The Anheuser-Busch unit of AB InBev has little resonance with craft beer fans except when it occasionally buys out small breweries – not the most positive of associations. From a business standpoint the concern is obviously still very large and commands a huge part of the North American market. As for its products, in truth the range is probably more diverse than at any time since 1900 or maybe its entire history.
No one can dispute though what a powerhouse A-B was in its earlier, American-owned heyday when it was universally admired. Even 1970s beer books, written at the dawn of the craft revival, are respectful and sometimes admiring of its beers even as they were then.
A-B as an independent enterprise had two great periods of growth. One was from the inception of the partnership of Adolphus Busch with his father-in-law Eberhard Anheuser, the second was the post-1933 era which commenced with the end of National Prohibition.
The earlier segment is the more absorbing IMO as it is the time when Budweiser was developed and the company quickly grew both nationally and beyond.
The brand was initially the property of Charles Conrad’s C. Conrad & Co., which had been in business in St. Louis as a liquor and wine dealer since 1863. Conrad tried a lager in Bohemia which impressed him, and his friend Busch made and bottled the formula for him.
As I mentioned earlier, the first bottle labels, indeed to about 1914, mention barley malt and hops only. I think it quite possible the first formulation did not use rice although this material was being employed later in the 1800s and is mentioned in numerous ads for Budweiser early in the 1900s. It is possible rice was always used and Conrad didn’t mention it on his label, alternatively rice may have been added later, perhaps after 1883 (some accounts state 1882), the year Anheuser-Busch became owner of the brand following Conrad’s bankruptcy.
Under Busch’s sure guidance the brand grew from strength to strength and was internationally famous by the time of Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency. Some of the early export markets included Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies.
The plant in St. Louis was the second largest in the world, only Guinness’s brewery was larger.
It would be of great interest to know the specs for Budweiser in, say, 1876 and 1914. As far as I know, this information has not been publicly available. The abv was between 4 and 5% but the final gravity and hopping rate would be useful to know.
I would guess, judging by known information on pre-WW I American brewing, the beer was much hoppier than today and richer in taste*. Michelob was introduced in 1896 as an all-malt draft only (non-pasteurized) beer and its specs too would be of great interest. I suspect these beers resembled modern craft lagers styled on Czech lines and originals such as Pilsner Urquell more than the current versions, but who knows, indeed Adolphus apparently did not think much of the beer, as mentioned in this informative Wikipedia bio.
Perhaps the addition of adjunct placed it in a different category for him, or the pasteurization, it is hard to say. Michelob’s appearance in 1896 may be a clue to what he regarded as the ultimate beer from a palate (vs. market) viewpoint.
This obituary of Adolphus from The Western Brewer in 1913 (via HathiTrust) gives a tangible sense of what Adolphus Busch achieved, particularly after Eberhard Anheuser died in 1880. It suggests something of the person he was including the considerable philanthropy he practiced. Certainly the expansion of the business was nothing less than highly impressive. Also impressive was the continued stewardship by the family into the period (fairly recent) the brewery was finally sold to outsiders.
Notable in Adolphus’ background was his considerable education for the time. The gymnasium and collegiate training he got in Germany and Belgium must have comprised numerous components (science, business, arts) which assisted his mega-success.
*See my next two consecutive posts where Budweiser’s abv and FG in 1884, and ditto for an all-malt beer from A-B in 1908, are now documented.