Touring a Giant
Posted: July 22, 2009
Anheuser-Busch has long been the target of scrutiny by beer geeks. Being a beer geek myself, I will admit having some biased feelings towards craft beer. But after taking the beermaster tour at the AB St. Louis brewery, any ill feelings towards the brewing giant quickly evaporated. Upon completion of the beermaster tour, we learned that AB is not just about the beer, but is a hefty part of American history. The first stop on our tour was a cold room that houses massive stainless steel vessels. The sheer size and capacity of these holding tanks, which are stacked 6 high and spread throughout the entire building, is startling. If you drank a 24 pack of beer every day of your life, it would take you 137 years to consume the contents of one of these tanks. These vessels are where AB beers are kraeusened and put through the famous beechwood aging process. A common misconception in the beer geek community is that the beechwood aging speeds up conditioning to reduce lagering time and ultimately save money. While the ultimate goal of the beechwood aging is to create a greater surface area for the yeast to cling to and in theory could speed up the lagering process, this doesnt change the fact that beechwood aging is one of the most expensive brewing processes in the world. The biggest reasons that AB continues to beechwood age their beer is to ensure that the history and tradition of their beers will live on. The second stop on our tour was the historic brew house, which is perhaps the most technologically advanced of its kind. Everything is electronically monitored to ensure quality and consistency. For example, a large state of the art plasma screen keeps track of what hops have been added to a batch already, and lets the brewmasters know when they have to add another load of hops. A computer houses all the hop recipes used for every AB product. Comparing the hop recipes used for Bud Light with that of 94 IBU rye IPA that AB brewed for a local fair shows that an incredible amount of money, time, and effort goes into the hopping of beers. We then made our way to the Bevo packaging facility and took several escalators up to one of the many bottling floors, where we had the pleasure of seeing 24 pack bottles of Bud Select flying at seemingly astronomical speeds down the bottling line. On this floor the beer is pasteurized, bottled, labled, and set to rest in its final package before making its way to Binnys. Sound waves are sent throughout the facility in an effort to locate bad or under filled bottles, while a camera rotates hundreds of bottles a minute to ensure that every label is lined up the same way on every bottle. AB would be unable to produce the vast amount of beer needed please the masses without the advanced technological processes implemented at the brewery. Next up was the iconic Clydesdale stables. These were outside and open to the public, and groups gathered and marveled at these beautiful horses. A Dalmatian freely milled around with his horse friends, almost reminiscent of a live commercial. While we oohed and aahed at the wondrous beasts, our tour guide filled us in on some history of the stallions. After prohibition was repealed, in which AB sold things like bakers yeast and soda to keep the brewery afloat, the Clydesdales burst through the front doors of the brewery on a cross country quest to deliver a case of Budweiser to every politician who helped abolish prohibition, even stopping at the white house and presenting then president Franklin Roosevelt with a case beer. It is historical moments like this that make people think of AB when they see or hear about Clydesdales. The implementation of Clydesdales as the face of Budweiser by Adolphus Busch was nothing short of marketing genius. The last stop and perhaps the most memorable was in a immense 34 degree cold room with more of the above mentioned colossal stainless steel vessels holding Bud Light which was waiting to be pumped to the bottling line. Our tour guide attached a beer thief to a nearby tank and Bud Light proceeded to fill our tasting glasses. I dont know if it was the atmosphere or the fact that this was the freshest beer I had ever tasted, but at that particular moment the Bud Light that was just about freezing my hand off tasted like one of the better beers that I have yet to consume. Even a non beer drinker in our tour group was enjoying the fresh brew. We were immersed in the moment, lost in the American history of the momentous brewery, and enjoying our visit to much for the beer to be anything less than fantastic. I urge anyone to visit this historic brewery. You know you will be in for a treat when you first lay eyes on the buildings, which are reminiscent of a college town or small city instead of a brewery. I honestly can say that none of the previous brewery tours I have partaken in can really compare to that of Anheuser-Busch. What is the greatest brewery tour you have been on?