Beer: its presence is ubiquitous in any college town, including ours. Behind this simple drink, however, lies a mysterious and tenuous market. Earlier this month, Pabst Brewing, the Milwaukee-based company responsible for Pabst Blue Ribbon, Old Milwaukee, Schlitz and Colt 45, was sold to Russian brewing and soft drink conglomerate Oasis Beverages backed by American equity firm TSG Consumer Partners. This news sparked outrage nationwide, with the sale being covered by media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today and “The Colbert Report.”
What makes this sale such a big deal? PBR was founded in 1844 and survived the Prohibition era; it’s a historic American beer and it’s probably what your grandfather and great-grandfather drank. But is PBR’s sale actually out of the ordinary?
Consider the top 10 best-selling domestic beers according to data published by Beverage Industry in their Mar. 2014 issue, in order: Bud Light, Coors Light, Budweiser, Miller Lite, Natural Light, Busch Light, Michelob Ultra Light, Busch, Keystone Light, Miller High Life.
These are all unmistakable American icons, with I.V. fan-favorites Natty Light and Keystone Light making the list. Are they even American though?
Budweiser, Michelob, Natural Light and Busch are owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, a Brazilian-Belgian company headquartered in Belgium. Cornering over 47 percent of the U.S. market share, it happens to be the largest brewing company in the world. They also own other favorites
such as Shock Top, Rolling Rock and Stella Artois.
Coors and Keystone are owned by Molson Coors, which is a half-American, half-Canadian company formed by the merger of Coors and Molson, and has headquarters in both Denver and Montreal.
Miller is owned by SABMiller plc, a company that started in South Africa and is now headquartered in London. Behind Anheuser-Busch InBev, they are the second-largest brewer in the world.
Eight of the top 10 beers in the U.S. are owned by companies outside of the U.S., while Coors and Keystone are split evenly between the U.S. and Canada. What can you do to support the American brewing industry then? Buy local!
California’s Central Coast is home to a handful of craft breweries, many of them in our own backyard.
Breweries that bottle and distribute their beer include Figueroa Mountain, Telegraph, Island and Firestone Walker. Fig Mountain’s brewery is in Buellton, but they operate a taproom in the Funk Zone. Telegraph brews and bottles their beers downtown. Island Brewing Co. is located a stone’s throw away in Carpinteria. Finally, Firestone Walker has breweries and taprooms in both Buellton and Paso Robles.
While they don’t bottle or distribute their beers, the following breweries rely exclusively on their taphouses in Santa Barbara. Hollister Brewing Company, located in the nearby Camino Real Marketplace, has been a favorite of Isla Vistans since it opened in 2007. Downtown, you can drink and dine at The Brewhouse and Santa Barbara Brewing Co.
While pricier craft brews will never replace beer pong, Gauchoball and snappa staples, there will always be choices out there that support the local economy and the brewers in our own backyard.
This story originally appeared on page 18 of Thursday, October 2, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.