Pabst Goes Nautical with Taproom Rebrand, New Craft Beer Line

The taproom nods to the past as Captain Pabst’s Pilot House and launches a new IPA

Goodbye, Pabst Milwaukee Brewery & Taproom; hello, Captain Pabst’s Pilot House.

The modern incarnation of one of Milwaukee’s most famous breweries is further embracing its origin story with a new name shared with its new line of craft beers.

On Tuesday night, Pabst Brewing Co. unveiled both the new identity of the taproom and Seabird IPA, the first beer its new Captain Pabst brand. 

Both names are an homage to the brewery’s beer baron namesake, Frederick Pabst. Before he married into the Best brewing family and eventually took over the brewery, Pabst was a young German immigrant making his way in Milwaukee in the 1850s. He latched onto the steamship trade and became a captain on Lake Michigan by his early 20s.

As Pabst’s storytellers tell it (even historians have a tough time discerning beer industry legend from fact, and this definitely has the smell of a tall tale), Captain Pabst quit life as a mariner after intentionally running his steamer, the Seabird, into a sand bar off Whitefish Bay during a storm in 1863, wrecking the ship but ensuring the safety of her passengers. 

Pabst hung up his captain’s hat, collected some insurance money and bought into his wife’s family’s brewery. It would become known as Pabst Brewing Co. by 1888 and in 1916 became the first American brewery to reach 1 million barrels of production.

The Milwaukee brewery closed in 1996, and these days, Pabst is a “virtual brewer” contracting out production of its 80 or so brands to breweries owned by other companies. The exception: the tiny brewery in the Milwaukee taproom’s lower level that gave rise to Seabird IPA.

Seabird IPA is the first in Pabst Brewing’s new Captain Pabst line of beers. Photo by Chris Drosner

Seabird is a 4.5% ABV beer (that would qualify as a session IPA) made with Magnum, Citra, Cascade, and Mosaic hops. The cans rolled out Tuesday poured a bright and crisp, moderately bitter, easy drinking IPA that will be available across Wisconsin and in the Chicago market. Four-packs of tallboy cans will sell for $9-$10.

The Seabird being distributed outside the taproom is actually made at Wisconsin Brewing Co. in Verona, near Madison, though the Seabird pouring at the Milwaukee taproom is made on-site. Its recipe has been developed at the Milwaukee brewery for about a year, with tweaks by Zack Krueger, head brewer in Milwaukee, and corporate brewmaster John Kimes. (Together, they are exactly one-half of the entire company’s brewing staff.)

Kimes said the second beer planned for the Captain Pabst line is a packaged revival of the hallowed Andeker. That helles lager recipe has been undergoing tweaks of its own since its reintroduction in the taproom in 2018. That release is planned for fall, Kimes said.

The Captain Pabst launch coincides with the remaking of the taproom, which has evolved since its opening in 2017 in a restored historic former German Methodist church on the edge of the massive, mostly redeveloped Pabst complex.

The taproom does solid business during the after-work window but has had trouble attracting patrons later in the night, general manager Adam Powers told the crowd Tuesday. He’s focused on bringing in live music to the stage and invested in acoustic upgrades. 

“How do we make money in this room, is what it came down to,” he said.

The remake is more than just a new name. Flux Design freshened the room with weather wood accents and a cool captain’s wheel front and center on the upper level. (Don’t worry, the taproom’s most dramatic feature, a giant neon-accented Pabst sign hanging from the ceiling, remains.)  

Captain Pabst’s Pilot House is open for business in all its nautical glory now, but a grand reopening is set for March 28, the captain’s birthday.



Executive editor, Milwaukee Magazine. Aficionado of news, sports and beer. Dog and cat guy. (Yes, both.)