A-B’s Turn Back Toward European Shores

Tip of the hat to my brother-in-law Scott for directing me toward an article at Salon.com called “The Rise and Fall of an American Beer,” by Edward McClelland. It tells the story of how Budweiser overcame its mediocre product with its marketing acumen — and ended up crushing smaller breweries along the way.

Imagine the Budweiser Clydesdale team on a cross-country rampage, with a decrepit, tipsy August A. Busch Jr. strapped to the lead horse, wearing a bright red St. Louis Cardinals cowboy hat. Starting on the West Coast, platter-hoofed horses trample a can of Blitz-Weinhard, spewing suds all over the streets of Portland, Ore. Moving south to San Francisco, they stamp on bottles of Lucky Lager. In their hometown of St. Louis, they crash through the wall of a Griesedieck Bros. brewery, rolling hundreds of barrels into the Mississippi. They’re seen next in Cincinnati, kicking a Hudepohl taster to death. The Clydesdales’ tour of destruction ends in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Busch orders them to urinate in a vat of Piels, cackling that no one will be able to tell the difference.

It debunks the myth that somehow Budweiser’s legacy as “America’s Beer” was a matter of divine right, but rather came out of a great deal of wheeling and dealing to get the Budweiser name out in the open.

From its very inception, Budweiser was a triumph of marketing over quality. Adolphus Busch, the dynasty’s founder, called his beer “dot schlop” and drank wine instead. During taste tests, St. Louis drinkers spat it back over the bar. But if the Busches didn’t believe in their product, they believed in their business plan. Adolphus bought licenses for tavern keepers and paid their rent. In exchange, they served Budweiser. On one of his frequent visits to Europe, he learned about pasteurization. That, and a fleet of refrigerated railcars, kept the beer fresh on cross-country shipments, allowing Bud to break out of St. Louis.

It also demystifies the dearly-defunct breweries of yore, pointing out that though it’s sad they had to be run out of business by the A-B giant, they were producing pretty much the same beer as Bud was.

If anything, it is a clarion call to keep our loyalties — and monies — in this country by drinking domestic craft brews.

If ever there was a time to be patriotic, John and Jane Q. Nascarfan, this is it. Show your love of country with a Sierra Nevada, a Brooklyn, a Dixie, or any other beer that supports our economy and way of life. Craft beer drinkers have been supporting the American economy by keeping our money going to our fellow citizens; I ask Bud-drinker, will you?

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~ by William H on July 20, 2008.

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