Brewmaster Defined?

Every once in a while on social media, a conversation happens that discusses the merits of the word “Brewmaster” and what it takes to use it in one’s job title. It’s often said that any brewer can make a good beer once, but a brewmaster can make the same beer over and over again. Lots of people have written about it, like this take on it from my friend Teri Fahrendorf, this one from Stan Hieronymus or like this interview with Dr. David Ryder, all of which echo a lot of my thoughts below.

So here’s my opinion, for what its worth, on the term “brewmaster”:

It makes me uncomfortable to see people with very little professional experience or education being tagged as a brewmaster. I have often said that being an award winning home brewer does not make one a brewmaster. Being a head brewer in a small brewery without the benefit of education or experience does not make one a brewmaster. People tend to use the words “brewmaster” and “head brewer” interchangeably, but to me they are very different roles.

I didn’t want to be called a brewmaster in my first few brewing jobs because I knew I still had so much to learn. When I did New Products at Anheuser-Busch back in the mid 1990s, my official title was New Products Manager, but I was often referred to (especially by marketing) as the Specialty Brewing Group Brewmaster. I understood the logic, but this made me uneasy, especially when I sat in a tasting panel with some of the most accomplished brewmasters I have ever met, some of whom had 40+ years of experience brewing all over the world. And then when I joined Stone Brewing in 2006, I was hired as the head brewer. I took on more responsibilities every year, and my title changed accordingly, first to “head brewer and production manager”, then to brewmaster about 4-5 years into my tenure there. I worked hard to earn the title.

Here are some experience and qualities I’d like to see in anyone with the brewmaster title:

  1. Real brewing education. What’s the hardest part of brewing? It’s managing the living process of beer fermentation. Running a brewhouse and creating recipes is easy compared to managing yeast health and yeast fermentation consistency! Brewers who get this are good brewmasters, and having a good brewing education will really help a brewer with understanding the key factors of fermentation. There are a lot of good brewing schools out there, and there is so much science behind the art of brewing that I struggle to vouch for any brewmaster that doesn’t have at least some professional training. At Stone Brewing I usually tried to hire brewers who had gone to school for brewing. To me this was a strong indicator of their passion for the brewing business and their ability to learn. That being said, there are exceptions. Some very scientifically-oriented and technically savvy home brewers and professional brewers have successfully made the leap to running a brewing operation, and these folks have earned their brewmaster title through their consistently excellent beers, rigorous self study, training, and ability to ask questions. In my later years at Anheuser-Busch, Chemical Engineers were preferentially hired to manage brewing operations. Their philosophy was that AB could teach a skilled engineer how to brew beer. Not a philosophy I generally agreed with, but for a highly complex and technical operation like theirs, it worked to a large degree.
  2. Brewing Experience: Nothing beats time spent in a brewery for developing great brewing skills, knowledge, and problem solving techniques. One of the great things about craft brewing is that when you have an issue, there’s most likely someone out there who has seen it before and will help you solve it if you ask. The more experience you have, the more you have seen, and the more you can draw from to work through current issues. What’s the right amount of experience? I think it varies greatly depending on job history and skills developed, but for me it took over 20 years.
  3. Desire to learn. Any brewmaster who thinks that they know it all is a fool. I always learn something by talking with other brewers, it doesn’t matter how big or how small they are, everyone’s experiences are important and can help you come up with ideas to get better at what you do. I’ve often told my friends and peers that if I’m ever in a job where I’m not learning anymore, its time to for me to move on. Professional organizations like the MBAA and Brewers Association are great for continuing education. There’s a reason many of the world’s best brewmasters always go to the technical conferences that these organizations put on. They provide a great opportunity to learn.
  4. Desire to teach: This is something I think is very important.  I’ve had lots of great mentors in my career, and I think it’s important for an experienced brewer to give back and share what they’ve learned. In the long run, anything an experienced brewmaster can do to help anyone else who is brewing beer is a good thing for all of us in this business. A willingness to answer questions from  other brewers is something I’ve always admired in  brewmasters and is something I have strived to do myself.
  5. Ability to lead. This is a key strength of the brewmaster. Being able to set brewing quality standards and procedures and train the brewing team how to adhere to them is so crucial. Selecting professionally focused, excellent brewers for the team and educating them as much as possible is critically important for any brewmaster’s success. And an effective leader also needs to be be able to manage and direct their brewing team’s career growth and development. I love it when I see when brewers leave their breweries to become very successful brewmasters somewhere else. You know they had good leadership, training and mentoring at some point during their career.
  6. Problem solving ability. Every brewer will occasionally have beer flavors or brewing and packaging processes that aren’t up to quality standards. A good brewmaster can diagnose the issue, and take steps to correct it through process adjustments or ingredient changes. This is where education and experience become so valuable. What’s important in a brewmaster is the ability to first recognize that there is a problem, and then being able to use their knowledge to correct it. This often requires advanced technical skill and sensory skill, as well as diagnostic skills and problem solving training. And a brewmaster must also have the good sense to dump a batch if it cannot be rescued. We’ve all been there. Its very difficult and it’s heartbreaking, but it’s sometimes the only right thing to do. A brewmaster who ignores a known quality issue, dismisses feedback from consumers, or knowingly and willingly releases sub-par beer has failed.
  7. Sensory skills. Part of the problem solving process requires sensory analysis, this is how most off-flavors are discovered. Understanding how your beers should taste and then addressing situations where the beer is not “true-to-brand” is a key skill. Running formal taste panels is a must in any quality brewing operation. Training the team on how to taste their beers from ingredients through every step of the process is an integral part of sensory. At Stone Brewing, there were many times when problem fermentations and beer flavor/balance issues were discovered early by the brewing team. They knew when to escalate the concern, and this allowed us to solve the issues and rescue more beer than if we hadn’t had trained brewers checking the beers along the way. And a good understanding of beer flavor, hop flavors, and fermentation flavors and how they relate to each other is necessary to create recipes and good beer.
  8. Forward Thinking: At Anheuser-Busch, we referred to progressive brewmasters as “forward thinkers”, which I always thought was a great term. This is about having the ability to analyze brewing processes and situations that appear to be working just fine, and come up with a better, easier, safer, more cost-effective or more technically advanced ways of accomplishing the same end result. It also refers to being able to plan, both short term and long term. Complacency is the enemy of any brewmaster. A brewmaster should always evaluate how things are done and look for opportunities to make them better. The phrase I hated hearing: “We do it this way because we’ve always done it this way”. Asking the question “Why?” is a good practice.
  9. Technical expertise: Having some brewery engineering and design skill helps make sure you get the equipment you need to brew the beer you want to brew. Being able to ensure equipment is sized properly, and is of sound design for your beers is an important skill to have. The ability to evaluate build quality and supplier options for new equipment is also very important. I know what I want in brewing equipment, yet I don’t always know the best way to get there. That’s where the technical skill comes in. I have a lot of admiration for brewmasters that possess excellent technical expertise.
  10. Listening: Being aware of trends in the business, responding to the feedback on your beers from consumers and sales team, and generally just paying attention to what happens to your beer once it leaves the brewery will make you a better brewer. Ignoring consumer complaints is a recipe for disaster. The best brewers track and categorize consumer complaints so they know where to focus and prioritize their continuous improvement efforts. A brewmaster needs to get out in the field, taste their beers at the retail level and discuss them with their sales team and with consumers, and avoid living in the vacuum of their own taste panels. Another part of listening is related to talking with other brewers who, more often than not, are quite willing to share their failures. One of the best days I ever spent was with Scott Jennings, brewmaster at Sierra Nevada’s Asheville brewery. When we were just starting the design work for the Stone Brewing Richmond brewery, he spent almost an entire day showing us “everything they did wrong” to help us avoid the pitfalls they experienced.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

