March 26, 2007

Iron City Bottle and Can
For me and for other breweriana enthusiasts, the name Iron City Beer beer brings back memories of a gazillion different beer brands and cool beercans, everything from Olde Frothingslosh to Pittsburgh Steelers cans. You mention the name to any Pennsylvanian, and you get a snicker. OK, so it’s not the best beer in the world, er, STATE, and it’s only sold in a small market, but the Pittsburgh Brewing Company is close to closing up shop and going away, and we can’t let that happen. It seems they owe the city water and sewer dept. [plus other creditors, including, strangely enough, the son of convicted Chicago mob boss John “Jackie the Lackey” Cerone] a chunk of money. A group of investors are trying to turn the company around.

Pittsburgh Brewing Co. (lets call it PBS for short) is still one of the top 15 brewers in the U.S., and one of the last original, large scale regional brewers in the country. They were (arguabley) one of the first to use a pull tab on a can, use the first twist-off cap, make the first light beer, print commemorative scenes on cans, and the first with aluminum bottles.

PBS is still housed in a beautiful old brewery. Part of their problem is that its antiquated and badly in need of updating. Oddly, the company is considering building a new plant near Pittsburgh. Cmon guys. Stay where you are!

Facilities like theirs are needed for contract brewing. That’s where micro brews hire larger breweries to brew and bottle their brands. PBS was once the largest contract brewer for Boston B.C., maker of Sam Adams.
It’s what has really saved a lot of old regional breweries, including F.X. Matt in NY.

The same thing happened to Pabst Brewing Company. It wasn’t selling, so it was sold to Miller and the breweries were closed. Hundreds of workers lost their jobs. Then a funny thing happened. Pabst Blue Ribbon became popular again, thanks to the hipsters! Now it’s too late for the breweries and it’s workers, and PBR is now found in almost every tavern in the city. If someone would’ve told me that 10 years ago I’d have laughed till Yards came out my nose.

Here’s the deal: It happened to Pabst; it’s starting to happen (in Philly at least) with Lions Head; it happened to Yuengling; so it can happen to Iron City as well. With our help. Here’s what you can do:

If you know any hipsters, tell them that Iron City is cheap but doesn’t taste too bad. Hipsters love cheap, but they care about taste.

Buy a t shirt here and wear it out to your local watering hole. Order an Iron City, even though you know they don’t carry it. Tell the barkeep that all the cool bars stock it.
That’s one of the mysteries of Iron City: It’s brewed right here in PA, but damn it’s actually hard to find in Philly. I’ve always found it strange that I have to search for it and I’m in the SAME STATE. So you also need to say something to your distributor. They can get it, and WILL stock it if YOU buy it.

And if you’re ever in Pittsburgh, take a tour of the brewery…. before it’s gone.

UPDATE: 8/2/07:

A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article says that the new group still plans to take over the brewery, but is still running into snags and missing deadlines. It says Iron City can’t even keep up with the small demand from customers and is still neck-high in debt.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed.



  1. For the record, Pabst Blue Ribbon was NOT sold to Miller Brewing Company. Although the breweries were shut down and people did lose their jobs, PBR is STILL owned and operated by the Pabst Brewing Company. Your information is a little skewed but you are on the right track. PBR is now commonly referred to as a virtual brewery. That means that Pabst pays Miller Brewing Company to brew their products. Even though PBR is brewed within the MBCo breweries, Pabst still uses the original recipes, brew masters, and is still recognized as an independent brewery. The same pride is taken in the brewing of PBR today as in yesteryear. So much so that at the 2006 World Beer Cup, PBR took the Gold Medal for American-Style Premium Lager and won the Gold at the 2005 Great American Beer Festival. So please, raise a can of Pabst in recognition of your new found information.

  2. I admit, I simplified the info for the sake of space.
    It just breaks my heart when regional brewers go under: I saw Strohs, Carling, Blatz, Falstaff, Ortliebs, Schmidts, Schlitz, etc. go under, only to have another brewer buy the name/label, watch the sales decline, then bury the brand when sales get too low.
    I realize this isn’t what happened to Pabst, and while I’m EXTREMELY grateful to see it re-emerge, I’m still sad that it’s too late for the actual Pabst breweries themselves. I just don’t feel the same loyalty to the product.
    I’ve been a beer geek since I was a kid, and coincidentally, Pabst was the underdog that I “took under my wing” starting in the mid 80s when I was in high school. My buddy’s grandfather worked at the struggling Milwaukee brewery (that I think closed soon after) so it was my beer of choice while the masses of Bud and Busch drinkers heckled me.
    So, do you work for Pabst? If so, I’m honored and humbled. Have you heard of the shrine to PBR at Bob and Barbara’s in Philly?

    BTW, lets support all of the remaining regional brewers, not just Iron City: Straub, Dixie, Genny, and uh, I forget the rest… feel free to add to the list.

  3. […] Hill bright and early. I’ll bring the family on my tandem with my tent, grill, dogs, case of Iron City, and […]

  4. http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/breaking/s_528121.html

    Looks like the sale is complete as of 9/18/07. Let’s wish them luck.


  5. Pabst is “still recognized as an independent brewery”? The hell you say. Pabst is not a brewery. They cause beer to be made. Five years ago, they were a storefront in San Antonio: I was there, I saw it. Pabst’s story was a sad one until the recent turnaround, and it would have been truly grand if Pabst had taken the good fortune of being accepted by a new, young market, and invested it in a brewery of their own. They didn’t.

    Iron City therefore trumps Pabst, and it has puzzled and embarrassed me for years that Iron City continues to slip from its place in the hearts of Pittsburghers.

  6. Do they sell Iron City Beer in Danbury, or Norwalk Connecticut two major cities to the south and west of the state…If so I will buy this beer and get my whole college on board as well..This sounds like the original Keystone and Natural Ice’s of today.. Please find out someone and answer this will give Ice House a boom in the Connecticut area.

  7. […] the beer capital of the East? The afformentioned along with the Penn Brewery and their old standby Iron City are big players for the smaller city. The Memphis Taproom is hosting a Pitt-centric HH (happy hour) […]

  8. […] I mentioned more than once, I love to see this nostalgia movement in the industry. Pabst. Reading. Iron City. Acme. National Bohemian. Ortliebs. Frankenmuth (the last two now since […]

  9. […] geeks think it’s the end of the road for the brewery. One expert even mentioned something I suggested a few years ago- convince the hipsters to drink the stuff and it’ll make a huge […]

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