Michelob in a War Economy
I posed a simple question to myself: did Anheuser-Busch produce Michelob during World War II? So from December 8, 1941 until May 7, 1945 when Germany surrendered? Not Japan, that came later, but just taking the war’s end in Germany as a bookend.
I would have thought no, because, as I discussed earlier, and see Greg Casey’s article referenced there, there were tight limits on malt usage in breweries. Michelob was all-malt, although in an odd reversal as Casey explains, with adjuncts short brewers had the option to brew from all-malt. The method reverted in fashion, so to speak.
Some brewers were nonplussed to have to brew without adjuncts! He recites how one old-timer dryly informed colleagues at a meeting that he had always brewed from all-malt and never had any trouble.
As I discussed recently too, Acme Brewery in California ceased making bock beer for most of the war and for two years after as well, when issues persisted with adequate grain supply and type.
In March 1943 J.S. Foto speaking for Acme Brewery told Palm Springs’ Desert Sun:
“The special materials and man power required to produce Bock beer and usher in spring in the traditional manner, are being conserved to meet the demand for the large amount of beer from the greatly increased population of the far west” … “All of the frills are out for the duration.”
No frills brewing.
Acme brought back its bock in 1947, and an advertisement the following year in the Calexico Chronicle explained the beer contained “rich caramel malt”. It seems this, and the quantity of malt used – perhaps the beer was 100% malt – were frills dispensable in a war economy.
So what of Michelob, likely not using a specialty malt (other than prime 2-row), but all-malt since inception in 1896?
Clearly more Budweiser could be brewed if Michelob production was suspended or reduced for the duration. Budweiser was a pasteurized, bottled beer, unlike draught-only Michelob – by definition more saleable to a broader market, including military.
My interpretation of events is, while some Michelob was still made, likely it was relatively little, which probably assisted production of more Budweiser.
There are a few ads in the press, by my gleaning, from 1942-1945 for Michelob, but not many. A distributor in Euclid, Ohio, about 10 miles east of Cleveland on Lake Erie, advertised the beer in Cleveland’s Enakopravnost newspaper in April 1944:
The paper was a Slovenian-language daily. I don’t think the ethnicity here was the deciding factor to stock such a premium beer.
Drenik had a wholesale distributorship for Anheuser-Busch products – at least it did some 35 years later when it was finally acquired by another regional distributor, House of Larose.
The website of that purchaser explains the history. I infer distributors with that kind of relationship to Anheuser-Busch got the nod for supply of a scarce resource.
Was Michelob in 1944 still close to 5% abv, as it was in later decades, and rich-tasting? Michael Jackson in his The Pocket Guide to Beer (1982) stated alcohol was 4.8% abv as for Budweiser, but the original gravity for Michelob, not specified, was higher.
In fact, it appears the grist and gravity for Budweiser did not change during WW II. This is stated clearly in a snippet view to Making Friends is our Business: One Hundred Years of Anheuser-Busch (1953) by Roland Krebs and Percy Orthwein:
Anheuser – Busch did not reduce the specific gravity or strength of Budweiser at any time despite the difficulty in World War II years of getting raw materials. The company brewed Budweiser from the traditional malt , rice , hops, water and …
While the rest of the book is not currently available to me, one would think the same applied to Michelob, but how much Michelob was made is another question.
It is no surprise of course that a company the size, and with the resources, of Anheuser-Busch was able to best weaker competitors for optimal material sourcing.
It is interesting to look to California again for a somewhat analogous case viz. Michelob. Until September 7, 1955, as reported in August that year in the Napa Valley Register, draft beer in California was held to 3.2% abw, or 4% abv.
On September 7, by a change in the law, 4% abw or 5% abv draft could be sold. Anheuser-Busch Van Nuys, established in 1954 as I discussed recently, brewed Michelob, but at standard strength: the beer was shipped out of state to other markets.
Budweiser draft was brewed at 3.2% abw for California. From September 7, 1955 the Michelob hitherto reserved for out of state would be sold locally, and draft Budweiser could rise to 5% abv.
While the gravity and strength of Budweiser had been altered before the change, it was a matter of legislative fiat, or not sell (draft) in California at all.
Outside Drenik’s, one of the few ads I found for Michelob during the war is this one in Northport, New York in January 1945. The Skipper, a seafood restaurant and tavern, advertised “Michelob – King of Draught Beers”.* In that month and year it was not a certainty when the war would end.
If Michelob was, as seems the case, unchanged in gravity and strength, I would think there was not a great abundance of it, which may explain the paucity of ads. It is conceivable, on the other hand, that normal supplies were available and the ad paucity resulted from lack of need to advertise. Demand for beer was high and production kept climbing to meet it. But the former case seems more likely to me.
As well, that would help produce more Budweiser.
In terms of WW I, as late as July 1919 Michelob was available in some markets. This ad may be noted, from North Side Turner Hall in the Chicago Eagle. Michelob was touted along with draft Blatz.
This Michelob was presumably 2.75% abw, or 3.4% abv, a national limit imposed in 1917 as a war measure by President Wilson.
At least at that time, Anheuser-Busch must have brewed across the board on this basis to keep in business, just as it brewed 3.2% abw draft Budweiser in California until September 7, 1955.
(When 3.2% abw beer was legalized by federal law from April 7, 1933 St. Louis Budweiser would have complied with that as well).
As to what hops were used in the latter stages of World War I and World War II, I do not have this answer currently. It may be in the Krebs-Orthwein book, or another of the Anheuser-Busch histories.
I have been checking, and if the information appears I will do a supplement to this post.
Part IV follows.
Note: source of image above is linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.
*A Skipper’s pub carries on today, in the same location.