MILWAUKEE - Long before it was known for fine cheddar cheese or the Green Bay Packers, Wisconsin was famous for beer, especially the national brands brewed in Milwaukee: Schlitz, Blatz and Pabst Blue Ribbon.
The brewing tradition started by Milwaukee's German immigrants in the 1800s endured for more than a century, until industry consolidation in the 1980s and '90s began sending familiar brands to other companies and cities.
Now a small group of Milwaukee residents wants to revive part of that proud history by buying Pabst Brewing Co. from a California executive in hopes of returning the brand to its birthplace, possibly as a city-owned brewery.
The effort appears to be a distant long shot, requiring hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire the 170-year-old beer best known as PBR. But Milwaukee officials like the idea enough to talk about it, and at least one industry analyst says the plan is not beyond the realm of possibility.
"When I think about Pabst being anywhere else but Milwaukee, it just doesn't make sense," said Susie Seidelman, an organizer of the "Bring Pabst Blue Ribbon Home" effort. "Milwaukee made this beer what it is. ... It's right on the can."
The beer, with its pale gold color and light, fizzy taste, has become especially popular over the last decade among urban hipsters, in part because it's one of the cheapest on the market.
The company that started in Milwaukee in 1844 is now headquartered in Los Angeles after being bought by food industry executive C. Dean Metropoulos in 2010 for a reported $250 million.
Reports surfaced last month suggesting that Pabst might be looking for buyers. Organizers of the group want Metropoulos to give them first rights of sale so they can begin raising money toward any asking price.
Pabst representatives would not comment on any potential sale or the efforts to bring the brand back to Milwaukee, saying only that they "are considering financial alternatives" that will help Pabst "aggressively pursue its next phase of growth through strategic acquisitions."
A letter to the Milwaukee mayor and city council asks them to consider the purchase of Pabst using a community ownership model similar to that of the Green Bay Packers, in which the public buys stock that does not increase in value and pays no dividends. But, Seidelman said, they are also considering other options, including forming a cooperative.
Another organizer, Erika Wolf, said the group wants to hold town-hall-style meetings and online chats about how to buy and run PBR. The first meeting is scheduled for April 23.
Jim Haertel owns Pabst's old administrative building and bar in the company's former brewery complex. He said he would buy into Pabst if given the opportunity and even scrap his plans to put a bed and breakfast in the building with beer taps in the rooms.
Renting offices would make less money than a bed and breakfast. But, he said, "it just seems like the right thing to do."
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