Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Pabst Leaves Bitter Taste Milwaukeeans Dazed by Brewery's Closing

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Pabst Leaves Bitter Taste Milwaukeeans Dazed by Brewery's Closing

Article excerpt

Tom O'Brien says, only half in jest, that he can pinpoint when the fading future of brewing in Milwaukee became vividly, ruefully, apparent.

"Oct. 1, 1990. That was when they said no more beer on the job," said O'Brien, who spent 29 years as an employee of Pabst Brewery, which suddenly ceased supplying coolers of free beer in the lunchroom.

For O'Brien, 51, and his wife, Cheryl, Pabst is now a hard name to swallow. Earlier this year, both were laid off when S&P Corp., the California-based company that owns Pabst, announced that it was closing the 152-year-old Milwaukee brewery at the end of this month. The closing, which will cost more than 250 jobs and leave 774 people without company health insurance, has sparked a widespread boycott of Pabst products. Beer has been sacred here since German immigrants opened the city's first major brewery in 1840. In its heyday, three of the nation's largest breweries - Miller, Schlitz and Pabst - called Milwaukee home, employing generations of families and drawing more than 100,000 visitors a year. Until the early 1980s, when Schlitz closed its doors, no city in the country produced more beer than Milwaukee. Now, only Miller will remain. Sitting in a meeting room at the Local 9 Brewery Workers Union with 30 f ellow laid-off Pabst employees, the O'Briens have come to hear a speaker on money management and debt consolidation. For them, the closing of Pabst hurts emotionally as well as financially. They met at the brewery, handling cartons in the packaging department, and raised two children while employed there. They saved enough to buy a house. But they are not feeling very marketable. "It's very specific, the jobs that brewery workers do," said Tom O'Brien, whose father worked all his life at Miller. "Not everyone knows how. But where do the Pabst workers go?" In Milwaukee, where brand loyalty goes far beyond bar-stool banter, ordering anything but a Pabst on the city's working-class South Side was akin to wearing a sign that said "not from these parts." Traditionally, North Siders drank Miller; outsiders drank micro-brews; and anyone looking for a cold shoulder could drink an imported brand. "After my whole life has revolved around Pabst, for me to go out there and tell people not to drink Pabst is going to really hurt," said Terry Mazurek, 50, a "Pabster" who has worked in delivery, maintenance and malting. After 32 years, last week was his last. "I think if you went into the city today and asked for a bottle of Pabst, you'd have a 99 percent chance of being asked to leave," he said. Indeed, three months after the closing was announced, Pabst Blue Ribbon is a pariah here. …

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