Pabst Blue Ribbon Hard Cold Brew offers a unique way to get your daily caffeine fix as a boozy canned coffee. It’s well-priced and only slightly sweet with the overall quality that stands up to others on the market, but as a coffee-based beverage, it may have limited occasions where it would be a genuinely good fit.
Style: hard cold-brewed coffee
Company: Pabst Brewing Company
Brewery Location: Neenah, Wisconsin
MSRP: $10 per 4-pack
- A well-priced, unique option that stands out in a cooler or at brunch
- Semi-sweet coffee flavors similar to other packaged coffee drinks
- Potentially a good base for other cocktails or mixers
- Has the same amount of caffeine as one-third of a cup of coffee
- The bitter aftertaste of stale coffee
- Some may consider it to be overly sweet or cloying
- Its unique footprint might limit when people would want to drink it
Color: Pours an opaque dark coffee brown in the glass with absolutely zero head or light crema top forming.
Nose: There’s no mistaking that this is first and foremost a coffee beverage. Aromas of espresso and drip coffee mix with hints of melted baking chocolate but are also tinged with a touch of newspaper-y staleness that packaged coffee drinks tend to have.
Palate: The texture is surprisingly rich and full, like a cup of cold brew cut with a touch of cream and plenty of sugar. The sweetness comes through prominently and veers on cloying but works with the rich coffee flavors and hints of cocoa and makes it reminiscent of coffee liqueurs. A lack of carbonation makes it pleasantly smooth.
Finish: Coffee aromatics sing through the finish while a chocolate sweetness lingers long on the tongue long after. Unlike many cold brews, there’s not even a hint of an overly acidic finish.
Pabst Brewing is a company that has almost seen as much happen in the last decade and a half of its existence as it did in the previous 180 years that preceded it. After peaking at the number three best-selling beer in the U.S. in 1980, the brand fell on hard times as CEOs shuffled through the company before shuttering their Milwaukee headquarters in 1996. After a successful reinvention of the brand, Pabst Blue Ribbon—or PBR for short—experienced a famous resurgence in the early 2000s as the go-to beer for the hipster or budget-conscious set. Such successes have allowed the brand to continue to reinvent itself, offering new beverages including the Pabst Blue Ribbon Hard Cold Brew.
Unlike the light, approachable, cheap lager that most associate with Pabst, Hard Cold Brew offers a completely different drinking experience. As advertised, it’s a canned coffee beverage released by the company to cash in on the ready-to-drink cocktail and hard seltzer trends that have seismically shifted the industry. But in terms of achieving what it sets out to do, this beverage manages to be a relatively enjoyable option that tastes a lot like other popular prepackaged coffee drinks. The major difference here, of course, is that this one clocks in at 4.2% ABV.
The beverage itself somewhat convincingly dupes as a breakfast order at a local cafe might, showcasing deep coffee flavors and rich notes of chocolate that come across as barely more than the “slightly sweet” advertised on the can. As a dairy-free product, it also doesn’t end up with the thick milkshake consistency that many canned or bottled lattes end up having. It’s also still got 35 milligrams of caffeine per can, making it about as strong as a third of a cup of coffee. Still, the cans fall victim to the slightly stale coffee taste that other packaged coffee drinks do, which can push through on the finish when it begins to warm up in your hand.
While this exists as a relatively unique product on the shelf, it’s also somewhat difficult to think of situations when this might be considered a “go-to” beverage option outside of boozy brunches. You could argue that the cold brew itself could be a useful mixer in a cocktail such as an Espresso Martini riff or could make for a good post-dinner drink poured over ice and served alongside dessert. This isn’t to say its novelty doesn’t make it an appropriate purchase for someone, but it does make it a harder argument that there’s something here for everyone to love.
This product is probably the best fit for anyone looking to change up their brunch routine from Mimosas or Bellinis while still getting in their coffee fix. And given its relatively cheap price point, it’s unlikely to be more expensive than a coffee liqueur or the spirits you’d generally buy to mix into a freshly brewed cup. It may be an imperfect shortcut beverage with limited uses, but it still seems to serve a purpose.
Pabst Blue Ribbon originally got its name from its original packaging in the late 19th century, which included an actual blue ribbon tied around the bottle meant to represent a major award it had won.
The bottom line: Whether you’re running out to brunch, need a mixer for a cocktail, or simply want something very different, Pabst Hard Cold Brew offers a unique crossover drink that stands out on the shelf for being one of the only alcoholic coffee beverages available. Its mildly sweet flavor profile provides a balance against bitter coffee flavors, even if the finish comes across as a bit stale. It may not make sense at every occasion, but the drink itself stands up to the quality of other prepackaged coffee options—except with a boozy kick.