the Pabst sign, looming over the street.
You might not realize it, but Pabst Brewing Company was one of the leading breweries in the country, and was #1 for a considerable amount of time. The brewery now lays fallow, consuming seven city blocks with 28 castle like buildings. But in the last few decades, it was because of entrepreneurial spirit, development within the original brewery structures, and a historical designation of the buildings—thankfully—that is reenergizing this former brewery.
The Best Place at the Historical Pabst Brewery continues the tradition of the original Pabst Brewery. In 1907, when over 2 million barrels of beer were being produced each year, the brewery opened its doors to tours. This was a popular diversion for American’s, and they would wind their way through the seven blocks of differing buildings, ending in their pub. Today, when you arrive, you will be greeted with a gift shop and friendly staff, housed in the original pub area of the Pabst Brewery.
After we purchased our ticket for the tour, we were given a voucher for a beer, which is highly encouraged to be imbibed throughout the tour. Ushered into the Pabst Blue Ribbon room, we were surprised by the architecture, the old world feel, and the warmth of woodwork, which vaults overhead.
The frescos that adorn the walls were painted by Edgar Miller. The full brew process and expansion of the brewery is depicted in this elegant artwork scrolling across the plaster walls. These frescos can be found throughout this room and the Steinwert Pub, another room of drinking diversion, adjoining this beautiful hall. This was once a popular drinking locale for tourists and students from Marquette University and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Today, this pub is open again, as the embarkation point for the tour, and a drinking spot for any lover of PBR.
Now, this brewery has not produced beer since 1985, with PBR being produced at other breweries throughout the country. The tour though, starts in the Blue Ribbon Room. This working bar pours pints of PBR, Ballantine, and other beers of the PBR brand, and a few local microbrews. After we chose our beers—of course PBR—we all sat down for an informative powerpoint presentation. Our tour guide, an enthusiastic lover of PBR, was energetic, and held our attention with quips, anecdotes, and interesting history. Now, I am not going to delve into the history of the brewery—that is their job, you SHOULD visit—but I was amazed at the story of the PBR brewery, its former glory, and the original founding of such. If you love beer and history, then this is for you.
After our ebullient tour guide completed the powerpoint tour, which related the history of the brewery, we refilled our cold pints, and he took us for a tour of the building. Next on the tour was the original corporate offices. This large open room has now been turned into an event space which hosts weddings and many other large events. If you wish to have a reception at the PBR brewery, you better book now, their space is at a premium.
Still enclosed in its own windowed space, we were given a glimpse into Pabst’s office. The rounded room, situated in a turret of the building, this office was recreated as best as possible, with some decoration added from the period. You can imagine Frederick Pabst running the company from here, sitting at his desk, looking out across the many brewery’s buildings, all with a smile on his face.
Next, our tour guide led us into the speakeasy down below. This space, will soon be open to the public as a bar, a haven for those who appreciate subterranean abodes.
Last on the tour, you will end in the Steinwert Pub. Again, you will be regaled by your tour guide, and you will learn the history of the frescos on the walls and a little bit of folklore. The room itself is cozy and warm. You will want to sit here all day, drink beer after beer, and wrap yourself in the past of it all.
When the tour is over, stay for a pint in the pub. Relax, kick back, and enjoy good company and cold beer. And, if you so desire, go outside and say hi to Frederick Pabst. He will appreciate the company, and be happy to know his family’s legacy is still going strong today.