District History

Founded in 1844, the Pabst Brewing Company (formerly the Phillip Best Brewing Company) became Milwaukee’s largest brewery by 1868 and one of the largest nationally by 1874. The Pabst Brewing Company Complex originally consisted of twenty-seven buildings, spanning seven city blocks in downtown Milwaukee.


At the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Pabst wins the Supreme Award for lager beer.


Captain Pabst dies on New Year’s Day and is mourned by beer drinkers all over the world. Pabst remains one of the “Big Three” American brewers.


The 18th Amendment bans the sale and manufacture of alcoholic beverages. The company produces near beer, soft drinks, malt syrup and cheese to survive Prohibition.


Pabst merges with Premier Malt Products of Peoria and is no longer a family controlled company.


Prohibition ends and there is dancing in the streets! Pabst’s production rebounds quickly to 1,000,000 barrels in 1934.


The Blue Ribbon is now only represented on the label. Production soars to 3.4 million barrels.


Pabst celebrates its 100 millionth barrel with many elaborate ceremonies and creates a golden barrel to mark this milestone.


Pabst’s volume continues to grow, reaching 4.7 million barrels.


Pabst’s production more than doubles to 10.5 million barrels and in 1977 Pabst sells 17 million barrels, the company’s all-time record.


A California investor purchases Pabst. After significant disinvestment, the Milwaukee br­­­­ewery is closed in 1996.


Pabst’s entire beer production is now outsourced. After operating for over 150 years, the Pabst Brewery closed in 1996 leaving a seven-block area of downtown Milwaukee vacant.


Jim Haertel and BCR Group’s offer to purchase the Pabst Brewing Company complex was accepted on September 11, 2001. BCR Group partnered with Wispark and The Ferchill Group to form Juneau Avenue Partners who later sold the complex to Zilber, LTD. in 2006. Jim Haertel retained ownership of the Pabst Main Office building, former Jefferson Public School and later Pabst Company Office, and the Visitors Center/Reception Building, which would become the Best Place at The Historic Pabst Brewery.


Milwaukee entrepreneur and philanthropist, Joseph J. Zilber purchases the former Pabst Brewery Complex and partners with the City of Milwaukee for redevelopment.

Zilber’s vision was to redevelop the area into downtown Milwaukee’s next great neighborhood with a commitment to historic preservation and sustainability. The Brewery Project LLC was created to serve as the development’s master developer and by the end of 2006, the massive site preparation work to prepare the area for development had begun.


The Brewery Neighborhood Improvement District No. 1 was created to promote and sustain the redevelopment and operation of the former historic Pabst Brewery as a thriving mixed-use development known as The Brewery District. It was the first Neighborhood Improvement District in the state of Wisconsin.


The Brewery District achieved certification at the Platinum level in the LEED Neighborhood Development (ND) program as a result of its commitment to sustainability and its management of environmental impacts in the design of the neighborhood.


Over $300 million has been invested in The Brewery District. The mixed-use neighborhood is now home to seven residential developments, four commercial office buildings, UW-Milwaukee Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health, two hotel properties, breweries, restaurants, event and retail spaces, parks and green spaces and a centrally located 8-level LEED Gold certified public parking structure.


Jacob Best, Sr. is born in the Rhineland, a German region known for beer as well as wine. Best becomes a master at making both beverages for the local market and raises four sons who join him in the business.


Jacob Best’s oldest sons, Jacob, Jr. and Charles, sail for America and establish the family in Milwaukee.


With an abundance of Germans, Milwaukee is such a promising location that the Best boys persuade their parents and siblings to join them and start a brewery. The Bests’ purchase land on 9th St. and Juneau Ave. and Best and Co. is in operation by year’s end. The brewery’s capacity is a modest 300 barrels a year.


Jacob Best Sr.’s son, Phillip, becomes sole proprietor of the brewery and renames it Philip Best & Company. Production climbs to 7,000 barrels a year, 4th largest in Milwaukee.


Frederick Pabst, a young Great Lakes ship captain, marries Phillip Best’s daughter, Maria and in 1864 joins his father-in-law in the beer business.


Phillip Best & Company is now the largest brewer in Milwaukee, a city already known for the quality of its beer.


Only thirty years after its founding, Best becomes the largest brewery in America, with annual output topping 100,000 barrels.


Best workers begin to hand-tie a piece of blue ribbon around the neck of every bottle of their Select beer. The company is buying over 300,000 yards of silk ribbon a year and Select becomes a national brand.


On March 12, Captain Pabst is in sole control of the business and changes the company’s name to The Pabst Brewing Company. The letter “B” is maintained in the Pabst label to honor the Best family.

Today over $300 million has been invested in The Brewery District.

The results include seven apartment developments, three office buildings, two hotel properties, two breweries, restaurants, banquet halls, and two public parks. In addition, The Brewery District is home to the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health and No Studios, an incubator for the growing film industry in Milwaukee. An 8-level LEED Gold Certified centrally located, public parking structure has been developed to serve the neighborhood.

Forward Progress

Join our email newsletter for news, events and district updates