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’?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!