This Thing Called Michelob …
For me, this story ends in 1980, as after that, Michelob entered a long period of sales decline for the hallmark or regular beer.
Light, Dark, Dry, AmberBock and other iterations there were, and finally the ultra successful Michelob Ultra, but we are partisans of old-style quality, which Michelob embodied at one time. And while it must be said in 2007 regular Michelob regained an all-malt formula, to my mind it was not as good as even when it was a malt-and-rice brew.
The pre-1961, all-malt brew vaunted choice Bohemian hops, as we saw earlier in period ads. A 1936 ad for Budweiser, in a Plattsburgh, NY newspaper, insisted it too benefited from an exquisite Bohemian bouquet:
Michelob and Budweiser were likely rather similar, therefore, to good pilsener beer from Bohemia, now in the Czech Republic. Assays of Budweiser I reported in earlier posts, dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s, bore this out in my view, especially lagering time and final gravity.
By 1980 though, what was Michelob, for its part, like? By my own memory, quite distant from Czech lager.
It was a decent beer, better than the North American norm, but not more. Michelob had a malty, characteristic taste but was rather light compared to good German or Czech lager.
Critics seemed largely to agree. Michael Jackson gave it 2.5 stars out of 5, fairly middling, in his 1982 The Pocket Guide to Beer. Between in other words “well-made” and “worthy of attention”. Not a ringing endorsement.
James D. Robertson gave it a respectful review in his 1978 The Great American Beer Book, lauding its “fine malt-hop taste”. He called it “excellent … and a worthy choice for the serious beer drinker”, finding the (unpasteurized) draft even better.
Michael A. Weiner in his 1977 The Taster’s Guide to Beer wrote it was “very smooth”, and “do not underestimate it”.
Fair enough, but I think to a degree it’s the times – the bar was simply different then, when imports were not always fresh and craft beer was just starting to emerge.
He is interesting to read as someone with an experienced taster’s palate albeit avowing little expertise in beer.
He did find differences comparing Budweiser and Michelob to competitors such as Olympia and Coors. His language is not greatly detailed, but accords with Weiner’s and Robertson’s view that Anheuser-Busch made flawless, hence clean, but still enjoyable beverages.
Certainly he did not find all beers in the tasting the same, but used general terms to distinguish them. Anheuser-Busch made “clean” beer as noted, whereas another brewery’s product was “racy”, say, or fuller in body.
It seems doubtful the Michelob or Budweiser of c. 1980, which I recall myself as sweetish and mild with limited character, resembled the prewar brews in bouquet, bitterness, or malty character.
The body of pre-adjunct Michelob, bearing in mind the gravity known for Budweiser in the late 1800s, had to be richer than in 1980.
I think Anheuser-Busch never should have changed the all-malt formula of Michelob. It could have been bottled in 1961, I believe, as all-malt, despite company assertions to the contrary.
As it was, in the 1980s and ’90s Michelob faced established and newer imports, fresher than ever due to improved shipping and handling. The more characterful showed an adjunct Michelob to disadvantage, while the blander side had cachet simply from being imported.
Michelob was outpaced, too, by a craft palate gaining increasing acceptance.
As Michelob Ultra has been an outsize success for Anheuser-Busch InBev, at least the name survives, which is a certain satisfaction. But it is the obverse surely of all that Michelob originally was.
Craft brought beer full circle, returning it to its 19th century roots. Craft restored the kind of 19th century standards Michelob Draught of 1896 exemplified to a “t”.
Michelob has not come full circle, but it’s not too late. I hope one day Anheuser-Busch InBev will re-issue the beer as originally brewed in 1896.