Maybe Pabst Wasn’t Bought by Russians

In American hands?  

Photo by DiselDemon/Flickr

Back in September, a number of reputable news outlets reported that a group of investors fronted by a Russian beer and soft drinks company, Oasis Beverages, was buying Pabst Blue Ribbon. This led to lots of joking from bloggers—me included—about how a brand that once traded on its blue-collar, all-American image to entice scenesters in Brooklyn, Portland, and beyond before becoming a bit passé was now officially owned by our geopolitical archrivals. 

But perhaps it was all just a great misunderstanding? Bloomberg and the New York Times report that Oasis Beverages was not, in fact, involved in the deal. Rather, Oasis chairman Eugene Kashper, an American citizen, and the San Francisco–based private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners, formed a new company called Blue Ribbon Intermediate Holdings to purchase the brewer. Meanwhile, Kashper resigned from Oasis in November to take the helm at Pabst, according to Bloomberg.

This is all a bit strange. The initial press release announcing the deal very clearly stated that “Oasis Beverages has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Pabst Brewing Company.” I, for one, have never heard of a press release for an M&A deal that announced the wrong buyer, and so far, nobody has explained what went wrong. The Times tries to fill in where some of the confusion might have come from:

Mr. Kashper was discussing a distribution agreement with Oasis that would introduce Pabst to the Russian and Eastern European markets. There were also discussions about selling Oasis a minority nonvoting stake in Pabst.

Those talks broke down because of market conditions—namely the fact that Western nations are imposing sanctions on Russia in response to its aggression in Ukraine, making this an inopportune time to introduce a distinctly American beer. And Oasis was never in talks to acquire Pabst outright.

In the end, this might all be something of a distinction without much of a difference. As the New York Post wrote in its own September story about how Pabst wasn’t really falling into Russian hands, Kashper was brought to the United States at age 6 when his Jewish parents fled the Soviet Union. He founded Oasis, which lists its address in Cyprus (a favorite tax haven for Russian oligarchs) in 2008, and the company does business in Russia, the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. But he says he has lived in New York City for the past dozen years. So Pabst is now run and partly owned by a Russian-American businessman who presumably made a lot of money brewing and distributing beer in a very corrupt part of the world.

Also, it doesn’t really matter. Pabst is still barely acceptable beer that most of us will continue to drink if it happens to be that absolute cheapest swill available at the bar.