Captain Pabst Pilot House to Permanently Close Taproom

Pour one out for the Captain Pabst Pilot House tonight.

The Pabst Brewing Co. announced Tuesday that the Captain Pabst Pilot House, located in Milwaukee’s Brewery District, will permanently close this month. All associated brewing activities at the Downtown brewery will be moved to Pabst’s home office site in San Antonio.

“This has been an extremely difficult year for all hospitality and tourism businesses, and it has been no different for the Captain Pabst Pilot House,” Pabst Brewing Co. General Manager Matt Bruhn said. “Unfortunately, with no signs of the business improving, the company has come to the difficult decision to close the Captain Pabst Pilot House operation effective December 21.”

The Captain Pabst Pilot House is located in a historic 145-year old building – the former First German Methodist Church at 1037 W. Juneau Ave. on the original Pabst complex.

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Named for the iconic brewing legend, Frederick Pabst, the facility houses a 4,000 barrel per year microbrewery on its first floor, with a taproom area and performance stage on the second floor. It also features an outdoor beer garden and a mezzanine area.

“This is an amazing space,” Pilot House General Manager Adam Powers said. “It’s a sad day for me, my team and Pabst lovers here in Milwaukee. But it’s my sincere hope that once we move beyond the pandemic, that someone with a love of Milwaukee brewing history will work to make this facility a thriving, viable business moving forward.”

After announcing plans in 2015, the taproom opened two years later as Pabst Milwaukee Brewery & Taproom on the edge of the massive, redeveloped Pabst complex. In January, a rebranding brought a new name, Captain Pabst’s Pilot House, to further embrace its origins. Along with it came a new line of craft beers, including Seabird IPA.

A formal reopening had been planned for March but then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

A nearby business at the Pabst Brewery complex, Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub, closed in September, also citing a loss of business due to the pandemic.

The original Pabst brewery complex at North Ninth Street and West Juneau Avenue closed in 1997 before undergoing a massive redevelopment that took years to come to full fruition.

Since the closing of its Downtown brewery more than two decades ago, Pabst transformed into a “virtual brewer” that contracted out production of its multitude of brands to breweries owned and operated by other companies. This included a long-term, mostly closed-mouth production agreement, which began in 1999, with one-time heated rival Miller Brewing Co., now operating as Molson Coors, to produce Pabst products, including the flagship Blue Ribbon brand, as well as Old Milwaukee, Lone Star and Schlitz, at Miller’s sprawling brewery on West State Street in Milwaukee.

Pabst’s tiny brewery at the Milwaukee taproom has been an exception to Pabst’s virtual brewing presence.

Pabst, which is owned by San Francisco-based private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners and entrepreneur Eugene Kashper, has shifted its corporate headquarters several times since shuttering its Milwaukee complex. This included a five-year stint in the Chicago suburb of Woodbridge from 2006 to 2011. In September, Pabst closed its offices in Los Angeles and Dallas, and moved its headquarters back to San Antonio, where it had previously had its home office.

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.