Hamm’s vs PBR – We Examine the Similarities and Differences

Hamm’s and Pabst Blue Ribbon (or PBR) are two of the oldest beers still brewed in America today. Neither is the oldest though, that honor goes to Yuengling, proudly brewed since 1829). Brewed today by Molson Coors, both Hamm’s and PBR share a heritage that goes back to the mid to late 19th century.

PBR and Hamm’s are probably two of the most beloved heritage brands of American lagers, too. Go into any hipster bar in cities like Portland, Seattle, or Austin and you will find young hipsters happily chugging down their PBRs as a cheap yet cool alternative to the more mainstream beers of the US.

Hamm’s is seen as one of the most iconic beers of Americana and even has its own beer club, hammsbeerclub.com, where Hamm’s enthusiasts can buy and sell Hamm’s memorabilia and attend Hamm’s based shows and events.

What is it about these two beers which have seen them stand the test of time where so many others have failed? They are two American adjunct lagers that have refused to die, despite the attempts of several brewers to kill them off.

Is it just a nostalgia thing, or do fans actually love the taste of these beers? Or is it just that they are cheap?

And finally, a debate that has raged amongst many beer enthusiasts, now they are both being brewed by the same brewer, Miller Coors (or Molson Coors since the consolidation of Miller Coors and Molson Coors in 2019), and often at the same brewing plant, are they both the same beer, just in different packaging?

Let’s take a look at the history of these two famous beers, where they stand today, and whether they are actually different beers at all.

Does Pabst Own Hamm’s?

Hamm's brewery logo
Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

No, the Pabst Brewing Company does not currently own the brand Hamm’s. Pabst Brewing Company is an American beer company currently based in San Antonio, Texas. Although they don’t act like a traditional brewer as they don’t actually brew any of their beers, they are classed as the fifth largest brewer in the States.

At one time, between 1983 and 1999, the Hamm’s brand fell under the Pabst Brewing umbrella when Pabst purchased Olympia Brewing Company along with the Hamm’s name. But in 1999, Miller Brewing acquired the brand from Pabst before becoming Miller Coors and subsequently Molson Coors.

Today, PBR is brewed by contract by Molson Coors yet still owned by the Pabst Brewing Company while Hamm’s actually belongs to the Molson Coors Brewing Company.

Which Came First, Pabst Blue Ribbon or Hamm’s?

Pabst Blue Ribbon was originally brewed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1844 by Jacob Best, and quickly became a favorite of beer drinkers across the Midwest. The brand’s name comes from its award-winning beer, which won a blue ribbon at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

In the mid-20th century, Pabst Blue Ribbon became known as a no-frills, affordable beer, and gained a reputation as the “working man’s beer.” It was particularly popular among blue-collar workers and became a staple of American working-class culture.

Hamm’s, on the other hand, was founded by Theodore Hamm in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1865. The brewery grew rapidly and became one of the largest in the Midwest, with distribution throughout the United States.

In the 1950s and 60s, Hamm’s was known for its popular advertising campaigns, including the Hamm’s Bear, and became the fifth-largest beer producer in the country. Hamm’s has a rich cultural significance, particularly in the Midwest, where it is often associated with nostalgia and memories of simpler times.

The brand has become a symbol of Americana and the great outdoors, making it a popular choice among outdoor enthusiasts.

Person holding a Pabst Blue Ribbon can
Photo by Joel Moysuh on Unsplash

Is Hamm’s Beer the Original Recipe?

an old truck parked labeled with "Hamm's Beer" on the side of the road
Photo by Christopher Osten on Unsplash

No, Hamm’s beer definitely isn’t brewed today using the original recipe. Originally brewed in 1865 by German immigrant Theodore Hamm in Minnesota, the original recipe has changed many times over the years.

Various additions have been made to the recipe and subtractions from the original base beer, normally down to cost, but the classic flavor is said to have remained fairly consistent.

Additionally, now being brewed by Molson Coors, Hamm’s is brewed at several locations across the US. Some beer lovers argue a Hamm’s on the West Coast tastes very different from Hamm’s East Coast brewed beer. However, despite not being the original recipe, Hamm’s is still considered to be an iconic beer and continues to be enjoyed by many Hamm’s enthusiasts today across the USA.

Hamm’s vs Pabst Blue Ribbon – Which Tastes Better?

Taste is subjective, and beer preferences vary greatly from person to person. Pabst Blue Ribbon is known for its light and crisp taste, which makes it a refreshing choice on a hot summer day.

Its slightly bitter finish gives it a distinctive edge that sets it apart from other beers in its category. On the other hand, Hamm’s is a little sweeter and maltier, with a smooth and clean finish.

Pabst Blue Ribbon and Hamm’s are both lagers, but they have subtle differences. Some beer enthusiasts prefer Pabst Blue Ribbon for its simplicity and refreshing taste, while others prefer Hamm’s for its complexity and smoothness.