This quote from Tolkien strikes a chord with me. I guess I’m a bit of a restless spirit, and I’ve had a desire to travel and experience new areas for most of my life. One of the things my wife Kathleen and I have really enjoyed in our lives together has been the opportunity to live in different parts of the country, travel around different regions, work at different jobs, and experience and embrace different cultures and lifestyles.
I’ve had several major changes in my long career in brewing that in some ways have been fueled by this desire to explore, and now another change has come. I will be leaving Stone Brewing at the end of June to partner up with some brewing industry veterans on a new project. Stone made a video to announce my departure to the team, and I used this Tolkien quote in it, and it just seemed to fit.
My time at Stone has been nothing short of amazing. I’ve been given so many opportunities to brew great beer, travel to great places, and put myself in a position to represent and speak for Stone and for craft beer. There aren’t words to express how grateful I am to have had this role at Stone, and for everything I have been able to do with it. As excited as I am about this new project, it’s incredibly hard to leave a company that does such great things and that has treated me so well. And the hardest part about it is how much I am going to miss everyone at Team Stone that I’ve worked with over the past 10+ years. Team Stone is a great team of dedicated, skilled and passionate brewers and craft beer fans, and I cherish the time I was able to work with all of them. I consider my coworkers good friends and great ambassadors of craft beer, and I am sure they will continue to have major success and brew great beer.

Greg, Steve, and Pat (our COO) have been nothing short of incredible as we prepare for this transition. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but I think they get why I’m doing this and what it means to me, and they have been very kind and have expressed a lot of gratitude for my contributions. I respect and admire these folks so much, and wish them and Stone nothing but the best success as things move forward. We have pledged to continuing to support each other in the future, for which I am very thankful.
I will still be part of craft brewing as I work on this new venture. And once details can be revealed, they will be. But for now, know that I will continue to be an active member of the craft beer community, and I am looking forward to continuing to cross paths with everyone as this moves forward. I’ve been lucky to have made so many great friends in the industry-the best industry on Earth, and I look forward to making more friendships in the future and continuing to share beers with everyone at industry events.

Cheers,  Mitch

Craft Beer Sales Are At An All Time High-and why this could be scary

And now, the things that concern me about the future….

OK, so the easy and obvious route would be to discuss how consolidation and craft brewer buyouts by large brewers are a huge concern. And they are. Almost everyone in the business is concerned about how this will impact pricing and distribution availability. We’ve seen pioneer breweries fail in the wake of consolidation, and we’re seeing the beers from purchased breweries at a much cheaper price than most craft brewed beers. I don’t know what the future holds here, but most people expect the buyouts and consolidations will continue for a while. And this could create some serious pricing and availability gaps that could put some craft brewers out of business and slow the growth of others.

But here are some other things I also find a bit disheartening:

1. Craft brewers for years have operated under the guise “A rising tide lifts all boats”. In other words, breweries helping other breweries succeed will facilitate everyone’s own success in the long run, because each brewery that succeeds helps grow the overall craft beer industry. There are some unwritten rules that craft brewers have followed since the beginning, all of which helped us “stick it to the man” (“the man” in this case being the large industrial brewers). For example, most brewers never badmouthed another craft brewer, at least by name, regardless of their own personal opinion about that brewer’s beer or practices. And for sales, targeting other craft brewing tap handles or shelf spots to try and replace with your own craft brand was sort of taboo. But now the game is changing. There are some verbal wars being seen amongst craft brewers, which is damaging some of the good relations the brewers have with each other. There are brewers that “poach” trained brewers from other breweries, thereby letting the poached brewery incur all the significant costs of training and education that goes into teaching someone to be a brewer, and reaping none of the benefits of someone well trained and skilled on their team. There is price gouging and undercutting, and there is vicious competition for tap handle space. Many brewing companies are stooping to illegal “pay to play” tactics for a competitive edge. It kind of sucks, and I see it getting worse before it gets better.
2. There aren’t enough trained brewers to go around. I’ve hit on this topic before in this blog, but right now there are a lot of larger craft breweries unsuccessfully searching for experienced, skilled brewmasters that understand the intense requirements of a production operation. There aren’t that many brewers out there that know how to run production on a larger scale, yet also get the creative and innovation aspects of what craft brewing is all about. More often than not, employers can find brewers that have strong skills in one area, but not the other. Some breweries are operating with unskilled and/or untrained brewers that are bestowed with the title “brewmaster”. Not to beat a dead horse here, because I’ve said this a lot, but making some good homebrew does not make one a brewmaster.
3. The big brewers are taking notice. For years, “microbrewers” barely made a blip on the radar of large industrial brewers, and from my own personal experience at Anheuser-Busch, the big brewers generally looked at craft beer as a bit of a joke. But after 10+years of declining sales in the face of the massive growth of craft, the big brewers now see this craft movement as serious competition. Now we are seeing the large brewing companies purchase craft brewers with increasing frequency and the large breweries are also purchasing wholesalers that (used to) sell craft beer. Add to this the addition of all the stealth craft brands, brewed by large brewers, and sold for a much lower cost than real craft beer, and you have a big problem. They have money and resources at their disposal, and aren’t afraid to squash the upstart breweries.


What beer on these shelves doesn’t belong?

