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Pabst To Close Historic Plant Decision Ends Blue Ribbon Beer’s 150-Year Presence In Milwaukee

Pabst Brewing Co. said Thursday it will shut down its plant and lay off 250 workers, ending 150 years of the Blue Ribbon beer in the city that once dominated the industry.

Pabst, the nation’s No. 6 brewer, said it would shift production to Stroh Brewing Co.’s La Crosse plant, where it had previously contracted about two-thirds of its production.

The decision to cease operations by year’s end was prompted by reduced demand and first-quarter losses that were significantly greater than anticipated, said spokesman Gary Lewitzke.

“The losses at the Milwaukee division have been mounting and the demand for our product has been diminishing at an alarming rate,” Lewitzke said. “We cannot continue to absorb these ongoing losses.”

Once an industry leader, Pabst has struggled with declining sales for several years. According to Modern Brewery Age, an industry publication, Pabst was third in sales of 31-gallon barrels in 1975, with more than 15.6 million sold, and dropped to sixth in 1995, with 6.3 million.

In a letter to the local Brewer Workers union, Pabst said it would continue ownership and maintenance of the facility “with the hope that we might, at some future date, be able to resume our 150-year brewing tradition here in Milwaukee.”

Mayor John Norquist blamed the brewery’s parent, S&P; Co. of Mill Valley, Calif., for forcing the closure.

“Pabst employees have worked hard and tried their best to keep the plant open and profitable,” Norquist said. “But the brewery’s corporate owners, through a series of bad business decisions, have brought this situation upon themselves, the work force and the community.”

Thirty years ago, no city brewed as much beer as Milwaukee, earning it the nickname Brew City, U.S.A. With Pabst’s closure, the city would fall into ninth place in capacity.

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