Budweiser: The (Local) Beer of Our Lifetime, Too

I know what you’re saying, “But Budweiser is made by Big Beer!” Yes, it is. But it is beer. Not only is it beer, it’s a popular beer with an extensive history and it’s brewed right here in Jacksonville. The company also does a lot for the community. So it fits right into this column’s framework.

On a sweltering Saturday afternoon, I met with Anheuser-Busch Senior Manager of State Affairs Jon Rees at the Northside brewery. Budweiser’s Backyard Open House Party was in full swing, featuring the famed Clydesdale horses and a full wagon rig, along with barbecue, guided tours and a country music concert. And plenty of beer.

The first 1852 brewery was the Bavarian Brewery in St. Louis. After changing hands several times, in 1860, it was acquired by German-born soap manufacturer Eberhard Anheuser, partnering with a local pharmacist. A year later, Anheuser’s daughter Lilly married German wholesaler Adolphus Busch. Busch was a salesman for E. Anheuser Company’s Brewing Association. In 1869, Busch purchased the pharmacist’s share.

In the 1870s, pilsner beers grew in popularity. In 1876, Busch, who’d toured Europe to learn brewing methods for pilsners, introduced Budweiser, marketing it as a premium beer. Three years later, the company was renamed Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association. For the next 128 years, the Busch family controlled all aspects of the brewery; in 2007, it was bought by Brazilian/Belgian company InBev, creating the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev.

During Busch’s rise from salesman to company ownership to his death in 1913, abounded: innovations and industry firsts: first brewery to use pasteurization to keep beer from spoiling; first to use mechanical refrigeration and transport product in refrigerated railroad cars. In St. Louis, the company built underground railways to carry beer to Union Station.

A-B built its Jacksonville brewery in 1969. In the nearly 50 years since, the brewery has expanded, recently adding an aluminum bottle facility. As the magnificent Clydesdales paced by us at the open house, Rees and I enjoyed a few beers while discussing Budweiser and its role in the community. One of the brand’s major charitable projects is Folds of Honor, which provides educational scholarships for military dependents, particularly those of fallen heroes.

The project is funded in part by sales of Freedom Reserve Red Lager, inspired by a hand-written recipe of George Washington’s and brewed by veterans. The limited-release red lager is only available until September.

We were joined by the local brewmaster, Carl Belshause. He whisked us off on a tour, with an in-depth explanation of the brewing process. The methods are exacting and precise. Belshause proudly noted the Buds made here are now ranked No. 1 among all 56 breweries worldwide. That’s rather commendable.

Don’t take just my word for it; take a self-guided tour yourself. They’re free, no reservation needed. The Budweiser Experience runs 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday through Monday. Other in-depth tours are offered; fees vary. For details, call 696-8373 or 751-8117 or go to budweisertours.com.