4. Is this craft beer thing a fad? I really don’t think so, but I’ve been making “adult beverages” for over 30 years now, and I’ve seen a lot of things come and go. White Zinfandel, wine coolers, spirits-based sweet carbonated beverages, dry beer, ice beer, amber beer, sweet fruit beer, etc. All of these made major waves and then dwindled to obscurity. I don’t necessarily see that happening with today’s craft beer, but it certainly could, especially if the big brewers start working harder to squash the category. And if craft beer really goes mainstream, is that a good thing? Depends on the circumstance I suppose. If mainstream means consolidation and homogenization, then that would be bad. Craft beer is all about having viable and meaningful choices.
5. The coming “Bubble burst”. It’s coming. Everyone believes that in the next few years there will be a wave of closings in the wake of the intensifying competition. To succeed these days, it isn’t enough to brew excellent beer, you also have to have a catchy marketing angle and a message that separates you from the other brewers. Brewers who don’t excel at both will be the ones threatened by this. There are well over 100 craft breweries operating in San Diego County right now. Is there room for all of them to succeed? It certainly is difficult when you rely on the distributors to move beer-with some distributors there are far too many brands in the portfolio to put adequate focus on all of them.
6. Long-term hop supply is a concern because craft brewers are using more and more hops on a per barrel basis than ever before. Combine that with the phenomenal 20% growth rate, and one will see that hop demand is starting to outpace supply. The competition for new hop varieties is getting pretty heavy. That said, because hop growers and craft brewers have now developed great relationships, everyone is working harder to get more of the high demand hops in the ground and available. But there’s not much to stop a giant brewer coming in and buying all the Cascade crop if they decide that’s the hop they want. It’s happened before.
7. The fickleness of the craft beer consumer is creating concerns for long time flagship brands. Think about it: if you are a craft beer drinker, when was the last time at a beer drinking session that you had the same beer more than once? It just doesn’t happen any more. There are too many really good beers out there, and people gravitate towards that shiny new object more often than not. Rapid and frequent innovation and understanding the life cycles of certain brands are becoming the focus of many brewers, who for years had been successful with just a handful of brands. Mixpacks/Variety packs are the biggest selling category in craft beer right now. This situation makes projecting sales and ingredient requirements an impossible task for brewers. Are the successful brewers of the future the ones that constantly innovate and come out with a lot of new beers and one-off beers all the time, and retire older brands at an increasing rate? Perhaps.
8. The death of Pale Ale and the IPA-ification of everything.  I love a good Pale Ale. But they are simply getting harder and harder to find. The incredible success of IPA in recent years has just about killed the Pale Ale category-you rarely see more than one or two in any multitap, at least here in California. There are some great things about the growing popularity of IPA, but when I hear “IPA will be the next American Lager” I wonder if that is a good thing for craft brewing. As much of an IPA fan that I am, I like drinking other beer styles too. Unfortunately, that might not be the case right now with the general beer drinking public.
9. Craft brewing has always separated itself from the big brewers by being much more beer and brewer focused. What does that mean? Well, as an example, when I was at Anheuser-Busch, the marketing team decided what new beers we would brew. Our job was to create the beer once we got our marching orders. Yes, we had some input, but the ultimate decision-making power was the marketing department. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about craft beer is that it is more “brewer-driven”. At most craft breweries, the Brewmaster or Brewing Team comes up with the beer ideas, and then works with sales and marketing to figure out the best way to sell the beer (as a regular release, a one-time release, or seasonal). Unfortunately I see that changing, and little by little, some breweries’ marketing teams are getting more and more power, and are driving more of the brewing decisions. Not naming names here, but when you see established breweries veer off their tried and true path, or brew a beer that someone else has already made popular, that is most likely a marketing decision, not a brewer decision. Maybe I’m a bit naive, but the idealist in me finds this unsettling, and I don’t think it bodes well for the future.

All this being said, I am still quite bullish on craft brewing and will remain a lifelong fan of great beer. But I think there will be some rough roads ahead as the industry growth continues.

Craft Beer Sales Are At An All-Time High

“Craft Beer Sales are at an All Time High!!!!”
Dave Edgar, when he was with the Association of Brewers (now the Brewers Association) always included this shout out to the industry in his annual state of the industry address at the Craft Brewers Conference

. It’s been a true statement every year since I’ve been a brewer, and quite probably every year since craft brewing got its start.
As we experience yet another great year in craft brewing, with record growth and a record number of brewery openings, I see many good things happening and several things that concern me as a brewer and as a long time fan of craft beer. So here are my thoughts on what I like about where craft beer is heading, and next time, I’ll talk a bit about what concerns me.
The good things:
1. It’s becoming harder to find a bar or restaurant that doesn’t serve craft beer than a bar that does.
 This is a great development, as even mainstream chain restaurants now often offer at least one good (and often local) craft beer in their draft lineup. This transition has been a long time coming, and I love it. I no longer have to focus on beer selection as criteria for choosing a restaurant! Unfortunately there are still exceptions. Many ethnic restaurants, Mexican, Indian, Thai, Chinese restaurants still need to learn and recognize that hoppy craft beer pairs wonderfully with their food.
2. There are some really great innovations happening.
 A lot of this stems from craft brewing’s relationship with the culinary arts. Many brewers I know also are good chefs, and with that skill comes a willingness to experiment with exotic and non-traditional ingredients. In addition, hop breeding programs are really taking off and this is fueling the brewing of many new hoppy beers with exciting new hop varieties.
3. The hop industry is really starting to “get it”. Hop growers and hop suppliers are realizing that the future for their business will revolve heavily around craft brewing. Here’s a great example of why: Craft brewers are using an average of over 1 pound of hops per barrel brewed, almost 5 times what the large brewers use per barrel. If craft brewing continues its growth, and hits 20% of the beer market, craft brewing will be using more hops annually than large industrial brewers.

For many years craft brewers were left with the leftover hops, the “too intense” hop varieties that big brewers didn’t want. Big brewers funded most of the hop research and variety development programs, and because of that, most of the research was focused on low alpha, mildly aromatic hops to use in place of European noble varieties and varieties like Willamette. Over the past 10 years, I’ve seen an amazing change here. Craft brewers have jumped in with both feet. Craft brewers are now funding hop breeding programs and research. Craft brewers have hired ingredient experts who were laid off from Anheuser-Busch-Inbev, and that has accelerated the involvement. Membership in organizations like The Hop Research Council and The Hop Quality Group is growing, craft brewers have their own hop varietal research programs, are sponsoring experimental fields and doing other things to develop close relationships with hop growers. More brewers now travel to Yakima WA to do hop selection than ever before-to the point where you can’t get a hotel room unless you book several months in advance.
4. The scenes outside of the United States and Canada, particularly Australia, New Zealand, Italy and the UK, are exploding. The UK, despite having a somewhat stodgy beer scene, has some great craft brewers, and the larger English brewers (at least the Brewmasters that work for them) are excited by what’s happening in the United States. And many other countries are just about to get it too.
 On my last trip to Berlin, I had some delicious locally brewed craft beer, and I think that town is ready to explode. I am seeing craft beer in Poland, in France, and many other countries. The international market may be the future for American craft beer.
5. The taste room concept is working as a business model for many small breweries. This reduces the need to rely on distribution, and eliminates the food side of the business, which, unless you are a passionate restaurateur, is a pain in the ass. In the San Diego area, what I’m seeing is that the local breweries are becoming the town’s pubs, gathering spots for people who like to hang out together and enjoy beers. I know from my own standpoint, I really enjoy going out on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and visiting a few of the great local breweries we have here in Temecula. And I always see people I know…pretty cool.
6. Brewers are still willing to help each other out, whether it be loaning hops or malt, yeast, hosting tours, sharing how they brew, how they analyze their beers, how the operate their equipment, or help in any other way. There still is a very good level of camaraderie in this business that is one of the things that make it so magical. I hope that never goes away.

