MillerCoors-Pabst spat chugs to trial
Milwaukee — Pabst Brewing Company and MillerCoors are going to trial, with hipster favorite Pabst contending that MillerCoors wants to put it out of business by ending a longstanding partnership through which it brews Pabst’s beers.
Pabst’s lawyers argue that the company’s very existence relies on the partnership with Chicago-based MillerCoors, which produces, packages and ships nearly all its products, which include Pabst Blue Ribbon, Old Milwaukee, Natty Boh and Lone Star. MillerCoors says it’s not obligated to keep brewing for Pabst, and that Pabst doesn’t want to pay enough to justify doing so.
The trial in Milwaukee County Circuit Court begins Monday and is scheduled through Nov. 30.
Pabst’s attorneys have said in court documents and hearings that MillerCoors LLC is lying about its brewing capacity to break away from Pabst and capture its share of the cheap beer market by disrupting Pabst’s ability to compete. At a March hearing in which MillerCoors tried to have the lawsuit dismissed, Pabst attorney Adam Paris said “stunning documents” obtained from MillerCoors show that it went as far as hiring a consultant to “figure out ways to get rid of us.” MillerCoors has called that a mischaracterization of the consultant’s work.
The 1999 agreement between MillerCoors and Pabst, which was founded in Milwaukee in 1844 and is now headquartered in Los Angeles, expires in 2020 but provides for two possible five-year extensions. The companies dispute how the extensions should be negotiated: MillerCoors argues that it has sole discretion to determine whether it can continue brewing for Pabst; Pabst says the companies must work “in good faith” to find a solution if Pabst wants to extend the agreement.
Pabst is seeking more than $400 million in damages and for MillerCoors to be ordered to honor its contract.
In 2015, MillerCoors announced it would close its brewing facility in Eden, North Carolina, and that it eventually might have to shutter another facility in Irwindale, California. Pabst contends that MillerCoors refused to provide any information to substantiate its claim that it would no longer have the capacity to continue brewing Pabst’s beers, and that it wouldn’t consider leasing the Eden facility and would only sell it for an “astronomical” price.
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