Settlement reached in Pabst-MillerCoors case, meaning Natty Boh is safe

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The Boh sign in Brewers Hill. Photo by Elliott Plack, via Flickr.

An important update for our cheap beer-drinking readers: National Bohemian isn’t going anywhere. The locally born brand’s parent company, Pabst Brewing, and beer behemoth MillerCoors yesterday reached a settlement in a Milwaukee court case, and the latter firm has agreed to continue brewing Pabst-owned sub-premium beers.

Per the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the deal was announced just as jurors were finishing their first day of deliberations. Pabst had sued, alleging MillerCoors violated the terms of a decades-old contract-brewing agreement—Pabst doesn’t have any of its own production facilities—by not agreeing to extend their contract through 2025. Had Pabst lost, the futures of its own Blue Ribbon brand, Natty Boh, Milwaukee’s Best, Rainier and around 20 other beloved regional cheap brews, hung in the balance.

In a statement given to Baltimore Fishbowl Thursday, a Pabst spokesperson said both sides “amicably resolved all outstanding issues in the case.”

“Pabst will continue to offer Pabst Blue Ribbon and the rest of our authentic, great tasting and affordable brews to all Americans for many, many years to come,” the spokesman said.

The other details are murky; terms of the settlement weren’t disclosed.

In the lawsuit, Pabst had argued MillerCoors was trying to put its smaller competitor out of business by choosing not to renew their contract in 2015. Since 1999, Pabst had outsourced production to MillerCoors, but the deal was set to expire in 2020.

Pabst reportedly had interpreted the contract as saying it had the option to renew the agreement through 2025 if MillerCoors had the brewing capacity. But MillerCoors contended in court that the rate they’d carved out in their deal was below-market (albeit profitable). And the conglomerate said it was planning for the future, in which it foresees having a smaller network of breweries, and would want to preserve its production capacity for its own products, not Pabst’s.

Despite not being made in Baltimore since 1996, Natty Boh is recognized as the cheap beer of choice in and around Baltimore. The brand was born in 1885 at National Brewing Co. in Brewers Hill, where the factory has since been converted to a mixed-use luxury apartment complex. In the company’s heyday, it offered the first six-pack on the market and was made the official beer sponsor of the Orioles, as well as “the official beer of Baltimore.”

In 1975, National Brewing Co. merged with Carling Brewing Co., the Boh brewery in Baltimore was shut down and production was moved to Halethorpe. In a series of consolidations over the next two decades, Wisconsin-based G. Heileman Brewing Co. bought Carling-National in 1978, Detroit-based Stroh Brewing Company bought G. Heileman in 1996 and Pabst bought the rights to Stroh’s labels in 1999.

But Baltimoreans still champion Boh as a local thing. Look no further than Fells Point storefronts for Mr. Boh logos on shirts, hats and other merch, or to almost any neighborhood bar where pints go for two or three bucks a pop.

More than a week after we first covered the brand’s uncertain future this month, other local outlets jumped on the story, some interviewing residents about their allegiance to it.

“It’s a working man’s beer kind of thing, you know?” one patron at Frazier’s in Hampden told Fox 45.

There was a chance that if Pabst lost, it would sell off the rights to its labels, and some expressed hope that someone in Maryland would buy Boh and bring it home to Baltimore. It now appears that won’t be necessary.

Ethan McLeod
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