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For my article for this week’s Beer Issue, I spent a good chunk of last weekend embedded with Dan VanHoozer, the Pabst Brewing Co.’s marketing manager in D.C., crisscrossing various hot spots of the District’s hip cultural class: Jimmy Valentine‘s near H Street NE, the Rock & Roll Hotel, a boozy party put on by Brightest Young Things and Pink Line Project.
But my favorite moment had nothing to do with — yes, you saw this coming — hipsters, the stereotype that’s most frequently tacked to Pabst Blue Ribbon.
VanHoozer and I stopped by Hamilton’s on Capitol Hill on a Friday during happy hour, when PBRs are $1. Cans littered many tables, although the bar wasn’t packed. Part of VanHoozer’s job involves rewarding the loyalty of PBR drinkers with more PBR, so he brought a bucket of cans over to several youngish, oafish fellows who’d built a PBR pyramid: Here’s some beer, and by the way, I work for PBR.
“Are you shitting me?” one yelled.
VanHoozer took a picture of the boys and their beer sculpture for PBR’s website.
Then he took buckets to several tables outside the bar. He struck up a conversation with a young woman in professional clothing. She thanked him for sponsoring H Street Festival a few weeks earlier; it had been her first time visiting the Northeast strip. Then VanHoozer asked the group to pose, and the mood nosedived.
Walking away, he was fine with that. “They don’t want to be photographed,” he said. “Hill interns — they like to party but they don’t want evidence of it.”
As beer, PBR is nondescript to the point that I didn’t bother describing it in my article. But in a number of cities, it plays a strange cultural role. Instead of buying airtime or billboards, PBR markets itself at low-impact, high-cachet events like art openings, after-parties, and bike polo matches.
It’s working: You can buy PBR in 150 bars in D.C. and 180 stores, while it was barely on the map here a few years ago. I went out to discover why.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery.