- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2004

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Matt Dixon sips beer from a red, white and blue aluminum can in a smoky corner of Betty’s Food and Spirits, a dimly lit hangout for local artists, college students and restaurant workers.

Bartenders pour 13 different microbrews for $3.75 a pint at Betty’s, but the best-selling beer is Mr. Dixon’s choice, $1.50-a-pint Pabst Blue Ribbon, a former blue-collar favorite decades removed from its heyday.

Pabst Blue Ribbon, or simply PBR, is enjoying an unlikely comeback across the country. After a steady decline since the 1970s, sales rose about 5 percent in 2002 and 15 percent in 2003.

“It’s just cold and refreshing,” Mr. Dixon said between gulps. “It’s not a bad beer. You just have to get beyond the fact that it’s what your dad drinks.”

In 2001, sales of the 160-year-old brand had fallen to less than 1 million barrels, about one-tenth its peak in 1975, said Pabst Brewing Co. brand manager Neal Stewart.

Betty’s owner Elizabeth Lessner said distributors laughed at her when she began asking for kegs of Pabst three years ago. But it was about that time that Pabst’s comeback had started. Mr. Stewart said the beer’s resurgence began in Portland, Ore. when customers adopted the brew.

There had been no change in marketing. Pabst somehow appealed to trendsetters: punk rockers, kayakers and mountain bikers, Mr. Stewart said.

The brand is the top seller in Portland’s Lutz Tavern, which began carrying it in 1999 to replace a discontinued regional beer.

“It’s really popular with not only the college students but also the working class guy and the Social Security crowd,” said Lilias Barisich, whose family has operated the bar since 1954.

The revival spread to cities like San Francisco and Seattle before hopping across the country to the Northeast, Mr. Stewart said. By some accounts, its young buyers are rebelling against established, mass-marketed brands.

“There’s a theory that there’s a niche out here for a consumer that’s antimarketing,” said Eric Shepard, executive editor of Beer Marketer’s Insights.

The San Antonio-based Pabst Brewing Co.’s marketing strategy — or lack thereof — eschews conventional advertising in favor of generating word-of-mouth buzz.

“It’s a nice story for Pabst that Pabst Blue Ribbon has caught on and is quite popular in many markets, but I don’t know if any of the major brewers are quaking in their boots,” Mr. Shepard said.

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