If it’s not already, add Pabst to the list of brewery tours you are planning to do in Milwaukee this spring. It starts in the Best Place gift shop, which shows off more drinking culture kitsch than you can shake a can full of beer tabs at.
The tour’s home base is the Best Place Rathskeller, the oldest in Wisconsin, held up with heavy wood beams cut from ancient forests. The place even has a fresco celebrating brewing heritage wrapped around the upper quarter of the wall.
For the past 10 years, the Pabst Brewery complex has been part of a major urban revitalization push in East Town that finally got its anchor to east solidified with announcement of the Milwaukee Bucks arena. It’s amazing that these old buildings were left shuttered for over a decade after Pabst closed its doors in 1996, and were still salvageable; so much so that it basically spawned a new neighborhood.
In the post-hipster era the world will look back and say ‘wow how many uncool things could become cool in 15 years’. Of all the accomplishments this era can boast, none may go down as emblematic as the meaning that 21st century youth brought fiery red neon sign that burns P-A-B-S-T that defines the western view from Juneau Avenue and Cass Street; forever stamping Milwaukee hipster Mecca.
Pabst, while maintaining it’s shitiness, comes out as the only year-round swill, imbibed with a deeper meaning. It defined an entire scene for over a decade, cooler than thou, indifferently; it mashed up Eastside tattoo parlors’ brand identities, f-it get it tattooed on a sweaty neck. In Milwaukee in particular, it allowed you to know who you’re dealing with.
There was a time when you heard, “Tall Boy”, it and it meant unambiguously, me and my friends hate everything including people who order brew by its given name (no offense New Glarus you have a lovely brewery, and a rocking woman brew meister).
A Salubrious Tale
The story of Pabst, makes Pabst’s “cool” make common sense. Jacob Best founded Best Brewery before nearly the same year Milwaukee was incorporated. When he died his son Phillip took over. Phillip Best was the original ‘people’s champ’ of Milwaukee a good german social democrat, believe in making money, sharing with his employees, and giving back to the community, but he didn’t have a male heir, but he did have a attractive and capable daughter.
Best was a business man and road steam ships. One day he boarded a ship with his daughter along. This steam ship happened to be navigated by a young man named Captain Pabst. When he laid eyes on Best’s daughter, Captian Pabst set his mind to marrying her.
A hard worker and a loyal man Joseph Pabst, eventually earned Best’s trust and his daughter’s hand, they had a son Frederick and the rest is history. Frederick Pabst was so beloved by Milwaukee that it was said his funeral was larger than President Lincoln’s.
Back to the Tap
The Pabst Brewery tour guide will hit you with a bunch of folksy jokes and more brew innuendo that you can resist, especially since Pabst unearthed some of its old experimental brews. Old Tankard Ale proves that the original big guy of brewing still has taste.
You’ll also get a ton of tidbits and factoids about the brewery’s history and pop culture significance, like a nice list of other good shitty beers like Hamm’s that were adopted by Pabst and one point in its history or another; or that Pabst, believe it or not, is the unassuming biological father of Miller Brewing.
You’ll see the ultimate basement drinking hole, modest, a little creepy, but functional. The kind of place where you could get tipsy undetected by the vice squad in the 1920’s or settle a debt with fisticuffs with out the worry of muffled screams or loud mouths extolling instigating superlatives alerting the neighbors.
You’ll hear about how the Feds got pissed when during the lean prohibition years Pabst went into bread yeast business. The box didn’t have some old settlers bread recipe though. Instead it carried a warning that if you boiled hot water together and malt syrup and added the Pabst yeast it would make an intoxicating elixir; what a pivot!
The refurbished beer hall has a spectacular wood inlay of the Best Place emblem set in the floor. The hall has a restaged office that takes you to gaze a upon the desk that Fredrick Pabst actually sat his hard working ass. The hall is a lovely rentable space event space.
To top it all off you’ll get to pose with a life size statue of King Gabrinus, the patron saint of beer. Why? Because he helped his entire kingdom stay loose, even the old abbey monks, by making sure there was enough beer around.
The King consolidated his thrown by beating a whole town of men in a test of strength, one that challenged the men to carry a giant barrel of beer the furthest. With a feat of good spirited humor, he beat all the strongest men town. A statue of King Gabrinus has been a part of Pabst’s tribute to beer since the 1850’s.
Why would anyone not snap at a chance to rivive the Brewery? Especially one with such an enduring marketing ploy: the blue ribbon. Pabst Brewery tours take place Monday, Wednesday and Thurs at 1:00 and 3:00p and Friday, Saturday and Sunday hourly between 11:00a and 1:00p.