Free Beer For Everyone – Is This A Great Marketing Idea Or What?

Nestled in the historic Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis, this is the largest and oldest Anheuser-Busch brewery site, chosen because of its access to the Mississippi River, the large presence of German immigrants in the 1800’s, and the natural cave formations that were used to store beer prior to artificial refrigeration.

Nestled in the historic Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis, this is the largest and oldest Anheuser-Busch brewery site, chosen because of its access to the Mississippi River, the large presence of German immigrants in the 1800’s, and the natural cave formations that were used to store beer prior to artificial refrigeration.

Anheuser-Busch And The Budweiser Story | Sharon Henry

I can’t explain my excitement for this Budweiser tour, it’s not like I’m a big beer drinker but it’s been brewing since this morning’s coffee. For starters, we’re getting free beer samples. We all like free stuff right? Secondly, Budweiser and Busch are legendary American icons, in my humble opinion are up there with Coca-Cola. And thirdly, it’s a real life version of ‘How It’s Made’?

Nice wheels. A 1931 Hawkeye Stake Truck on display in the main entrance lobby was hard to resist.

Nice wheels. A 1931 Hawkeye Stake Truck on display in the main entrance lobby was hard to resist.

Our northbound USA road trip up the Mississippi River sees this call into St Louis, Missouri, ‘Gateway to the West.’ It’s the birthplace of ‘Phenomenal Woman’ Maya Angelou, Dr Pepper and home to the world famous Anheuser-Busch brewery that produces Budweiser, Busch and Michelob beer.

Yeah Right, Nothing’s For Free

Anheuser-Busch (InBev) do free brewery tours every day, all day, to all ages but you must be 21 to qualify for free beer. (Otherwise it’s soft drinks). Darrin, ever the sceptic, says “nothing’s for free there’s always a catch.”

We are handed 'Admit One' tickets immediately on arrival for the 11.20am tour. Looks like we might be drinking before noon once again!

We are handed ‘Admit One’ tickets immediately on arrival for the 11.20am tour. Looks like we might be drinking before noon once again!

Inside the sky-lit reception room of the St Louis, Anheuser-Busch brewery, the company's comprehensive beer range is displayed inside a trophy cabinet. It includes some familiar names and some surprises: Michelob ULTRA, Bass and Boddingtons, Beck's, Goose Island, Johnny Appleseed Hard Apple Cider, Landshark Lager and Shock Top, to name a few!

Inside the sky-lit reception room of the St Louis, Anheuser-Busch brewery, the company’s comprehensive beer range is displayed inside a trophy cabinet. It includes some familiar names and some surprises: Michelob ULTRA, Bass and Boddingtons, Beck’s, Goose Island, Johnny Appleseed Hard Apple Cider, Landshark Lager and Shock Top, to name a few!

It’s the weekend and crowded, including lots of families with young children. Our guides are Emily and Connor who run through the spiel of the brewery’s history, then usher us out to the paddock to see the famous Clydesdale horses.

Anheuser-Busch And The Birth Of An American Icon

In case you’re interested, here’s the story about Eberhard Anheuser and Aldophus Busch. Anheuser left Germany in 1843 and settled in St Louis. Being the entrepreneurial type he bought into the brewing business in 1852 despite lacking experience. Busch, another German immigrant, had a partnership in a brewery supply company, he later married Anheuser’s daughter and started working for his father in law.

Inside waiting on the Anheuser-Busch brewery tour to start.

Inside waiting on the Anheuser-Busch brewery tour to start.

In 1876 Busch with his friend Carl Conrad created Budweiser, an ‘American-style’ lager beer that appealed to palates across the country. It became the company’s flagship brand.

Beer For My Horses – Budweiser’s Clydesdales

Back to the tour. Our 90-strong group assembles at the paddock of the Clydesdale horses, famously used for advertising the Budweiser brand. They perform in parades and festivals across the country and only a select few join the hitch (group) that gets to pull a Budweiser wagon. The elite must have a dark coat, mane and tail, white stocking feet, be 6ft tall and weigh around 2,000lbs.

Anheuser-Busch owns 170 Clydesdale horses and have three travelling hitches, each consisting of 8 horses. Each horse gets a custom-made collar.

Anheuser-Busch owns 170 Clydesdale horses and have three travelling hitches, each consisting of 8 horses. Each horse gets a custom-made collar.

The Budweiser Clydesdale horses are a breed of draught horses originating from the farms of Clydesdale, Scotland and named after that region. The Budweiser Clydesdales are probably the most famous, however, they are also used as drum horses by the British Household Cavalry.

The Budweiser Clydesdale horses are a breed of draught horses originating from the farms of Clydesdale, Scotland and named after that region. The Budweiser Clydesdales are probably the most famous, however, they are also used as drum horses by the British Household Cavalry.

Budweiser wagons inside the stables.

Budweiser wagon inside the stables.

The Budweiser Clydesdale horses live in very smart stables on the brewery premises.

The Budweiser Clydesdale horses live in very smart stables on the brewery premises.

A Lifetime’s Supply of Beer

We all squeeze into the Beech Wood Aging Cellar housing massive tanks of beer; the room temperature is a brisk 10C. The smell of yeast is ripe. Each tank holds the equivalent of 200,000 six-packs. Emily jokes, “To conquer one of these tanks in your lifetime you’ll need to drink one beer every hour of the day, so a 24-pack a day…for 137 years!” Gulp.

