Why Is PBR $44 Per Bottle in China?

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Everyone who's been to college is familiar with Pabst Blue Ribbon, better known as PBR, the ultra-cheap beer just slightly more flavorful than water and about the same price. Now the beer is being introduced to the Chinese market with a slightly different branding strategy. There, "it's called Pabst Blue Ribbon 1844 and will run you $44 a bottle," Time's Megan Gibson reports.

In China, where the lager has been branded as a "world-famous spirit" and bottled in a much more alluring way, Pabst Blue Ribbon 1844 actually looks quite enticing.  The advertising campaign for the beer even likens it to “Scotch whisky, French brandy, Bordeaux wine,” as they are all matured in wooden casks.

The New Yorker's China-based Evan Osnos explains the culture behind the pricey PBR:

This is not the first time that P.B.R. has reinvented itself over the years. Since it got its start in the nineteenth century, it has pitched itself in various ways to workers, families, and sports fans--as this good roundup shows. But now, it seems, that a clever Chinese distributor has snatched up the license knowing full well about the Chinese fondness for trophies and ribbons. (See: Olympics, 2008). Alcohol, as I described in a piece on China’s love affair with wine, has become a prime tool for conspicuous consumption. And "Blue Ribbon 1844," as its Chinese site assures us, has winner written all over it.

The New Republic's Jonathan Chait has an idea: "Can't somebody arbitrage that? What's stopping you from buying a whole bunch of PBR here in the U.S., shipping it to China and reselling it for $22 a bottle?"

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.