Pabst Blue Ribbon, often affectionately shortened to PBR, is a popular American lager. After a decline, PBR experienced a major commercial resurgence in the early 21st century. Although Pabst Blue Ribbon is a very popular beer all over the United States, many drinkers might wonder when PBR first came out and why. Here’s our abridged version:

Pabst Blue Ribbon first came out in 1875 as Best Select Lager. It was renamed Pabst Blue Ribbon following its win as “America’s Best” at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Pabst Blue Ribbon was named to reflect this victory and the beer’s packaging still features a blue ribbon to this day. 

That’s the brief answer to when Pabst Blue Ribbon came out and why, but there is plenty more to consider. In this article, we’ll take a close look at how and why Pabst Blue Ribbon came out and why it is so popular. 

can of pabst blue ribbon outside on a boulder

Why Did Pabst Blue Ribbon Come Out?

The story of Pabst Blue Ribbon begins with the Best Brewing Company. The Best Brewing Company began life in 1844, then named the Empire Brewery. The brewery was founded in Milwaukee and enjoyed modest success. Brewer Jacob Best founded the company, and was later joined by his son Philip. Philip Best succeeded his father as company president in 1860.

Not long after, in 1848, the German Pabst family, including their twelve-year-old son Frederick, arrived in the United States. Frederick grew up in America, finding work on steamships, eventually working his way up to the rank of captain. 

In 1862, Captain Frederick Pabst married Philip Best’s daughter Maria. He did not, at first, join his father-in-law’s business. However, an accident in 1863, which saw Pabst run his ship aground while trying to bring it into Milwaukee harbor, caused him to consider a different career. 

Frederick became a brewer at the Best Brewing Company shortly afterward. Philip Best eventually retired to Germany, and Frederick Pabst worked alongside Emil Schandein, his brother-in-law and the husband to Phillip Best’s other daughter Lisette, to grow Pabst into a major brewery. They built the brewery into one of the country’s largest brewers, aided by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which destroyed many Chicago breweries and allowed Milwaukee to become the country’s leading brewing city.

Although the Pabst name and the blue ribbon adorn PBR to this day, the first iteration of the beer had neither. Pabst Blue Ribbon started out as Best Brewing Company’s Best Select, a premium lager. This beer was launched in 1875, and Frederick Pabst pushed the beer at local beer expositions. Best Select started collecting awards in 1882, and it was around this time that Frederick Pabst took to tying blue ribbons around the necks of his bottles of Best Select. 

Frederick Pabst became the company’s president in 1889 upon the death of Emil Schandein, and Pabst changed the name of the company to his own the year after. The Pabst Brewing Company was born, changing the name of Best Select to Pabst Select. It was Pabst Select that was rechristened Pabst Blue Ribbon for its victory at various expositions.

Why is Pabst Called Blue Ribbon?

Like many of the other German-American breweries that were proving popular in the 19th century, the Best Brewing Company had been producing pale lagers with much success. The brewing company’s flagship lager was renamed Pabst Blue Ribbon upon being awarded “America’s Best” at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

This was not the only award that the brewery won, however. So well-awarded was Pabst’s flagship beer that Frederick Pabst took to tying blue ribbons on every bottle of his beer before it even bore his name.. The addition of a ribbon was likely done at an enormous cost to Pabst, as embossing was far more commonplace (and far more cost-effective) than labeling on beer bottles at the time. The distinctive appearance of a blue-ribbon beer made the Pabst offering stand out, and patrons quickly took to asking for their “blue ribbon beer”.

Surviving Prohibition

The early boom years of the Pabst Brewing Company were not to last, however. The first major hurdle the company faced was the introduction of Prohibition in 1920. When the sale and production of alcohol became illegal, many breweries were forced to close their doors forever. The Pabst Brewing Company, rather than shut down, switched to cheese production. Over the thirteen years of the Prohibition era, the Pabst company sold more than eight million pounds of their Pabst-ett Cheese. Once Prohibition was repealed, Pabst sold their cheese line to Kraft, and they returned to beer production.

Where was Pabst Blue Ribbon First Made?

Pabst Blue Ribbon was first brewed in Milwaukee, and the city’s name has long adorned the beer’s packaging. The success of the Pabst Brewing Company helped make Milwaukee one of the premier brewing cities in the United States. 

Pabst’s brewery in Milwaukee was a popular destination for tourists as well as locals. Visitors to the brewery tour were frequently awarded with beer glasses that they could drink from as much as they wanted at the end-of-tour pub. Students from the nearby Marquette and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee frequented the brewery for its generous portioning of beer. 

Pabst closed its Milwaukee brewery in 1996, with the departure of the brewery angering many locals. Pabst’s entire beer production moved to the Stroh Brewing Company and was brewed in the company’s brewery in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Beginning in 2001, Pabst’s brewing production was contracted out to the Miller Brewing Company, which became MillerCoors. 

Pabst returned to Milwaukee in 2017 following the brand’s commercial revival, which was a former church and training center on the original Pabst complex becoming a new microbrewery and taproom. Unfortunately, it was only three years later that, at the height of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, Pabst left Milwaukee once more, closing the taproom. Despite this, Pabst Blue Ribbon still features Milwaukee heavily on its packaging and branding.

Today, Pabst Blue Ribbon is brewed under license by Coors Molson. 

The Revival of Pabst Blue Ribbon

After decades of decline, Pabst Blue Ribbon enjoyed a serious revival in the early 2000s. This was fuelled largely by the beer’s growing popularity among urban hipsters. The Pabst brand responded positively to this, frequently sponsoring indie music, small business, and post-collegiate sports teams. Pabst strongly encourages the submission of fan art and photography on its website. Pabst Blue Ribbon also became involved in the world of professional wrestling, largely on the independent circuit. In August 2021, Pabst Blue Ribbon aired its first major television commercial in several decades during a broadcast of AEW Dynamite, a professional wrestling television program.