Pabst Brewing was in danger of dying and taking America’s beloved cans of PBR with it to the grave. But the danger has passed; after a contentious lawsuit and court case, PBR’s future is safe.
Pabst, which shut down its Milwaukee brewery in 1996, enjoyed a quick resurgence. Despite closing up shop, it had become terribly popular among hipsters of the Pacific Northwest and that made it attractive to beer giant MillerCoors. The two brewers finalized a deal in 2001 in which MillerCoors agreed to produce PBR and several of Pabst’s other legacy beers, ensuring its survival for the next decade.
Pabst is now the fifth most popular brewery in America. But the contract between Pabst and MillerCoors, the one that gives Pabst someplace to make PBR, was set to expire in 2020. And gone with it, it seemed the working relationship between Pabst and MillerCoors.
In 2015, while negotiating a contract extension past 2020, MillerCoors officials said it might not have the capacity to continue brewing Pabst beer. In 2016, Pabst filed a lawsuit against MillerCoors accusing it of lying, saying it provided no evidence of a capacity issue.
Things got ugly.
Pabst officials claimed MillerCoors was plotting to cut Pabst loose so it could go after Pabst’s market share with its own brands. The lawsuit added that MillerCoors demanded more money from Pabst — an amount it knew would bankrupt Pabst — and planned to shut down two facilities that made Pabst beer to “eliminate Pabst altogether.” Pabst officials argued that the companies were obligated to work “in good faith” to find a solution to the capacity issue so that the contract could be extended to 2025. They said working with MillerCoors was Pabst’s only option for survival.
MillerCoors refuted Pabst’s accusations. It was just trying to make the smartest economic decision, its lawyers said, and it had no obligation to work with Pabst on a solution to the capacity problem. If it wanted dissolve its partnership with Pabst, that was its right, according to its lawyers.
The lawsuit went to trial this month in a Chicago court, with Pabst seeking $400 million in damages and a court order against MillerCoors to honor the contract. In closing arguments Tuesday, Pabst’s lawyers said MillerCoors “decided upon the solution before determining their sufficient capacity,” CNBC reports. MillerCoors’ lawyers told the jurors that Pabst officials had woven “a tale of conspiracy and deceit that frankly is pretty compelling”— and also false.
But the great court battle between Pabst Brewing and MillerCoors ended not with a nail-biting jury decision. It ended with a last-minute settlement presented to the judge while the jurors deliberated.
“We have reached an amicable settlement in the case and are pleased to resolve all outstanding issues with Pabst,” MillerCoors officials said in a statement, the Chicago Sun Times reports.
Pabst officials released its own statement, promising it “will continue to offer Pabst Blue Ribbon and the rest of our authentic, great tasting and affordable brews to all Americans for many, many years to come.”
The details of the settlement were not made public.