True historians deplore the application of current values to the words and deeds of historical figures. They call such sloppy and lazy thinking "Presentism." Persons with such a view of history tend to discount our founders because of the compromises they made in the context of the times they lived. I am no professional historian, but I feel sort of the same way when I order a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and an observer asks: "You drink that?" (The 'that' pronounced with two syllables).
What could possibly the connection between discounting, for example, the legacy of Abraham Lincoln because he believed in repatriating former slaves to Africa and discounting the quality and flavor of a PBR because today it is a "cheap" beer? Well, if you believe the present view that PBR is the hipster equivalent of "Fatty Natty," only a short history lesson can connect the dots for you.
Back in the day the history of PBR was a case study at the prestigious Harvard Business School used to teach the value of branding. The lesson it taught: Do not screw around with a formula that made your brand the most popular product in your market just to save a few cents per unit in production costs. The lesson I also see is to avoid "Presentism."
You may know that Pabst was the blue ribbon beer winner at the World's Fair in 1893. But you may not know that until the 1970s it was considered a premium beer with sales that exceeded Budweiser. In fact, Pabst reached its production apex in 1978 after which it suffered a precipitous decline that has taken years to reverse. So what happened?
They screwed with success.
Like "New Coke" which came later, the managers of the Pabst brand changed their formula to make production a little cheaper. It was, after all, the most expensive mass produced beer to brew. The change had something to do with buying grains with lower sugar content. The effect however was devastating. The once strong and popular premium brand quickly lost market share and, more importantly, respect as a premium lager.
You also probably do not know that after it was clear the formula change was a bad idea, the company returned to their original ingredients and lowered the price to try to attract former fans back to the brand. Sales did go up, never to the high of 1978, but the perspective that it was now a "cheap" beer remained.
To most applying a "presentist" view of the product, that has not changed. But recent beer history tells us the PBR has won medals as one of the best American lagers at least 12 times since 1990. It won the World Beer Cup as a "Premium Lager" in 2006. Once hard to find, you can savor this premium draft beer on tap for ridiculously low prices at Buds. Bottles and cans of PBR are staples at The Pine Bar and Capitol Oyster Bar. Those iconic 16-oz "Tall Boys" are available at El Rey, LeRoy and The Midtown Pizza kitchen.
So though I have been accused of bringing PBR to parties because it was the only beer others would not pinch from the community coolers and that "Bud" snob Cornbread Carp once declared it was the only beer he would not drink, history and my own taste buds have taught me to stick with my favorite beer because it has a premium taste for a "Natty Light" price.
The moral, if you pay attention to history, is that Lincoln is still a great president and PBR is still a great beer. Rampant "presentism" is truly a lazy and false way to evaluate history. Thankfully, PBR is still around to defend its brand. But "Honest Abe" has to depend on honest and persistent historians.
Let's all raise a cold PBR to him.
|"Ever notice how you come across something once in a while you shouldn't have messed with? That's my PBR."|