Which Costs Less, Hamm’s or Pabst Blue Ribbon?

Without a doubt, one of the main reasons Pabst Blue Ribbon and Hamm’s have remained popular over the years is their affordability. Both brands are known for being budget-friendly, making them popular choices for college students and budget-conscious beer drinkers.

In general, Pabst Blue Ribbon tends to be slightly more expensive than Hamm’s, but both are significantly cheaper than many other brands of beer.

You can pick up a 30-pack of Hamm’s for under $10 in most convenience stores while a 6-pack of PBR will normally cost around $2 depending on the can size. The 16 oz Tallboy or one-pint cans seem to be the most popular size for PBR, while the 30 packs of Hamm’s come in 12 oz cans.

On a side note, Pabst is generally believed to be the first brewer to package beer in the now standard six-pack. According to the American beer museum blog, a study determined that six beers was the ideal weight for the average housewife to carry home from a store.

Another theory was a six-pack was the perfect size to fit snuggly in the standard paper grocery bag of the time. Whatever the reason, a six-pack certainly seems to make more sense than a 30-pack.

Pabst Blue Ribbon beer in can
Image Courtesy of Wiki Commons

Therein lies half the problem with Hamm’s beer – not everybody wants to buy a 30-pack of beer in one go. They’re great if you’re having a backyard grill or going on a camping trip, but my wife would kill me if I kept putting 30 packs of beer in the refrigerator every weekend.

If you’re having a party though, a 30-pack of Hamm’s is a great idea. A similar 30-pack of Lagunitas would come in much more expensive at the best part of a hundred bucks!

Does the Pabst Family Still Own Pabst Brewing?

The Pabst Theater building
Photo by Casey Lovegrove on Unsplash

Pabst Brewing Company actually started life as Best Brewing Company, and it was only when Frederick Pabst married into the Best family and became President of the company in 1890 that the “Best” letterheads were changed and the Pabst Brewing Company officially began.

The beer was originally called Best Select which was changed to Pabst Select following the change of the company name.

The company historically claims the flagship beer was renamed Pabst Blue Ribbon following the win of “America’s Best” at the World Columbian Exposition in 1893. Although it’s unclear whether Pabst Select did win that award, “Captain” Pabst had already tied silk ribbons around every bottle, and patrons would ask the bartenders for “the blue ribbon beer”.

For most of the early 20th century, the Pabst family retained ownership of the Pabst Brewing Company. They were like the Kennedys of brewing and their influence can be seen in the town of Milwaukee even today.

The Pabst Theater opposite the Milwaukee City Hall is still in use today and the Pabst Mansion located along Wisconsin Avenue is a well-known Milwaukee tourist attraction and was the Pabst family home from 1892 to 1908.

Following the death of Captain Frederick Pabst, the ownership of the company was passed down to his two sons who managed the brewery together until 1931. Faced with a challenging beer market, they merged with the Philip Best Brewing Company and it once again became Best Brewing Company.

When the company was sold to Paul Kalmanovitz, the well-known beer entrepreneur, in 1985 he renamed it once again the Pabst Brewing Company in an attempt to revive the brand’s popularity. The Pabst family had very little to do with the brewery up until the death of Kalmanovitz.

By the late 1990s, the Pabst Brewing Company was losing money and was declared bankrupt in the year 2000. Since then, no member of the Pabst family has been directly involved with the company, although the family still profits from its success. As well as ongoing profits from their investments, the family also receives royalties every time the Pabst logo is used or licensed.

Is Pabst Owned by the Russians?

No, how ridiculous would that be, an All-American beer owned by a Russian company! Captain Pabst would be turning in his grave, the Germans aren’t too big a fan of Russia either!

The story emerged in 2013 that Russia’s largest brewer and beer distributor had paid over $700 million for Pabst Brewing Company. In reality, it was the chairman of Oasis, Eugene Kashper, an American citizen born in Russia, who had bought the company independently from his role at Oasis with a private equity firm. At the time he was attempting to work out a distribution deal with the Russian drinks giant Oasis to introduce Pabst to the Russian and Eastern European markets.

Although this may have caused the confusion, the deal fell through due to political tensions between the US and Russia. So hipsters, you can rest easy, Pabst Blue Ribbon is still owned by an American.

Who Owns Hamm’s Beer?

Just like Pabst Blue Ribbon, Hamm’s beer is also produced by Molson Coors. But unlike Pabst, which has retained ownership of the brand, Hamm’s is owned by Molson Coors.

The original Hamm’s brewery was established in 1865 by a German immigrant, Theodore Hamm, when he took over the Excelsior Brewing Company in St Paul, Minnesota. The business was then passed down through several generations of the family until it was sold to a local brewing partner, Olympia, in 1966.