Next time, the things that concern me about the future of craft beer……

The real quality issue: Oxidation

The recent buzz about the lack of quality in some of the new breweries is gaining noticeable momentum on the internet and social media. I have written much in this blog about beer quality and what every brewer should have in their arsenal to deal with quality issues.
Many people talking about beer quality refer to infected beers, beers with diacetyl, DMS (creamed corn) and beers with acetaldehyde. Those problems still exist, but in my experience are becoming increasingly rare, because good brewers are starting to understand these compounds and how they are formed, much better than 20 years ago. As an example, I can tell you that in the late 1990’s, at beer judging events, diacetyl (butter) and acetaldehyde (pumpkin seed) were common defects. Now, not so much.

One quality issue that is rarely addressed by the general public, and even some brewers, is oxidation (excessive exposure  of beer to air). Air can come in contact with beer a number of ways: if tanks, hoses and piping in the brewery are not adequately purged w/ CO2 or hot water, if there are equipment issues, like leaking pump seals or damaged valve seats, and in the packaging process, and especially if bottles and cans are not properly purged and sealed, oxygen can get absorbed into the beer-and the oxidation reactions that occur create all sorts of bad flavors. Oxidation is hastened by warm temperature storage of packaged beers, and lack of care in avoiding air contact post-fermentation before packaging. There are several reactions that can occur in the brewhouse that can hasten oxidation in the finished beer, but the important thing is to control exposre to oxygen in finished beer before packaging. I’ve heard many brewers say “nothing good can happen to your beer once it is put into a package”. And by and large, that is true, though of course some higher alcohol beers benefit from the changes that occur with aging.

The bottom line is that once yeast has completed the fermentation, the beer needs to be kept oxygen free and isolated from any oxygen exposure or contact risk.
So what does oxidation tastes like? It really depends on the beer, but as a beer ages the following flavor changes often can be observed. Excessive air contact will accelerate this flavor development:

1. In a dry-hopped beer, the first thing that happens is a rapid loss of hop aroma and flavor
2. In most beers, the malt flavor changes from a clean fresh malt character, to a worty and grainy flavor, eventually morphing into a strong and coarse grainy character, then developing to the dreaded wet cardboard papery flavor.
3. In beers brewed with a high percentage of crystal malt, the caramel and toffee like flavors evolve into a dried fruit flavor, raisins or prunes. In addition, these oxidized crystal malt characters will also mask and hasten the loss of hop flavor, which is why many of the best IPA brewers use very little to no crystal malts in their IPAs.

Some air pickup during filtration and packaging is normal, and in many cases unavoidable. But managing the air pickup to minimize oxidation is where the skill of the brewer comes into play. It’s a notoriously difficult situation to control, and some brewers are much better at it than others.

Brewers should always keep museum samples of their bottled beers and evaluate them stored cold and at room temperature once a month for 3-6 months. The resulting flavor differences are staggering, which is why it frustrates me to see craft brewers put 6 month code dates on their beer. I wonder who actually bases their code length on taste and who is simply making a bad assumption.

How does a beer drinker know when a beer is hopelessly oxidized? The only way to really know is taste. That said, before purchasing a beer, here are some clues:

1. A liquor or beer store that stores their beer on a shelf without refrigeration. Dusty bottles are a dead giveaway. Oxidation reactions occur faster with warmer temperatures, so non-refrigerated beer on a shelf in a retail account is always a danger sign.

2. If the brewer date codes their beer (and all brewers should do this, but too many don’t) any lower alcohol beer (below 8% abv) that is more than 2-3 months from packaging should be approached cautiously.

3. Slow moving beers at large multi-tap establishments should be approached with caution. Especially the lower alcohol or hop forward ones.

Now that we are contemplating selling our beer in Europe, we are finding that many countries require ridiculously long code dates on beer. 180 days and 270 day code length requirements are not uncommon. Obviously we have a long way to go to educate people that beer, like bread, stales. I always tell people to treat beer like milk. Keep it cold, all the time. It won’t go bad and make you sick like spoiled milk can, but the flavor does change based on temperature, and for most beers the flavor changes are not good.




The Anheuser-Busch Specialty Brewing Group Beers Before My Time-Pt. 2: Red Wolf

Right around the same time AB came out with the Elk Mountain beers, the beers I discussed in my last post, they also released a new amber lager called Red Wolf.



The origin of this beer is what I consider a classic AB moment, at least the way I heard the story. Back in late 1994 or early 1995, someone at AB caught wind that Miller would be releasing a beer called Red Dog, and this caused quite a ruckus. Executives at AB always paid a lot of attention to what Miller was doing, what kind of beers they were releasing, and then tried to find ways to release beers specifically to compete with those new Miller beers. Miller was AB’s top competition at the time, and really was the only brewer standing in the way of AB reaching that magic 100 million barrel mark and becoming 50% of the US beer market. Some examples of the beers AB developed to compete with Miller included the Michelob Golden Draft beer, which was specifically targeted at Miller Genuine Draft (both “MGD”, get it?), and all the “bottled” draft beers (read: “unpasteurized and sterile/ aseptically packaged”) that came out after Miller started focusing an their “draft” beer in a can/bottle. These brands were called “Strategic” brands or “Competitive” brands, and it was usually the way AB approached innovation, which, for someone like me, who was trying to be creative, kind of sucked. The competition between these two companies was fierce at times. Another fuel addition to the fire was that Red Dog was marketed as being brewed by the “Plank Road Brewery”-this kind of subterfuge was something that AB railed against back in the day, which kind of surprised me when they started coming out with their own stealth “breweries” about the time I was leaving. Thank goodness I didn’t leave to go to Miller, as anyone who announced they were leaving AB for Miller was quickly escorted off the premises by security and not allowed back on site.

So in the case of Red Wolf, the way the story goes, is that some executive level people found out Miller was going to release a new beer called Red Dog. And mistakenly, they assumed Red Dog would be a red beer. This was at the time were ambers and reds were taking off with microbrews, so the logic made sense, but was absolutely wrong. Once that assumption had been made, the mission then became to beat Miller to it by coming out with their own red beer, the beer that became “Red Wolf”, a name that was a direct shot at the name “Red Dog”. At the time, I heard that this was the fastest new beer rollout in AB’s history, it was on the market in weeks, or maybe 1-2 months after the concept was developed. I can’t imagine what these AB folks thought when they found out Miller’s Red Dog Beer was a standard American Lager! And I remember in subsequent taste panels, many folks at AB suspected it had been formulated to taste like Budweiser.


