Pabst Blue Ribbon Whiskey is out, and Tampa is playing a big part

From crafting cocktails with the spirit to designing the label, Tampa locals have been involved in launching the legendary brewery’s first spirit.
Kierstyn Breaux pours some old fashioneds she helped craft as part of the PBR Whiskey launch event in Tampa on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. Daniel Figueroa IV
Kierstyn Breaux pours some old fashioneds she helped craft as part of the PBR Whiskey launch event in Tampa on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. Daniel Figueroa IV
Published October 2

Pabst Blue Ribbon, the longstanding lager of choice for the frugal and hip, has been making some big moves this year.

The 175-year-old company has recently introduced hard coffee, hard seltzer, low calorie and extra-strength options to its beer line and is now entering the spirit world with Pabst Blue Ribbon Whiskey.

To market the new white whiskey, PBR turned to Tampa. Local artist David Cabassa designed one of three limited edition labels and Bricks bartender Kierstyn Breaux was tapped to craft specialty cocktails for the launch event.

Tampa artist David Cabassa designed a limited edition label for PBR's new whiskey Daniel Figueroa IV
Tampa artist David Cabassa designed a limited edition label for PBR's new whiskey Daniel Figueroa IV

“Right now Tampa is a great market for everything we’re putting out brand-wise," PBR marketing representative Kat Mara said. “Our demographic is mainly 21-25-year-olds involved in anything that is art and music, and I think there’s a lot of pockets in Tampa and St. Pete that really fall in the right category that PBR can support."

The new whiskey was released last week and is already sold out in all available markets.

One of the more interesting aspects of PBR’s whiskey is its aging. Most whiskey brands pride themselves on aging. Jack Daniel’s gets seven years and Jim Beam gets four years. A $100 bottle of the Islay Scotch Lagavulin gets 16 years.

PBR’s whiskey? Five seconds.

PBR's new product lineup includes a higher proof beer, hard coffee and low-calorie beer. A hard seltzer is also coming. Daniel Figueroa IV
PBR's new product lineup includes a higher proof beer, hard coffee and low-calorie beer. A hard seltzer is also coming. Daniel Figueroa IV

The story goes that Pabst founder Jacob Best was distilling whiskey before he got into beer, but according to his notes, he was bottling straight from the still, more like a moonshine than a whiskey. So, when Pabst wanted to make its own whiskey, they wanted to do it like the founder.

The only issue was the United States Government said it couldn’t be called whiskey without being aged. And while some forms of whiskey have specific aging regulations, the rule for regular ole American Whiskey is that as long as it touches wood, it’s whiskey. So that’s what PBR did. And they proudly put it right on the label.

Since it’s not aged, PBR Whiskey is clear, not brown. Known as white whiskeys, younger, unaged whiskeys are generally considered more of a craft spirit. Breaux said un-aging gives the whiskey a lighter, smoother and more versatile taste, making it more of a cocktail whiskey than a sipping whiskey.

Frank Zollo finishes pouring some tiki cocktails made using PBR Whiskey during a launch event in Tampa on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2019. Daniel Figueroa IV
Frank Zollo finishes pouring some tiki cocktails made using PBR Whiskey during a launch event in Tampa on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2019. Daniel Figueroa IV

“I really like the flavor profile on it because, as I did with my cocktails, you can mix it with anything and it works,” she said. “Whiskey normally doesn’t work with everything.”

For the whiskey’s launch, Breaux created a tiki drink with a banana-soaked cinnamon simple syrup, a whiskey sour made with lavender bitters and an elder flower cordial. Her most popular, though, was a take on the classic, old-fashioned cocktail. For that one she added lapsang tea for a smokier flavor.

Guests gather around the bar at Red Door No. 5 in Tampa Heights for the PBR Whiskey launch. Daniel Figueroa IV
Guests gather around the bar at Red Door No. 5 in Tampa Heights for the PBR Whiskey launch. Daniel Figueroa IV

Breaux said the reception was positive, surprising many at the Tampa Launch. She’s even looking forward to getting some bottles in at the Bricks — once its back in stock, that is.

Pabst Blue Ribbon Whiskey is 80-proof and 40-percent alcohol. A 750 ml bottle retails for around $23.

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