Pabst Launches Craft Beer Brand, Captain Pabst, with Flagship IPA

Pabst Brewing Company is launching a line of craft beers, as the craft segment has matured and sales of craft offerings have slowed to low single-digit growth.

The Los Angeles-headquartered maker of Pabst Blue Ribbon announced today the launch of Captain Pabst, a standalone craft beer brand outside of the PBR family, and the launch of its flagship offering, Seabird IPA, in Wisconsin and Illinois.

The Captain Pabst line of beers pays homage to company namesake Frederick Pabst, who was a ship captain on Lake Michigan before marrying into the family that owned Milwaukee-based Best’s Brewing Company, which was renamed for Pabst by 1889.

Seabird IPA, which is brewed with Magnum, Citra, Cascade and Mosaic hops, is named for the last ship Pabst captained. The beer checks in at 4.5% alcohol by volume and has 45 IBUs. Pabst beached The Seabird on the shore of Lake Michigan’s Whitefish Bay in an 1863 storm, and then abandoned his nautical career for his father-in-law’s brewery. Pabst died in 1904.

“Captain Frederick Pabst was wild; his life was filled with random endeavors that all seemed to stem from his adventurous spirit and his willingness to push the boundaries,” Pabst general manager Matt Bruhn said in a press release. “Here at Pabst, we can certainly appreciate a life lived that way — it’s closely aligned to our values.”

Pabst is also rebranding its Milwaukee taproom and innovation brewery as Captain Pabst’s Pilot House. The taproom will feature “imaginative craft beer offerings,” a menu of spirits that are blended and barrel-aged on site, and a new loyalty program called the Blue Jacket Club, according to the release. Its grand opening will be March 28, which coincides with Pabst’s 184th birthday.

The Milwaukee taproom and brewery opened in 2017 after a lengthy planning process. At the time, its annual capacity was 4,000 barrels.

Off-premise dollar sales of Pabst products in 2019 declined nearly 8%, to about $493.8 million, according to market research firm IRI. Dollar sales of top-seller Pabst Blue Ribbon declined 7.6%, to $272.5 million, while volume sales were down more than 11%, in 2019, the firm reported.

In 2018, Pabst Brewing Company shipped 4.5 million barrels, down 10% from 2017 when the company shipped 5 million barrels, according to trade group the Brewers Association.

Pabst products accounted for 2.1% of the American beer market in 2018. Beyond PBR, Pabst’s portfolio includes regional offerings Stroh’s, Lone Star, National Bohemian and Rainier, as well as hard soda brand Not Your Father’s.

In November, Pabst announced it had signed a long-term contract with the City Brewing Company to transfer the majority of its production volume to the contract producer’s breweries by 2024. City Brewing operates breweries in Memphis, Tennessee; Latrobe, Pennsylvania; and La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Earlier this month, Molson Coors Beverage Company, which also brews Pabst products under contract, announced it will cease operations at its brewery in Irwindale, California, and has given Pabst an exclusive option to purchase the facility for $150 million.

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