For the recipe, Red Wolf used two of AB’s American Lager brands blended for the base beer and caramel malt extract to provide the color and flavor. This was a malt extract that came from the UK, and I remember the beer having a distinctly sweet caramel flavor. As an interesting side note, using a core beer as the base to build other beers like this was not usually the way AB did things at the time, most brands were brewed in the brewhouse as their own brand. So yes, Budweiser, Busch and Michelob all had their own specific grain recipes, hop recipes, and brewhouse recipes. Same with Bud Light, Natural Light and Busch Light. So the Homer Simpson Duff Beer gag where the same beer supplies several “different” faucets was really not the AB way.


Red Wolf1

Looking at my recipe spreadsheet that just has the basics of these brands, AB characterized Red Wolf as an American Red Lager, a style that didn’t exist prior to its release, unless one counts Carlsberg’s Elephant Red, which wasn’t really an “American” Lager. Grains in Red Wolf included 2-Row Malt, 6-Row Malt, grits and rice. This was reflective of the 2 beers that were used for the blend, AB didn’t brew any beers where both rice and corn were used in the brewhouse process. For the hop bill, it just says “lots” which means a lot of varieties, not that it was brewed with a large quantity of hops. This was standard AB practice for their American lagers: 6-10+ hop varieties could be used in any single brand, and the recipes could change frequently, which was why no one wanted to publicize the hops in Red Wolf. It was 5.5% abv, 15 IBUs and 15 °L in color. I remember the first time I tasted Red Wolf, it was in the Brewmaster’s taste panel at AB’s Ft. Collins Brewery, and I thought it was godawful sweet. But in later tastes it was more balanced with a crisper finish, so I believe the Caramel Malt Extract addition had been reduced a bit.

When I got to the Specialty Brewing Group in 1995, Red Wolf had been out for a few months and there were some big marketing pushes behind it. This beer had more merchandise created for it than any other brand in the Specialty Brewing Group portfolio. It was a very heavily marketed beer, I still have my Red Wolf jacket and Red Wolf gym bag at home. The beer itself appealed to (some) craft beer drinkers, and also appealed to the slightly more adventurous of the American Lager fan base. It was the best selling release from the Specialty Brewing Group for a while (soon after Michelob Amber Bock was released though, it overtook Red Wolf). But for a while, Red Wolf was very hot, and there was serious talk of doing some brand extensions on it-beers like Black Wolf, Brown Wolf, White Wolf and Gold Wolf were discussed as potential extensions of the Red Wolf family.  But the expansion never came to fruition, primarily because of the development of the Michelob Specialty line, which I will discuss in a future post.



The Anheuser-Busch Specialty Brewing Group Beers before my time-Pt 1: Elk Mountain Family

There were several “Specialty” beers that were developed by the Anheuser-Busch Specialty Brewing Group before I joined the team in 1995. Here’s summary of the Elk Mountain beers.

These beers were named after AB’s Hop Farm in Bonner’s Ferry Idaho, near the Canada border. It was beautiful location, and AB grew Hallertau, Saaz and Tettnang there, probably the only place that successfully brewed Saaz on American soil, and used those hops in Budweiser and several other beers. It was a cool story, a great farm, and I got to visit the hop farm with a bunch of beer writers in 1997 (more on that later). Anyway, it seemed logical that specialty beers focused on hops got named after this hop farm.



Elk Mountain Amber Ale: This beer really got me excited for our fledgling new products efforts-I was still a Supervisor at the Ft. Collins CO brewery when this beer was first released in 1995, and I remember going to a special tasting after work in our tour center. As I tasted it, I remember thinking-“holy crap-someone in St. Louis figured out how to use hops like a microbrewer would!” This beer was malty and caramelly and had a significant citrus and pine blast of Cascade hops. This beer made a pretty good impression on beer drinkers-I don’t remember seeing any bad reviews, and I think it lasted about 3 years before finally giving way to the Michelob Specialty lineup. I remember some of my hardcore hunter coworkers in Ft. Collins complaining that the animal depicted on the label was not an Elk…

Pretty simple recipe really, it was 80% 2-Row Malt and 20% 40 °L Crystal malt. Hopping in the kettle was Willamette (an AB standard bittering hop at the time), Hallertau from the Elk Mountain Farm in Idaho, and Cascade. The beer was fermented with NCYC 1044 yeast, an English Ale strain that flocculated really well, and then was dry-hopped with Cascade at 0.25 lbs/bbl, tame by today’s standards, but the beer was one of the hoppiest beers I ever tasted from AB. Starting gravity was 14.5 °P, terminal gravity was 3.2 °P, 5.6% abv, 20 °L color, and my records show 25 IBU, though I think it may have started closer to 35 IBUs before being reduced later.  (As a side note, Doug Muhleman, who was a Brewing Director and then VP of Brewing when I was in St. Louis, was a big proponent of low IBU’s-he felt beers lower in bitterness sell better-his quote was “1,000,000 bbls increase in sales for every point of IBU drop”, referring of course to the American Lager style of beer). Elk Mountain Amber was brewed in the Fairfield, CA and Merrimack, NH breweries, and was the first ale AB brewed in almost 100 years.

Elk Mtn Red

Elk Mountain Red Lager: this beer had a similar malt bill to the Amber Ale, but used only hops from Elk Mountain Farms-Hallertau, Saaz and Tettnang. Probably closest to a Vienna Lager in style, this beer was too crystal malt forward to my tastes, and got a little sweet after a pint. Some interesting recipe tidbits-it was decoction mashed, and was fermented with AB’s house lager strain. 12 °P OG, 2.95 °P TG, 4.9% abv, 20 IBU and 16 °L color.

Elk Mountain Harvest

ElkMtnHarvest Neck Rider 1

ElkMtnHarvest Neck Rider 2

1995 Elk Mountain Harvest:

This was a special beer we brewed in the fall of 1995, right after I joined the group, and it’s claim to fame was that it was dry-hopped with fresh hops from the Elk Mountain Farm. AB called the hops “baby hops” because they were harvested earlier than normal-something that a lot of brewers and hop growers are looking at right now. Could this have been one of the first wet-hopped beers of the modern craft brewing era? Almost Pilsner like, this golden ale was bright, crisp, and had a really nice peppery spicy hop character. I don’t remember much about it, except that it was all malt, had a small amount of crystal malt and some wheat malt. Elk Mountain Harvest Ale was only a small batch and wasn’t released to the public, only given to our Distributors, though the neck label hints that it may be brewed again in 1996 for public release, which never happened. Because we never brewed it again, and because I liked the beer, I remember using this recipe to form the basis for the later release of Michelob Pale Ale.

American Hop Ale and 1996 Winter Brew: The recipes

I was straightening up the bookshelf in my office today and found an old spiral bound notebook that I used to log my old home brewing recipes in.  And as a nice surprise, I found tucked between the pages some recipe summary spreadsheets on some of the beers I’ve been discussing recently that I was involved with at AB in the 1990s. I thought maybe I’d share a couple of these.

