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The 89 Cent 6-Pack: When Red White & Blue Was the Best Deal in Beer

There’s no shortage of cheap beer out there, but 6-packs that hover below the $1 mark are practically unheard of. And while it may sound like an urban legend that one uncle likes to tell when he reminisces about his college days, it turns out such a beer did, in fact, exist.

If you had a few extra shekels clinking around in your pocket back in the ’70s, you could pop into the local shop and buy a 6-pack of Red White & Blue Beer for 89 cents — yes, a whole 6-pack. Even by disco-age standards, that was a steal, at less than half the going rate for a sixer in 1970. The Pabst-owned brew clocked in at 3.2 percent ABV, packed 10 IBUs, and from a packaging perspective, it was essentially Pabst Blue Ribbon without the ribbon. It was an American session lager before session was even a term in the beer industry vocabulary.

Though we’ve never been lucky enough to try it, based on our research, it would appear that Red White & Blue (RWB) was the brewed equivalent of a White Castle slider: dirt cheap, somewhat satisfying, and American as it gets. But at some point, the patriotic brew fell off the map.

So where did RWB come from and, more importantly, where did it go? Gather ‘round for the story of what’s perhaps the most budget-friendly beer to ever hit the U.S. market.

Born on the Fourth of July

RWB was first introduced by the Pabst Brewing Company in 1899, just in time for the 4th of July weekend. Obviously, the name is a nod to the American flag, and at the time, it made for a slightly less potent offshoot of the brand’s flagship pilsner. Early ad campaigns championed the beer’s mellow taste, drinkability, and low price point, and got plenty of mileage out of the “honest beer for an honest price” slogan.

Given its patriotic theme and affordability, RWB caught a fair amount of attention right out the gate. Prohibition briefly killed the brew in 1920, but it was resurrected with the 1933 repeal.

The GI Joe of Beers

Plenty of macro beers play up Americana marketing, conjuring grassroots images of people fishing, camping, and BBQ-ing among the amber waves of grain. But Red White & Blue took it to another level with its moniker, and with a name like that, there was no second-guessing the nationalism embodied by this beer. From the 1930s onward, RWB sales seemed to spike in tandem with any conflict the U.S. government got involved in, including World War II and subsequent conflicts. Even in the ‘70s, G.I.s were allegedly loyal to the brand, and many were said to drink nothing else.

By 1980, a recession had taken hold across the country, and for a beer as cheap as RWB, this was only good news. Pabst upgraded the beer from its stubby bottle packaging, and reintroduced it in its more iconic red, white, and blue can. The brand accompanied the package redesign with a series of radio commercials that capitalized on its patriotic new look: According to David Ogilvy’s book “Ogilvy on Advertising,” these ads claimed RWB was a more suitable and less expensive option for promoting our nation abroad than foreign aid was, and suggested the beer be sent overseas instead of “billions of dollars worth of planes, computers, [and] tractors.” Regardless of its ethical reasoning, the commercial was damn effective, as RWB’s sales increased by 60 percent in the months after it aired.

The Infamous Naked Beer Slide

Around this time, RWB’s production was taken over by Wisconsin’s G. Heileman Brewery when it partially acquired Pabst. Simultaneously, in a similar fashion to how hipsters would eventually adopt PBR, RWB got an extra dose of popularity from broke college students attending Milwaukee’s Marquette University.

By some accounts, Marquette students began a risqué tradition known as the “naked beer slide” at the campus’s Avalanche Bar and Grill beginning in the late ‘70s. The ’Lanche, as it was nicknamed, was a seedy tavern and staple of campus culture. The students’ unofficial motto for the venue suggested as much: “Get your degree at Marquette, but get your education at the ’Lanche.”

The naked beer slides would kick off around closing time. To participate, students — mostly male — would strip down while onlooking patrons would dump out the dregs of their beers on the concrete floor. With hopefully spectacular grace, a nude slider would get a running start and bellyflop onto the floor, sliding across the suds and swill. Think of it as the gnarliest Slip ‘N Slide you could imagine. At the ’Lanche, RWB cost 50 cents a can, so it was naturally the beverage of choice for prepping the floor for the event. During the era of the slide, the ’Lanche allegedly sold more RWB per capita than any other tavern in the world.

The slide tradition, though, only got more dangerous over time; one frequenter of the bar recalls that patrons would often smash beer bottles against the wall, casting glass shards all over the floor. The ’Lanche closed on April 24, 1997, and by the turn of the century, RWB began to lose any momentum it had.

This Brewery Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of Us

When the Heileman Brewery dissolved in 1999, RWB ownership returned to Pabst. For a number of reasons, Pabst Blue Ribbon’s popularity surged in the early aughts, and RWB production slowed as its audience tapered off. It’s tough to say for sure why RWB fell so far, but with near-identical packaging and slightly less of an ABV punch, RWB presumably became a less favorable, poor man’s PBR. Plus, despite the beer’s ties to Wisconsin, it didn’t thrive on regional pride the way many other macro brews have. Perhaps RWB cast too wide of a net as an all-American brew.

At some point in the early aughts, RWB production stopped entirely. In July 2018, Pabst briefly revived the beer at its Milwaukee brewery and taproom, but the bargain prices were long gone: On-premise draft pours were $4, and 32-ounce, to-go crowlers (can-growler hybrids) were $15. The beer’s production once again came to a halt when the taproom closed in 2020.

Pabst’s website no longer lists RWB as one of its brands, so it’s presumably gone for good. Will it ever be revived again? Crazier things have happened in this industry. But for now, we’re saying RIP to the most budget-friendly budget brew to ever grace the American beer landscape.

*Image retrieved from Pabst Blue Ribbon

The article The 89 Cent 6-Pack: When Red White & Blue Was the Best Deal in Beer appeared first on VinePair.

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