November 13, 2018

HIPSTER BLUES: A Major Beer Battle Is Brewing and it Could Mean the End of PBR.

Pabst’s attorneys have said in court documents and hearings that MillerCoors LLC is lying about its brewing capacity to break away from Pabst and capture its share of the cheap beer market by disrupting Pabst’s ability to compete. At a March hearing in which MillerCoors tried to have the lawsuit dismissed, Pabst attorney Adam Paris said “stunning documents” obtained from MillerCoors show that it went as far as hiring a consultant to “figure out ways to get rid of us.” MillerCoors has called that a mischaracterization of the consultant’s work.

The 1999 agreement between MillerCoors and Pabst, which was founded in Milwaukee in 1844 but is now headquartered in Los Angeles, expires in 2020 but provides for two possible five-year extensions. The companies dispute how the extensions should be negotiated: MillerCoors argues that it has sole discretion to determine whether it can continue brewing for Pabst, whereas Pabst says the companies must work “in good faith” to find a solution if Pabst wants to extend the agreement but MillerCoors lacks the capacity.

Pabst needs 4 million to 4.5 million barrels brewed annually and claims MillerCoors is its only option. It is seeking more than $400 million in damages and for MillerCoors to be ordered to honor its contract.

Years ago the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Globe-Democrat had a similar arrangement, where they ran (and profited from) the same want-ads, and shared a printing facility owned by the Post. When the Post let the agreement lapse, things didn’t go well for the Globe, which folded not long after.

No matter what the short-term benefits might be, it’s rarely a wise business decision to trust a competitor with vital assets.

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