A brewery tour seems like an odd place to tear up. Yet that’s exactly what happened to me last weekend.
There I was with my husband and friends learning about the history of Pabst Brewing Company, and suddenly I could barely suppress the waterworks.
Don’t get me wrong, the inspiring story has some bittersweet chapters to it. Pabst was once the largest brewing company in the world. It closed its doors abruptly in 1996, shocking "Brew City." I still remember the news coverage. And I remember touring the fully functioning brewery with my family 30 some years ago.
After the closing, the massive complex sat dormant for five years—everything left exactly as it was when the doors were padlocked. Then a passionate local couple purchased the entire property in hopes of restoring it. After a contentious legal battle, they retained one of the beautiful buildings: Blue Ribbon Hall.
Slowly they are rebuilding the great hall, turning it into a place where history shines and beer and happiness flow again.
As I toured the facility, my own history got the best of me.
When I was a kid, PBR was my dad’s beer of choice. Among the brewery rubble, I was transported to the days when my dad’s friends came over to play cards. I was always eager to bring him a cold one—I got to yank out the pull tab.
In my memories, it is a muggy Midwestern day and I’m running around the yard with my brothers while my dad grills BBQ chicken and baked potatoes. Or my dad is building a campfire for us to roast marshmallows. Or we’re hanging out at the smoky bowling alley where my parents played on leagues.
I see myself run to meet him at the backdoor when he comes home from working the railroad tracks—and then I pick T-shirt lint from his belly button. (This odd habit fascinates and disturbs me to this day).
As the polka band in the next room starts playing, I see me and my dad dancing at many a wedding. (When did people stop playing polkas at weddings?)
I was a daddy’s girl, no doubt about it.
Then I became a teenager and our conversations trickled to nearly nothing. It wasn’t lack of love that stopped us from talking. In this new phase, which I’ll call “my bitchy adolescence,” I think we simply stopped knowing what to say or at least how to say it.
Before the conversation had a chance to ever truly resume, I went off to college, then grad school and then Colorado. My Dad and I talked by phone occasionally, but mostly information flowed through my mom.
Fast forward, 25 years. Here I am gazing at that iconic blue ribbon, memorabilia all around me, and all I can think about is my dad.
If beer makes me this nostalgic, you may be thinking, “wow, that girl’s dad must have been an alcoholic.”
Not true. My dad was just a hard-working, 20-something guy trying to raise a family in the financially depressed 1970s. He had three kids before his 29th birthday so frankly, I’m impressed he didn’t lace his morning coffee with a shot of Jack Daniels.
Seeing the PBR logo triggers memories, but the reason the tour hits me so hard is that the following day my dad will be undergoing some cardiac tests to check out something suspicious.
His family has a history of heart disease; my grandfather died of a heart attack at age 68. My dad turns 62 next week.
So while I want to enjoy the tour—it’s about beer after all—the long forgotten daddy’s girl inside of me is terrified and wondering if my dad and I are running out of time.
My mom (of course) calls the next afternoon. The news is good—no major concerns. I’m relieved beyond belief. I would crack open a PBR to celebrate (coincidentally it’s in the fridge—my husband’s inexpensive beer of choice), but I don’t really enjoy the taste of beer any more.
Still, I raise a silent toast to The Best Place Beer History Tour. I learned a bit about one of my city’s most legendary companies. More importantly, I realized that you can restore your history. It may not be exactly the same (that T-shirt lint thing really was weird), but you can build it into something new.
This one’s for you, Dad. I know you’ll read it because Mom will forward it to you.