American Hop Ale:

This was one of my favorite beers we brewed in The Specialty Brewing Group. The last of the American Originals, it was a deep amber/brown ale, malty, but not sweet, with an intense hop bitterness and floral, spicy hop aroma. Without a doubt, the most aggressively hopped beer we released while I was in the group.

91% American 2-Row malt,
8% 40 dL Briess Caramel malt
1% Briess Black Patent Malt

The mashing profile is described as an “Upward Infusion w/ Reverse Boiling Water Pumpback”. That’s a mouthful, and the German term for it-that the old school German Brewmasters at AB used: “Hochkochmaishverfahrven” (forgive any spelling errors-I’m going off a 20 year old memory here!) was even worse. To understand what this means, you need to understand AB’s brewing process a bit:

At AB, most brands were mashed in at a fairly low temperature for protein rest, and a cereal boiling process was used in a separate cooker. In what AB called the American Double Mash process, the rice or corn after being boiled a short time to liquefy the starches, was pumped back to the mash vessel containing the malt, and that process, coupled with steam flow to the jackets on the mash vessel, helped raise the overall mash temperature to the desired conversion temperature. This is very similar to the traditional German decoction mashing technique.

The problem with this technique is that it produced a very fermentable wort, meaning it didn’t leave behind a lot of dextrins and other complex carbohydrates that an ale brewer would get using a traditional infusion mash profile, as was common in craft brewing in those days. So the specialty beers made using the traditional AB mashing schedule came out thin and too dry, and lacked mouthfeel. To fix this situation, Frank Vadurro, Sr. Asst Brewmaster in Merrimack, NH, Denny Franz who ran the Corporate testing program out of St. Louis, and Al Linnebach, who was running the pilot brewery (RPB) at the time, devised this process in which the thick malt mash was pumped into a second mash vessel containing only water that was at boiling temperature. It’s very similar to the jump mash process described in Kunze’s excellent  Technology of Brewing and Malting. The result was that the mash almost instantaneously increased to the proper conversion temperature, bypassing the beta amylase window (144-149°F) that results in highly fermentable wort. It was a neat technique to get some body and mouthfeel in these beers, and we used it for a lot .

Not a lot of detail available on my sheet, but the hops used were Cluster and American Fuggle (which is the same hop as Willamette. Legally, for labeling purposes, they are interchangeable). The beer was then dry hopped with 3/4 lb/bbl Fuggles. I remember we tried Cluster on a pilot brew and felt it was a little too catty for this beer.

Yeast was NCYC 1044 Ale yeast. I don’t remember exact fermentation temperature but I think it was around 72 °F.

Analytical Targets:

OG: 14.8 °P
TG: 4.5 °P
IBU: 50+
ABV: 5.6%
Color: 16 °L

1996 Anheuser-Busch Winter Brew

As discussed in the last post, this was the second, and arguably the best, Winter/Holiday beer we brewed while I was in the Specialty Brewing Group. Here’s a recipe summary:

68% 2 Row Malt
19% 40 °L Briess caramel malt
10% 20 °L Munich Malt
3% Briess Chocolate Malt

The mashing profile was the upward infusion process similar as described above for American Hop Ale

Willamette, Cascade, and Elk Mountain Farms Idaho-grown Hallertau and Saaz. I wish I had record of which hops were added early and which were added late.

AB Lager yeast strain, probably at about 55 °F for primary, then cold lagered at 40-45 °F for 3+weeks

Analytical Targets
OG: 13.6 °P
TG: 4.95 °P
IBU: 2
ABV: 5.6%
Color: 16 °L


Anheuser-Busch Christmas and Winter Brews of the mid 1990s

Merry Christmas!


The lights hung at the St. Louis Brewery at Christmas time were always magical to me.

Most brewers know this fact: call a winter seasonal beer a “Christmas” beer or “Holiday” beer, and you can’t give the stuff away the day after Christmas. It’s one reason why Stone Brewing Co. has never really done a Holiday Seasonal , and I don’t expect we ever will (the Stone Vertical Epic 12.12.12 is the possible exception-but that had additional staying power because it was part of a series).  Anheuser-Busch felt the same way, and experienced this very real effect after the release of their 1st holiday beer in a long time, the 1995 Christmas Brew Beer. It stopped selling very quickly after the holiday season, and there was a fair amount of inventory that eventually had to be destroyed. After that, the holiday beers we brewed were called “Winter”, which still suffers from the same seasonal effect, but not to such a large degree.

I worked on 4 Holiday beers at Anheuser Busch-in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998. I honestly don’t remember a heck of a lot about the brewing and recipes for three of them, but I love telling the story of one in particular.


IMG_2025 Christmas1995

This beer’s development started in the late summer of 1995, a few months after I had moved to St. Louis to join Corporate Brewing/Brewing Process Technology/The Specialty Brewing Group. Dan, my predecessor in New Products, spearheaded this project from the office of the VP of Brewing, and Paul and I worked on putting this concept from Dan and Directors and VP level Brewmasters together. This was the first Christmas beer that AB had done in years, if not decades. All I really remember about this one is that it was all malt, had a nice amber color, and a balanced and slightly aggressive hop profile, with some late hopping intended to emphasize pine flavors.

The back label text: “In the 1890’s, Adolphus Busch began a tradition of brewing special beers for the holiday season.These beers are offered to friends and customers. We are proud to bring back this tradition with a limited bottling of Christmas Brew 1995”.



I remember we worked very closely with Corporate Brewing Directors and and the VP of Brewing on this one. This beer was re-named Winter Brew to avoid the intense seasonality of Christmas beers. I don’t remember much about the recipe, except it was again an amber/brown lager, more in line with a Muenchener Dunkel, not very hoppy, with a really nice rich and smooth malt character. I remember being very pleased with the end result, and one of my lasting memories about this project was that VP of Brewing Gerhardt Kraemer was very happy with it and congratulated us on it.

Note that both the 1995 and 1996 beers were packaged in the same bottles used for the American Originals.

The back label text: “”At the turn of the century, Adolphus Busch began a tradition of brewing special beers for the holiday season.We are proud to continue this tradition with a limited bottling of our 1996 Special Winter Brew. I’ve brewed this beer to be a rich, flavorful lager that’s perfect for the celebrations of the season.”-Gerhard A. Kraemer, Head Brewmaster”.



This 1997 Holiday beer had the best label and the most convoluted story. I can laugh about it now, but this beer was brutal to develop, and caused a few sleepiness nights.

By the Fall of 1997, The American Originals beers were either gone or on their last legs. Because of the huge success of Michelob Amber Bock,  Marketing was putting a huge focus on expanding the Michelob lineup with a series of specialty beers-more on those beers in an upcoming post. It’s worth noting that a new Specialty Brewing Group marketing person was on board, and the shift from the American Originals to the Michelob lineup was a very calculated move.

