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Nuts over their PBR: idle Fort Wayne brewery on a boat to China.

From the outside, the culinary customs of foreign countries can seem anywhere from a little odd to downright crazy. In the former Soviet Union, cucumbers may be part of the bill of fare at any meal, including breakfast. Some restaurants in Italy put peas in lasagna. The Japanese don't always bother to cook their fish. And the Chinese are downright nuts about Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Pabst Blue Ribbon? A delicacy? This is a beer that American college students buy not because it's choice, but because it's cheap. When Hollywood shows us tasteful people in a social setting, if they're drinking beer at all they certainly aren't drinking PBR. Pabst has an important place in the beer market, no doubt, but it's not in the refrigerators of American beer connoisseurs.

In China, on the other hand, PBR isn't laughed at. It's respected. It's sold for $6 a bottle. It's loved so much that the Chinese contacted Pabst Brewing Co., asking to buy not only a bunch of beer but an entire brewery. The people at Pabst said "no problem," and began packing up the copper kettles at their idle brewery in Fort Wayne.

The people of Fort Wayne brewed beer for the better part of a century, until the Falstaff plant closed down a couple years ago. And while their brew didn't carry quite the same reputation as, say, Heineken or Michelob, they took pride in their product. Even so, it had to come as a big surprise to learn that current owner Pabst was picking up the whole plant, every tank and vat and brewing kettle, and hauling it off to the other side of the world.

Strange, indeed, but true. And a wise marketing move for Milwaukee-based Pabst, too. China is, after all, the world's most populous market, with 1.13 billion current or potential PBR fanatics. Though the brewer can't really hit these prospects through standard American marketing--there's only one TV for every dozen people there--Pabst has tradition on its side, as the Chinese have been drinking PBR for about a century. Pabst has a licensing agreement with the government of China, and while the government gets most of the profits, Pabst will get some royalties.

As Pabst and the Chinese government found out, it's a lot easier to cart a six-pack to China than it is to move a brewery. The equipment was not particularly heavy, but it was big. The brewing kettles at the Fort Wayne plant measured 24 feet across and 16 feet tall. The tanks were 54 feet long and 12 feet in diameter. Martin International of Fort Wayne won a $3 million contract from the Chinese government to get the brewery from here to there.

It was no small accomplishment. Martin International designed special trailers to haul some of the equipment, and it had to carefully plan what routes the trucks would take as well as what times the oversized trucks would be on the road.

A key destination on the way to China was the Port of Indiana near Burns Harbor, on Lake Michigan in Northwest Indiana. Here, the equipment was taken off the trucks and loaded onto a ship heading for the Far East. Picking up and loading bulky things is no big deal there, with the port's varied material-handling equipment. The people at the port probably didn't even blink when they saw a brewery coming through the gates. They've handled odd loads before, including an old passenger plane headed for museum display in nearby Chicago.

There's still plenty to do before Chinese proprietors can adequately respond to the Pabst slogan, "PBR me ASAP." It's expected to take two or three years for workers there to reassemble the equipment from Fort Wayne and an Omaha brewery.
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Title Annotation:Pabst Blue Ribbon beer; Pabst Brewing Co.
Author:Kaelble, Steve
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Previous Article:Environmentally-friendly fireplace.
Next Article:Indiana has recovered, and then some.

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