An ad too far?

The well-known beer writer Jeff Alworth has written a blogpost that got a lot of attention, taking Anheuser Busch InBev to task for linking its new Freedom Reserve Red Lager to George Washington’s small beer recipe.

This is the second of AB InBev’s Reserve series, the first was the oddly-named 1933 Repeal Reserve amber lager. The beer itself was pretty decent, I haven’t tried the new beer yet.

Jeff’s point is the Washington recipe for small beer, scribbled in a journal when he was 25, is based on molasses and the bran used in it had little starch. Therefore, Washington’s small beer recipe is almost not a beer, and there is no palpable connection between it and a lager, a style that didn’t exist in America until German immigrants popularized it later in the 1800’s.

I sympathize with Jeff’s perspective, although not quite with everything he says. I have no issue with veterans being mentioned in connection with AB InBev beers, for example.

It’s one thing to link a beer broadly to America’s first President due to his liking for (real) beer. Washington did enjoy real beer, as historian Mary V. Thompson amply documents on this page from the mountvernon.org site.

On April 17, 1915 this ad in Goodwin’s Magazine, shown above, reflected this kind of advertising for Budweiser. Linking famous men to quotidian products was commonplace at the time. Business invoked history for its own purposes, it always has and always will. ‎

This story in USA Today states the reasoning of AB InBev for the new product: it has a caramel taste with a hint of molasses (and of course hops) – that seems to be the extent of the claimed connection.

Tenuous? Certainly. It’s advertising, the lifeblood of business, so I don’t get too exercised about these things, but as I said, I do get Jeff’s main point.

I’d much prefer AB InBev draw on its company archives, especially for Budweiser and Michelob, to make new Reserve beers. I’ve found some of the information in my own investigations, e.g., Budweiser’s finishing gravity was higher in the late-1800s than today. It had a whiff of brewers’ pitch, as well, and used Saaz hops.

So I’d make a new Reserve beer on those lines. The company must have complete internal records to do a great job, but instead chooses to plumb well-worn ad formulas, less effectively than in the past.

I have nothing against new beers (non-historical), but then promote them on their merits, end of story.

As to what the first President’s molasses beer tasted like: bran from barley has rather low starch content, under 10%.  But wheat bran has double the starch, and after all bran muffins can be made without any flour. Some bran especially in the 1700s probably had pieces of endosperm or kernel in them, too.

Boiled up albeit presumably not converted to fermentable sugar (no malt), the bran would impart some cereal taste to the beer.

But it’s not really beer, I agree.

Note re image: the source of the image above is the 1915 article in Goodwin’s Magazine linked in the text, digitized by Chronicling America. All intellectual property in the article belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

2 thoughts on “An ad too far?

  1. AB did re-release some historical beers from its archives on draft only 20+ years ago. The one that appealed to me most was Faust, a much richer lager with a good body. I can’t recall what the others were, but I think there were about four of them released around the same time.

    Yes, stick to reality, please!

    • Yes, thanks, tasted some of those, and I know Mitch Steele wrote a bit about them. The ones I tried weren’t great imo, I can’t recall if I had the Faust, I think I did. I doubt they were true period recreations viz. eg. FG and hop level though.

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