Inside each tank is a foot of beech wood chips. The chips allow the yeast to stay in constant contact with the beer during the fermentation process that naturally carbonates the beer.

The wood chips inside the tanks are sourced from farms in Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee. They are dried and cured for three months before being chipped. The chips are then coated so they don't infuse flavours into the beer.

The wood chips inside the tanks are sourced from farms in Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee. They are dried and cured for three months before being chipped. The chips are then coated so they don’t infuse flavours into the beer.

Emily tells us this is an expensive process but Anheuser-Busch believes, “the result in quality is unmatched.”

Legal Drinking Age In America

Next comes the part we’ve all been waiting for; beer sampling. For once it’s great to be over 21. We’re handed a wooden beer token each to redeem at the bar later. It’s tucked safely in my pocket. On entering the Brew House we’re offered generous Budweiser and Bud Light samples at the door. I choose the Budweiser. Everyone crowds in, sipping their samples slowly, conscious of appearing greedy.

Tokens to be redeemed at the bar later.

Tokens to be redeemed at the bar later.

The seven-step process of making the beer is explained as we all sip our samples (and wonder whether it would be rude to ask for another!)

The seven-step process of making the beer is explained as we all sip our samples (and wonder whether it would be rude to ask for another!)

The Anheuser Busch story of an American Icon.

The taster sample to enjoy while the brewing process is being explained.

Connor then runs through the seven-step process of what makes the beer we’re drinking so special. The ingredients are wheat, yeast, water, hops and rice. The latter is what sets Budweiser apart from other beers. Using rice actually goes against German beer making regulations. Anheuser-Busch includes rice to get a crisp, fresh taste.

St Louis Holds The Secret Recipe

Did you know hops are flowers? I didn’t. They grow on vines, some grow over a foot at night. Hops add spice to beer. Anheuser-Busch are the only brewery that grow their own hops vines.

The Anheuser-Busch brewing process of an American Icon - Budweiser beer.

The Anheuser-Busch brewing process of an American Icon – Budweiser beer.

The Anheuser-Busch brewery in St Louis opened in 1852. It has since been designated a National Historic Landmark District which includes three buildings listed as National Historic Landmarks. The Brew House with its attractive clock tower was constructed later, between 1891 and 1892. Adolphus Busch’s vision was to “make this the finest brew house in the world.”

The Anheuser-Busch brewery in St Louis opened in 1852. It has since been designated a National Historic Landmark District which includes three buildings listed as National Historic Landmarks. The Brew House with its attractive clock tower was constructed later, between 1891 and 1892. Adolphus Busch’s vision was to “make this the finest brew house in the world.”

Yeast makes up 60% of the beer’s flavour and ‘fun’ fact; the same yeast strain that Busch picked out back in 1876 is still used today. It is kept under lock and key on the St Louis facility. Only five people have access to it. Once a week it is harvested and shipped out to the other 11 breweries across the country in armoured trucks and cars.

Budweiser and Bud Light

We are then whisked up in elevators inside the factory to the Mashing Section. The temperature is noticeably warmer. It looks elaborate with the pipes, cylinders and ornate iron railings.

Mashing is the process of cooking the grain with warm water turning the starch into sugar. This is the step where you get the difference between Budweiser and Bud Light. The longer it’s kept in the mashing tanks the more starch gets burnt off resulting in a lighter bodied beer.

The Mashing section of the brewery.

The very ornate Mashing section of the brewery.

The Mashing section of the brewery.

Inside the Mashing section of the brewery.

We then come to the end of our tour. I’m disappointed we didn’t see any bottling, labelling or packaging but guess that’s available as the paid option of the tour.

Free Budweiser Beer!

But wait…we now get to go to the bar for our FREE 12oz draught beer. There are about 12 brands on tap to choose from. I dilly-dally between the lime and the apple flavours, and opt for the Honeycrisp Apple Wheat. It’s sweet, tastes like cider but stronger and not as gassy. Darrin’s driving so has to settle for a soft drink. It’s just after noon and I feel slightly guilty drinking so early. But hey – it’s 5 o’clock somewhere!

This Bud's for you! Enjoying my end of tour reward at Anheuser-Busch, a Honeycrisp Apple Wheat draught beer.

This Bud’s for you! Enjoying my end of tour reward at Anheuser-Busch, a Honeycrisp Apple Wheat draught beer.

These kinds of perks are not just for the public, employees 6 months+ on the payroll get a 24 pack of beer twice a month. How cool is that? That’s quite unique where employers encourage workers to drink – in their own time of course.

Is This A Very Clever Marketing Idea?

As a company whose stood the test of time (over 150 years), Anheuser-Busch are obviously astute marketing strategists. They’ve been offering free tours since 1904. This is where Darrin’s “nothing is free” philosophy comes in.

Some of the tantalising choices at the bar after the tour.

Some of the tantalising choices at the bar after the tour.

The ‘free’ tours and samples helps win fans, promotes brand awareness and achieves that priceless ‘word of mouth’ advertising. Our 90 strong group included potential future beer drinkers being exposed at a young age to the brand. Wait a minute, could it be that nothing’s for free? Have I just been wooed by clever marketing? Oh well, I don’t mind, this really was fun.

Well done Anheuser-Busch, this Bud’s for you!

Passing a Budweiser delivery lorry a few days after our visit to the brewery. Couldn't not take a picture!

Passing a Budweiser delivery lorry a few days after our visit to the brewery. Couldn’t not take a picture!

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