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Pardon Me, Would You Have Any Pabst Blue Ribbon?

July 23, 2010

I’m trying to decide whether my late grandfather would be ticked off or laughing in hysterics other this Letter From China in The New Yorker.

Somewhere over the Pacific, Pabst Blue Ribbon began putting on airs.

That reliably blue-collar Milwaukee lager, later adopted by unbearable hipsters on the coasts, has turned up in China. And P.B.R., best known in the U.S. for being the cheapest beer on the grocery-store shelf, has—like so many expatriates before it—taken the move as an opportunity to change its image. For a beer, that appears to involve an elegant glass bottle and a fantastically ridiculous price tag. One bottle: forty-four dollars

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Bravo to Danwei for the story of how P.B.R. has been reborn as “Blue Ribbon 1844” beer in China, advertised in magazines as a “world famous spirit” to be savored from a champagne flute. As a recent advertisement in Window of the South magazine put it:

It’s not just Scotch that’s put into wooden casks. There’s also Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer 1844.
Many world-famous spirits
Are matured in precious wooden casks
Scotch whisky, French brandy, Bordeaux wine…
They all spend long days inside wooden casks.

This is not the first time that P.B.R. has reinvented itself over the years. Since it got its start in the nineteenth century, it has pitched itself in various ways to workers, families, and sports fans—as this good roundup shows. But now, it seems, that a clever Chinese distributor has snatched up the license knowing full well about the Chinese fondness for trophies and ribbons. (See: Olympics, 2008). Alcohol, as I described in a piece on China’s love affair with wine, has become a prime tool for conspicuous consumption. And “Blue Ribbon 1844,” as its Chinese site assures us, has winner written all over it.

This article, also linked in the story above, on the history of PBR’s advertising campaigns is priceless.

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