Ironically, Pabst would later buy Olympia and therefore gained ownership of Hamm’s beer, their nearest competitor. Throughout the years, ownership changed several times until eventually, Pabst sold the rights to the brand name to Miller Brewing, which would later, through a series of mergers, become Miller Coors.

Today Hamm’s can no longer be considered an independent beer but rather one which falls inside the boundaries of the Molson Coors family.

Hamm’s Beer vs PBR – Which is More Popular?

Popularity is another key factor that sets Pabst Blue Ribbon and Hamm’s apart. Pabst Blue Ribbon has become particularly popular with hipsters and young adults in recent years. The brand is often associated with alternative culture and rebellion, making it a popular choice among those who want to stand out from the crowd.

Hamm’s, on the other hand, has a more classic appeal and is often associated with nostalgia and Americana (does anybody remember the Hamm’s bear adverts of the 50s, 60s, and 70s?). This makes it a great choice for anyone who wants to experience a little bit of American history in a bottle.

Is PBR a Hipster Beer?

It may seem strange that such an old-fashioned or heritage beer of America should find favor with hipsters, but if it wasn’t for the hipsters, PBR may not still exist today.

As Pabst entered the new millennium the downfall in sales continued. PBR simply found it hard to contend in an ever-changing market where consumers demanded higher-quality craft beers.

Simply relying on nostalgia wasn’t enough anymore when so many heritage lagers were being relaunched by the major national brewers of the US, including Coors Banquet and the infamous Hamm’s beer.

Miller Coors even tried to put Pabst out of business by threatening to discontinue the contract to keep brewing Pabst Blue Ribbon. Pabst argued that Miller Coors was the only brewer who could meet the demand for 4 million to 4.5 million barrels a year as Anheuser Busch, the other largest brewer in the US, didn’t do contract brewing.

By reneging on the contract, Miller Coors would effectively put Pabst out of business. Fortunately, the lawsuit was settled out of court in 2018 and the contract for brewing Pabst beers was continued.

In the early 2000s, in an attempt to slow the decline of the PBR brand, C.Dean Metropoulos, a renowned turnaround specialist, having acquired the Pabst Brewing Company, set out to revitalize PBR, making it relevant for a new generation of consumers.

The team of young designers and creative marketers employed by Metropoulos started by redesigning the Pabst can to give it a more modern look and ran a series of tongue-in-cheek ads that positioned PBR as the “anti-establishment” choice beer for young adults.

This campaign worked flawlessly and Blue Ribbon quickly became the beer of choice for many hipsters. The younger consumers were drawn to the rebellious image of the brand and its very affordable price.

Since 2010, sales of Pabst have quadrupled and the brand is now worth an estimated $700 million, mainly thanks to that all-important hipster market.

Final Thoughts – Are Pabst Blue Ribbon and Hamm’s the Same Beer?

Hopefully, this post has demonstrated Hamm’s and Pabst Blue Ribbon are two different beers. They may both be light lagers, they may both share a heritage that dates back to the 19th century and be iconic American lagers of the 20th Century, and they may both be brewed by Miller (or Molson) Coors now, but that’s where the similarities stop.

Hamm’s is owned by Molson Coors while PBR is contract brewed by Molson Coors and is owned by an independent brewer. Pabst Blue Ribbon is a beer popular with hipsters, while Hamm’s offers beer lovers a nostalgic taste of Americana.

Despite what your wife’s co-worker’s husband’s brother’s postman says about knowing somebody who works at the Molson Coors plant, the Molson Coors brewery doesn’t put the same beer into whatever package they have on the day.

Even if the label’s date of production and place of production match, it’s not the same beer in a Hamm’s can as it is in a PBR tin. Do you really think a giant brewer like Molson Coors only brews one type of beer a day?

Hamm’s is a pale lager brewed with six varieties of malt, while PBR is only brewed with two-row malt and has a slightly hoppier flavor. The ABV of Hamm’s is 4.7% compared to the ABV of 4.8% of PBR, while Hamm’s only has an IBU of 12 compared to the IBU of 30 in PBR.

These are only subtle differences, and if you were to give me a glass of Hamm’s or PBR by itself, I may struggle to tell the difference. But if a glass of Hamm’s is placed next to a glass of Blue Ribbon you can quite easily spot the difference in taste down to both the color and aroma of the beer.

Personally, if I’m looking for a cheap refreshing pale lager, then I prefer the clean crisp taste of Blue Ribbon rather than the slight malt complexities of Hamm’s. If I wanted a more complex beer I would stick to my Pale Ales or IPAs.

Although they are similar in price, the choice of Hamm’s vs PBR is a personal one. Why not try both and see which you prefer? Do you want to be down with the hipsters or do you want to taste a nostalgic beer of America that your father probably drank many years before you?

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