The most surprising star of HBO's most popular series True Detective is not recent Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey, nor is it the eerily John Wayne-esk Woody Harrelson or even writer Nic Pizzolatto who has stunned audiences with this - his first -TV Series. No, the breakout role, the true "star" of True Detective is played an American adjunct lager, "The National Beer of Texas": Lone Star.
This is a comeback role for Lone Star which hasn't been in the public eye since Urban Cowboy.
But even Lone Star's role in that 1980 classic is nothing compared to this...
We meet Lone Star very early in the first episode of True Detective. After years of being off the force, former detective Rust Cohle is called in for a police inquiry into an old case. In the middle of discussing the old case, Cohle calls time-out because he needs "make a beer run." The detectives interviewing him are reluctant to let him drink during their discussion, but Cohle persists and eventually they agree to go get beer for him. Cohle tosses them some money and tells them...
"Lone Star or Old Milwaukee. Nothin snooty..."
They bring him a sixer of 16oz Lone Star cans and thus begins a complex and intricate on-screen relationship between character and beer. Lone Star not only appears as Cohle's sidekick in the interrogation, but Cohle's former partner Marty and other members of the police force enjoy it. Marty's in-laws drink it, Marty's mistress enjoys it, hell it seems to be the beer of choice for every morally questionable (but mostly) law abiding* characters of True Detective. But is Lone Star just another beer on the screen or does it serve a higher purpose?
In episode three Cohle begins methodically slicing into his finished 16oz Lone Star cans. He cuts and shapes and eventually forms five metal stick figure men and places them in a circle formation. He makes these "Lone Star Men" without fanfare and never references them. One theory is that Cohle is perhaps cluing investigating detectives to what Dustin Rowles refers to as "the 5 horsemen" a.k.a. the men that appear in the picture with Dora Lange. And look how Cohle shaped the metal men** making YELLOW STARS perfectly at the top of their head giving each yellow "king like" crown.
Maybe Lone Star beer is a tool for plot development and maybe it's just a beer, but MAYBE it's a window into something more.
From what I can gather, HBO has a long standing rule against paid product placement and wants all products and companies to come from the creative mind of the director and Lone Star beer seems a natural choice. They're in the south, where it's a popular, cheap and easy to get brew. But when you start looking around and you see neons in all the bars glowing with Miller Lite and Budweiser and not one person is drinking one of these and there are only four other beers consumed by characters in the series. Besides Lone Star, in episode two we see cans of Old Milwaukee on the dinner table at Marty's in-laws. In episode four Schlitz is guzzled by the white-supremacist drug dealers and Colt 45 is swigged by a young reveler at a rave. These different beer choices seem authentic enough, falling in line which each character, context and situation.
And all, are owned by Pabst Brewing Company.
The original Lone Star Bottling Works opened in San Antonio, TX in the 1890s and began producing the now famous Lone Star beer in 1940. The company was bought by Olympia Brewing Co. in 1976 and changed hands a few more times before Pabst Brewing Company bought Lone Star along with Schlitz and Old Milwaulkee in 1999, (Pabst bought Colt 45 prior to '99.) In April 2001, Pabst got a new C.E.O. and the company's marketing department began to be overhauled with a so called "marketing of no marketing" strategy for their famous Pabst Blue Ribbon.
"...secret band of guerrilla marketers who were paid $35,000 to $50,000 a year to buy rounds of Pabst in places like Portland, Ore.; Seattle; Berkeley, Calif.; Brooklyn; and Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, where bike messengers, hipsters and artists had adopted the brand — a phenomenon that grew out of Portland bars in the early 2000s. " - Chicago Tribune
The strategy worked very well. Roberto A. Ferdman reports
"While it still hasn’t approached the massive reach of Budweiser, PBR overtook Coors in volume sales back in 2006, and Sam Adams in 2010."
The vast improvements PBR sales made Pabst Brewing Co. very attractive for sale and in 2010, billionaire C. Dean Metropoulos bought Pabst Brewing Company. After Metropoulos's purchase, "more than two dozen executives" abandoned Pabst at the same time. Why did they leave? Because Metropoulos initiated a different marketing strategy:
..."They said they plan to bring glamour and celebrity sponsorships to such Pabst brands as Old Milwaukee, Schlitz and Lone Star"...
..."In an internal memo to top staff one month after purchasing the company, C. Dean Metropoulos outlined a plan to see PBR sales grow 30 percent per year, Lone Star's sales to double and for the company"...
For PBR, Metropoulos appears to have stuck with the "marketing with no marketing" strategy and sales have seen an even greater rise under his watch. As for the rest, you may have seen the Will Ferrell's Old Milwaukee Ads, or Snoop Lion with a Colt 45 but Lone Star was yet to step into the spotlight. According to production designer Alex DiGerlando Lone Star was "the brand game to let their beer cans be used for purposes other than drinking."
Is it fate or meticulous planning that lead Lone Star and all other Pabst Brewing Co. brews to star in this HBO drama? Lone Star's brand visibility has exploded and is now as recognizable to popular American culture as PBR and Old Milwaukee. Which is perfect because Metropoulos has picked now - right now - as the time TO SELL PABST BREWING CO. and all it's beers. According to sources close the the matter, Pabst, which was bought 250 million is now looking to sell for 500 million to 1 billion.
Is Pabst the "carcosa" and C. Dean Metropoulos the "yellow king" of beer? Was this Pabst's plan all along and were Lone Star Beer andTrue Detective merely a pawns in their large and grotesque game? We may never know. Life is a great mystery, time is a circle. "Been that way since one monkey looked at the sun and told the other monkey, "He said for you to give me your fucking share."
*Lone Star can be seen on the table of the "tweakers house" in episode seven and of course, in this same episode Marty drinks it with deputy Steve Geraci.
** Want to know how to make your own metal beer can men? (Yeah, you do.) Click here.