Pabst Brewing Co. is on to something. In an age where craft brewers gain market share and major brewers respond by buying said craft brewers, Pabst has focused its attention on a unique pursuit: acquiring and reviving historic brands.
Have you noticed old names — Ballantine, Olympia, Rainier, Lone Star, for example — popping up in various markets around the country? That's Pabst, which is acquiring the rights to legacy brands and bringing them back to market. Buying these beers is often just as much about a brand's history and nostalgia than it is about the beer itself.
The latest Pabst brand revival is Old Tankard, a post-Prohibition ale that Pabst bills as "the first ever craft beer in a can." Pick apart the term "craft" however you like, but indeed, Old Tankard was released in cans in 1935, which is the year that the first canned beers of any sort were available. And, unlike many of Pabst's recent acquisitions, Old Tankard was a Pabst brand from the start.
Old Tankard is currently contract-brewed by Wisconsin Brewing Co., based on a 1937 brewer's log recipe. The beer lands somewhere between American pale ale and ESB territory. It has the classic American hop nose (courtesy of Nugget, Liberty, Willamette and Cascade hops), along with a smooth bitterness that is firm but not overly aggressive.
A soft, biscuity maltiness rounds out the base, with hints of toffee and caramel from the addition of caramelized malts. It's malty-sweet without being cloying, and generously hopped without being overly bitter — a very balanced, classic (in more ways than one) American ale.
At a minimum, Old Tankard is worth trying as a matter of historical interest. But, as it turns out, the beer is downright pleasant, too. Pabst will re-establish itself in Milwaukee later this year with a new pilot brewery and tasting room. I'm eager to see what future brewer's log experiments yield.
Justin Grant, Times correspondent