New Products was normally given one brew a week at the 10 Bbl the Research Pilot Brewery (RPB) attached to the the main St. Louis Brewery, and if I remember correctly, at the time they were brewing 10 brews total per week. Most of what they brewed were variations and tests on Budweiser-some really cool beers-single hop variety Budweiser and the like. Since we had reasonably frequent access to the RPB brewing schedule, we set a goal for ourselves to pilot brew at least one example of every recognized beer style in the RPB. We figured if we did this, we’d learn a lot about each style and perhaps have some good recipes in our back pocket, because there were many times when the new product releases came at you fast, and there wasn’t enough time to really run a lot of trials to finalize the recipe.

At some point in 1996 or 1997 I came up with a recipe for a Scotch Ale that the RPB brewed for us. It was really tasty strong, malty ale, and became a favorite of August Busch III’s-the story was that he often poured the beer at his house. In fact, I know we brewed it a couple of more times at the RPB so it would be available if he wanted it. I’ll share much more about that beer in a later post, but the point is when we were given the news that the 1997 Winter beer would be part of the Michelob Family, we suggested this Scotch Ale, and everyone involved, all the way up to VP level executives, agreed on that direction. So this beer seemed a no-brainer, especially since it was confirmed that AAB III already liked it, because getting his approval on a new beer was often the hardest part of the process. And we already had approval from all other high level management people, because they had already tasted the beer.

We had starting brewing full sized 400 bbl batches of the Michelob Holiday Scotch Ale in Merrimack, we had purchased and shipped in all the malts, sent in some copy for the label and marketing material, and everything was moving forward very nicely.  And when the first batch was in the aging tank, Marketing pulled an abrupt about face, and told us they wanted a Spiced Ale instead. This was a definite “WTF” moment, and we tried and tried and couldn’t get them to see the logic and agree to go back to the original plan. We needed up dumping the in progress batches.

So it was already late in the game-it was probably September by this time, and the Winter beer had to be in distribution by late October. Paul, Steve and I quickly put together some kind of traditional spiced ale, using spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and clove, and we asked the RPB to brew it as a priority. 2 weeks later, we were tasting in the Corporate Taste Panel-called the “220 Panel”, with Doug Muhleman, who had taken Gerhardt Kraemer’s spot as VP of Brewing. Doug tasted the beer, looked at us and said: “guys, this beer tastes like a Betty Crocker Spice Cake. If we’re going to do a spiced ale, I want us to use more exotic spices. Let’s not be so predictable”. I actually liked his feedback and agreed with him, though I still hated the idea of doing a spiced beer at all.

So we quickly came up with another recipe that used things like Cardamom, Coriander, and a couple of other eastern spices, and 2 weeks later we were again sitting in the 220 Taste Panel, and tasted the beer with Doug. This time, he liked it, which was a good thing, because we were sweating bullets-we were quickly running out of time to get this beer recipe sent out, get the beer brewed, fermented and bottled in Merrimack in time for the scheduled release. The phone calls I got from Marketing and the brewing team at Merrimack were relentless. They needed to know what the beer was and if it would be ready in time.

The next step in the taste approval process, after VP of Brewing approval, was the Marketing and Sales Team, and ultimately the beer ended up at August Busch’s desk for final approval. We could not brew this beer for real until we had his approval. In what I consider a classic AB moment, when he tasted the beer, he got in touch with Doug Muhleman and said something to the effect of “What the hell is is this!? When I drink a spiced Christmas Beer, I want something with cinnamon. And clove. And nutmeg! Something traditional!” How ironic, how deflating, and how frustrating it was to learn of AAB III’s comments and being faced with going back to the drawing board.

So we quickly went back to the original recipe with some modifications Doug made while playing around in his kitchen at home. I do think he enjoyed this level of involvement with creating a beer, and I remember he found this crazy liquid brown sugar that we added to the beer that give it a really nice molasses touch. I know we used a little chocolate malt in it and plenty of 40L crystal malt. The powdered spices were all added during the kettle boil. We got the beer brewing in Merrimack and made the release date by the skin of our teeth. And unfortunately, by most accounts, the beer was a flop. Certainly not as popular as the 1996 Winter Brew had been.

The beer itself was a moderately strong brown ale, with pronounced spices, followed by a cocoa and molasses finish. Not one of my favorite beers that I worked on, for a lot of reasons.

The Neck Label Text: Left: “The addition of spices during the brewing process is one of the Brewmaster’s seasonal traditions, as spices can add excitement and festiveness to a brew.” Right: “The traditional spices used in this winter offering add a unique contrast to the sweetness emanating from the caramel and chocolate malts used in brewing this hearty ale.”





I remember very little about this beer, Winter of 1998 when was I was transitioning out of new products to some extent-I had been moved to work as an assistant to a Brewing Director for 5 months before being shipped out to the St. Louis Brewery in May of 1998. I still had my hands in new products for a while, as I was transitioning out and the new team was transitioning in.

Like the 3 previous beers, this 1998 Holiday beer was brewed in Merrimack, NH. It was a moderately strong  amber lager, most likely brewed with a lot of 40L crystal malt. But I really don’t remember much at all about this one. Looking back on it, I wonder why we didn’t make this beer an ale, like the previous year’s beer.

The Neck Label: Left: “Winterbrew is an all-malt brew with a  full-bodied taste and a rich amber color. It’s moderate hopping provides a nice balance to the sweet taste of the malt.” Right: “The use of generous amounts of specialty malts and an extended layering period make this a truly special brew, a great match for your holiday feasts”.

This was the last Holiday beer for a few years-in the early 2000s, AB started doing them again, I remember a high end, higher alcohol Budweiser beer in beautiful 750 ml bottle, and the next year a Michelob vanilla/ and bourbon barrel aged beer, but I wasn’t involved in those projects.


The 4 American Originals: Beers From My Past. Chapter 2



Now it’s time to talk about the beers that were introduced under the American Originals umbrella in the Fall of 1995: Faust, Muenchener, and Black and Tan, and later, American Hop Ale. Unfortunately, I don’t have any records of the actual recipes used for these beers, but I’ll talk about what I remember, which may be a bit hazy, it was almost 20 years ago!

faust posterFaust Bottle


Faust Lager was first brewed in 1885, for a friend of Adolphus Busch named Tony Faust, who owned Faust Oyster House and Restaurant in St. Louis. The restaurant had a long history and several versions of the place existed since the 1800s. When I lived in St. Louis, there was a Faust’s Restaurant downtown in the Adams Mark Hotel (now a Hyatt Regency), a spot where I did a couple of beer tastings for the American Originals, and once had a really nice meal there with my wife. I believe the restaurant is now closed.

The German legend of Faust involves the story of a man who, in search for the meaning of life, sold his soul to, or made some sort of deal with the Devil, represented by Mephistopheles. Later  a famous play written by Goethe, it’s a standard of German literature. So Adolphus Busch’s inclusion of Mephitopheles in the branding of the beer makes perfect sense.

