Anheuser-Busch Tells Its Story

Tastes Differed – Hence All These Brands

image-1Relying on a stellar pre-Pro image, one whose firmament was shared with a select few (e.g., Pabst, Blatz, Miller, Schlitz) Anheuser-Busch hit the ground running with the return of beer in 1933. From there it enjoyed steady expansion, and remains a world force in brewing today. Few businesses can claim such a long run. Even though control is no longer in the Busch family, the ubiquity of Budweiser and Bud Light proves the enduring nature of the brands.

I’ve described earlier some key production details of Budweiser in 1884, the contest of Anheuser-Busch and Pabst Brewing for top beer prize at the Chicago World’s Fair, and the passing of Adolphus Busch in 1913.

In my occasional series on corporate publications of brewers and distillers, I haven’t mentioned A-B simply because it seemed nothing was issued similar to what Pabst, Schlitz, Stroh, and others had done. No doubt histories have appeared in the last 30 years on A-B or the Busch family but I’m referring to company-issued accounts between the late 1800s and c. 1960, the classic period for such publications.

In fact, A-B did tell its story at least once, it’s just been hard to find. Courtesy a gentleman surnamed Warshaw who died in 1969, five boxes of business ephemera were donated to the National Museum of American History. The records are called the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana and are catalogued here. See in the link from bottom row, second from left, and continue through the next few slides.

The little volume, issued in 1889, runs some 30 pages and bears the splendid title A Simple Story of the Origin and Unprecedented Growth of Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association.

It is packed with facts and figures and while charming pen and ink illustrations are included, the preferred medium is narrative, and most compelling.

Under the aegis of Eberhard Anheuser and then Adolphus Busch, the enterprise was almost 30 years old by 1889. The early years are largely by-passed in favour of a contemporary description. By any measure, it shows the powerhouse A-B had become in just three decades. As an example, with a capacity of 800,000 barrels per annum it was producing a healthy 550,000.

A-B used 800,000 lbs of hops annually which is 1.5 lbs hops per barrel. By comparison, Sam Adams lager, avatar of modern craft lager, uses about 1 lb per barrel.

27,000,000 bottles were sourced annually. The staff were 2,200 in number (“all-men”). The beer was known from Mexico to the Sandwich Islands. Many other details are included, especially pertaining to refrigeration and transporation, or logistics we would call it.

The tone is at once confiding, philosophical, humorous, but finally, all-business. A brashness appears, which was typical of the day. Companies were proud of their achievements and spoke them to the stars. They didn’t apologize or temporize for their impact on society. It was said that in 20 years, beer and brewing equipment had changed more in America than in the 2000 years before. The changes were described, with a fair amount of justice, as a revolution.

Obeisance is paid to England and Germany as the original beer lands, but only lightly. A-B’s beers were arriving on the doorstep of the great brewers of Europe, with the implication the American way would become everyone`s. In many ways, that proved to be true.

There is a rather broad-brush description of the British and Germans as national types. The former are described in peremptory terms: “… selfish, partisan, anti-social. His strong drink does not alter him in this respect”. The Germans were more sociable, with lager (naturally) playing a large role. The Americans, of historically British (Yankee) temperament and wedded initially mostly to whiskey, finally decided to be sociable and adapted the German lager to this end.

Despite such 19th century pop sociology, the book remains a valuable historical document.

With some exaggeration, it is posited that America has overtaken its brewing progenitors and makes the best beer in the world. Glowing testimony is printed from a German brewing academy, and even from a state official in “Prohibition Georgia”. The merits of pasteurization are reviewed and it is explained how the process enabled A-B to expand its reach nationally and beyond.

It is striking how the international market is stressed. 25% of bottled production went outside the country. The sales were seen probably as more symbolic than anything else, since draft beer still represented the bulk of production. Still, an irony resides here, since prior to A-B`s takeover some years ago sales were mostly domestic. (The success of Budweiser in Canada via a licensing arrangement, which began in the 1970s, was an exception).

The book notes A-B did particularly well in Australia and the South Pacific and no doubt this influenced the subsequent lager culture there.

The stability of Budweiser and other A-B brews was an indispensable factor in all this success and is stressed in the book. Pasteurization, as noted above, was the key. The process remains a leitmotif of large-scale brewing to this day, and indeed a few craft brewers pasteurize too. If anything the process is more widespread than ever. As far as I know, all draft production of Budweiser brands is flash-pasteurized, for example.

The humour is dry, subtle, Will Rogers-style. The book states that while Americans generally read business publications “cum grano salis” (with a grain of salt), they can shed such caution in this case.

…for a confirmation of the correctness of any statistics we may offer, we rely on a thoroughly competent and respectable witness in the person of Uncle Sam, who takes a deep personal interest in what we are doing. We must remark in this connection that his guarantee comes high, but we must have it, and it will doubtless be accepted without question in all quarters as conclusive.

Not least of the volume`s merits is a description of the current product line. To figure out what a company brewed in the past, typically one must make deductions from period advertisements or other available sources. Almost always the information is fragmentary and incomplete. And unlike today when company websites and beer-rating services list all products and attributes, brewers in the past didn’t always do that. Some corporate hagiography barely mentions the products at all. Before 1920, this was due to the Weltanschauung of Prohibition but also, from a business standpoint, detailed characteristics were often seen as secondary if not indeed confidential matters.

Still, A-B had no qualms about revealing its main product range and numerous details, see the serial description from p. 27. There were seven main beers: Standard, Pale Lager, Faust, Budweiser, Erlanger, Liebotschaner, and Burgundy. Standard was made from all-American hops and barley. It was the light amber “default”  style of American lager brewing as I`ve discussed earlier.

The palest beer was Liebotschaner. Erlanger was the darkest, a Bavarian style (Erlangen, Germany) well-kilned to impart a  “malty” taste.  Libočany is the current (Czech) spelling of Libotschan, a small city in Bohemia formerly ruled by the Hapsburgs. A-B’s Libotschaner was intended to emulate the town’s style which must have been particularly light-coloured. Faust was made for Augustus’s bar-owner friend Tony Faust, and A-B periodically re-issues it to this day.

Some of the line used a mix of imported and domestic barley or hops. It is all well-explained including reference to colour in some cases. The Pale Lager was described as “acidulous” and (oddly to my mind) similar to Bass Ale without the “stupefying” effect. Perhaps A-B sought to emulate shipped IPA which could be a touch sour. Pale Lager was explained as useful to take with meals and in hot countries – the IPA analogy makes more sense viewed in that light.

Budweiser, also famously of Czech inspiration, was described as a ladies’ favourite, whereas much later it was a guys’ beer, and now everyone’s. It is described as “exceedingly light” but this meant in alcohol, not colour. Its relatively heavy residual solids, something I discussed earlier by reference to the 1884 analysis, was noted in the book with approval.

The descriptions read almost as something from a current beer book or rating site, except the original readers used gaslight or candles to read them by nightime. The language is strangely often modern, e.g., the brand section is prefaced, “Tastes Differ – Hence All These Brands”.

That would be a good title for a new beer book.

Note re image: the image shown above is a pre- WW 1 ad sourced via HathiTrust. All intellectual property thereto or therein belongs to its lawful owner or authorized users. Image is believed available for educational or historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.