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MillerCoors To Continue Brewing Pabst Blue Ribbon

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And now to the story of an iconic American beer that almost became extinct, Pabst Blue Ribbon. The Pabst Brewing Company was founded in Milwaukee more than 170 years ago. These days, the MillerCoors company brews the beer. A contract dispute between these two companies threatened to put Pabst out of business, but it was settled this week. LaToya Dennis of member station WUWM reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: What do you have?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Pabst Blue Ribbon.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: What do you have?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Pabst Blue Ribbon.

LATOYA DENNIS, BYLINE: Pabst Brewing Company has had a number of near-death experiences. Once one of the largest brewers in Milwaukee, it nearly closed in the mid-1990s. Instead, it moved to LA, contracting with the MillerCoors to brew its products, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Colt 45, Old Milwaukee among them. Two years ago, Miller told Pabst it wanted to more than double the price of brewing its beer when the contract expired. Pabst accused the company of trying to drive it out of business to gain market share. That led to a lawsuit and a trial in Milwaukee. And as the case went to jury this week, a settlement was reached.

MEGAN MOGLE: You can't kill a legend.

DENNIS: That's Megan Mogle, who was visiting Milwaukee from Arizona. She and her friends were headed into the gift shop on the grounds of the old Pabst brewery. She says she couldn't imagine life without PBR.

MOGLE: That would have been very, very detrimental.

(LAUGHTER)

DENNIS: Detrimental to what?

MOGLE: To my soul (laughter). Our tailgating beer is PBR.

DENNIS: Across the country, the beer has picked up sort of a cult following especially amongst urban hipsters. Benj Steinman publishes Beer Marketer's Insights and says while people do love Pabst, it remains in the battle for market share with MillerCoors.

BENJ STEINMAN: And they're in a dogfight. And they're fighting it out on price, and Pabst is a little higher priced. And then on top of that, Pabst took a price increase this fall that was, you know, bigger than inflation.

DENNIS: Steinman says the cost of Pabst is now inching closer to so-called premium beers such as Budweiser and Miller Lite. Over the years, many have bet against Pabst's survival in a volatile beer market. As the settlement this week shows, that continues to be a bad bet. For NPR News, I'm LaToya Dennis in Milwaukee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.