The beer itself was a very popular beer in its time and lasted well after the end of Prohibition. I remember visiting swap markets and antique shops in the St Louis area when I lived there in the 1990s and seeing many (empty) bottles of Faust for sale.

The re-introduced Faust Lager was my favorite of the first 3 American Originals. It was all malt: American 2 Row malt and a malt called Hi-Dried Malt, which was a 6-Row malt that was kilned to about 20°L, similar to a light Munich malt. We called the Hi-Dried Malt “dry-roasted” in the marketing materials, which I always found odd (we could have called it kiln-roasted), and expressed concern that people might think we were using peanuts in our beer. Faust also used a blend of German, Czech and American Hops. Unfortunately I don’t remember all of the hops used, but I know Czech Saaz and Cascade were part of the mix. This beer, when fresh, had a nice toasty malt character, and a pronounced floral hop aromatic, and pretty substantial bitterness for the time (especially for AB). If I remember correctly, the IBU target was 28, and the color target was 7-9 dL.  Unfortunately, this beer aged very poorly in the bottle. The hops faded quickly and the toasty malt character evolved into a very grainy and harsh note.

BlackandTanposterBlackandTanBottle BlackandTanStein


Black & Tan was a traditional porter, which caused a lot of confusion when we were doing events for these beers. I remember frequently having to explain that this beer wasn’t a blend of two beers, like the classic Black & Tan made from Bass and Guinness, or like Yuengling’s Black & Tan.

The name Black & Tan from 1899 had unknown origins. We had two stories we told about the origin of the name, though we were never clear which (if either) was the truth. The first was simply that the beer poured black, with a tan head, which made the most sense to me. The second story, from AB Corporate Historian Dr. Bill Vollmar, suggested the beer was named after the British Military force that was stationed in Ireland during the war for Irish independence-they were nicknamed Black and Tans because of the color of their uniforms.

Bill Vollmar had two full bottles of Black & Tan from before Prohibition in the archives, and he often jokingly offered one to me to open and drink. I was tempted, but it felt almost sacrilegious to do this, and Bill also insisted that if we opened it, I’d have to drink the entire bottle, which scared me a bit. It would have been great if we could have tasted it and analyzed the beer as well, but we never did.

Black & Tan Porter was all malt, brewed with 5 malts, including chocolate and black malt, crystal malt, and I believe hi-dried malt again. It was pretty bitter, maybe 35-40 IBUs. I always thought it was bit harsh on the finish, and felt we made a much better Porter when we did Michelob Porter a couple of years later. That said, it was a pretty aggressive beer for Anheuser-Busch, it was the second ale (after Elk Mountain Ale) that we made in the 1990s.

The ale yeast strain we used most often at Anheuser-Busch was an English strain, NCYC 1044, which reputedly was developed for experiments with continuous fermentation processes in England in the 1950s or 1960s. It was a really hearty yeast, produced a lot of fruity esters, and had the advantage that it settled out, or flocculated, strongly when the fermentation was complete. This was really important at Anheuser-Busch, because the ales were made in Fairfield, CA and Merrimack, NH, and both breweries had old-fashioned rectangular fermenters (we called them “shoebox” fermenters).  A yeast with good flocculating characteristics was critical for being able to recover enough yeast to repitch more brews.

Muenchener BottleMuenchener Poster


I hesitated to include this beer, primarily because this beer was simply a blend of the Faust and the Black&Tan. This method was something that the VP of Brewing wanted to try-he wanted use the Black & Tan as a “stock ale” to blend with other beers to create new beers. Contrary to what might be conventional wisdom, Anheuser-Busch did not normally use this practice. Every beer, with a couple of exceptions, was brewed as it’s own brand in the brewhouse, each with a separate recipe, different malts and different hops. Other large American Lager brewers often blended beers and/or labeled the same beer with several different brand labels, but AB didn’t do this. So the Muenchener was a pretty big departure. It was a nice beer, I’ll give it that. The blend worked, and I enjoyed it.

The original Muenchener (aka Columbian Muenchener) was first brewed in 1893 and was awarded the “Best Muenchener” in the Columbian World’s Fair Exposition in Chicago in 1893. It was definitely inspired by the popular Dunkle beers from Munich.



The swing-top bottles above were a complete fiasco. Marketing wanted these for special events, which required hours and hours of hand-bottling at the Merrimack brewery. Who knew what the air levels were in these beers, but I bet they were terribly high.


AmHopAleBottle AMHopAle tin




Shortly after the first 3 American Originals rolled out, AB’s marketing department wanted to us to start working on the 4th beer. They initially wanted either “White Label Exquisite Pilsner” or “Old Burgundy Lager”. We didn’t have any archive information on either one of these beers, so were a bit unsure on how to approach brewing. I remember being kind of excited to brew the White Label-I looked at it as an opportunity to brew a real hoppy Bohemian Pilsner beer, but that ended up being a no go, because we already had Faust, and marketing didn’t want to add another golden lager to the mix. It didn’t help Old Burgundy Lager’s cause with us brewers that marketing was insisting the beer have a Burgundy wine like character, as opposed to a red color-which is what we assumed inspired the name of the original beer.

After a lot of back and forth, and after also briefly considering other pre-prohibition beers like Union Man’s Lager, and Bock (which was denied because of the presence and popularity of Michelob Amber Bock), I came up with the idea of brewing a version of American Hop Ale, using the two American hop varieties that were available to AB in the 1890s-Cluster and Fuggles. Surprisingly to me, marketing loved this idea. The original 1895 American Hop Ale was a very low alcohol mail order beer, a hop tonic, that was used for medicinal purposes, but I proposed we brew a strong, very hop-forward ale, and that seemed to be a popular direction.

American Hop Ale holds a very special place in my heart, as it was the first (and one of the few) beers that I worked on at AB that was exclusively my recipe, and it didn’t get changed, altered, or dumbed down at all as it went up the Corporate approval ladder. It was an all malt beer, brewed with 2-row malt, 40L Crystal (I think) and just a touch of black malt-I believe just under 1%, which gave the beer a beautiful deep red color. We used Cluster and Fuggle hops exclusively, and we had co-workers in the Brewing Process Technology group that had a lot of fun referring to this beer as “Clusterfuggle”. American Hop Ale was likely the most bitter beer AB had ever brewed, coming in at close to 50 IBUs, and was dry-hopped with Fuggles.   The beer was what I envisioned at the time as kind of an English IPA…I’ve learned a lot about English IPAs since then, but back then this beer fit my understanding of the style.

American Hop Ale didn’t last long. The bottle in the picture above was the only bottling run this beer ever had, marketing made the call to make this a “draft-only” product, which sealed its doom. People who tried it gave it great reviews, but the beer never got the exposure of the first three, and by the time it was released, marketing was already moving away from the American Originals concept in favor of the Michelob Specialties.

Happy Holidays!

Next up: The Christmas beers