Category Archives: Stories from the past

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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

Mashing:
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 .

Hopping:
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.

Fermentation:
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:

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

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

Hopping:
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.

Fermentation:
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!

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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.

CHRISTMAS BREW 1995

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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”.

SPECIAL WINTER BREW 1996

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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”.

MICHELOB WINTER BREW SPICED ALE:

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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.”

 

1998 MICHELOB WINTER BREW ALL MALT LAGER 

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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

 

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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:

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.

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BLACK & TAN

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.

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MUENCHENER

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.

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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.

 

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AMERICAN HOP ALE:

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

 

 

Craft vs. Crafty

I changed my mind and wanted to post a link to this article before moving into the beers.

Here’s the craft vs crafty article that started my journey to the past… , written by Daniel Hartis in mid-November.

There is some really good research done for this piece, and I have to say with regards to Anheuser-Busch, the Specialty Brewing Group, and the “Who Really Brews These Beers” campaign, it is accurate-to the best of my recollection, and it was fun for me to go back and think about some of the things we did in the Specialty Brewing Group.

Regarding the “Who Really Brews These Beers” campaign, that was a tough one for me to deal with. I remember watching the Dateline piece on this, and it made me very uncomfortable. The campaign was aimed primarily at two brewers specifically, and I never liked (and still don’t like) to badmouth any other brewer, and always try to refuse to do so. I’ve always preferred to let everyone’s beer speak for itself.

Anheuser-Busch’s intense rivalry with Miller Brewing Co. is no secret, and there are some interesting stories I’ll mention about this rivalry when I start diving into the beers I was involved with. But what really got August Busch III riled up during this period was Sam Adams, mostly because Jim Koch made several claims about impurities and preservatives in American Lagers. This is categorically untrue-American Lagers (at least here in the USA) aren’t brewed with preservatives or impure ingredients, and AB was incredibly focused on the quality of the ingredients they used, even going so far as to own a hop farm in Idaho, several malting facilities and rice processing facilities. Ingredient quality was a huge piece of our intense focus on quality. To imply otherwise was considered the worst insult. The fact that the Sam Adams claims lumped “adjuncts” together with “preservatives” and that much of the Sam Adams beers were brewed in Miller breweries only fueled AAB III’s fire. AB  followed up the Dateline expose with some very targeted negative radio commercials where the “Ghost of Sam Adams” scolded Jim Koch for “lying to consumers” about where his beer was brewed. It was ugly, and I hated it. But I certainly wasn’t in any position to make my opinion heard here.

Obviously, Francine Katz and the Anheuser-Busch PR Department had a lot to do with the content of the Dateline story. But it did have a huge effect on craft brewing, many people feel this piece triggered the bubble-burst of craft beer in the later 1990s.

 

Beers from my past-Pt 1: The Anheuser-Busch American Originals

ABSBGAmerOrig AbAmericanOriginalsBottleglass

I’ve been getting pinged a lot lately in Social Media about the recent re-introduction of Anheuser-Busch’s Faust Lager. This spurred me to go into our garage over the Thanksgiving weekend and pull out a bunch of the stuff I saved from my time in New Products at Anheuser-Busch.  It was a great trip down memory lane, I actually saved quite a bit from that time, including full bottles of just about every beer I worked on in my 3 years in Corporate Brewing and a lot of the marketing materials we developed.  I decided it might be fun to write about these beers and some other beers that I’ve been involved with brewing over the years. This is the first in the series, there will be several more. I’ll try to relay what I remember as the story for each one of these beers-as every beer has it’s own unique history.

In 1995, after 3 years of working as a brewing supervisor in AB’s Ft Collins Brewery, I was asked if I’d be interested in moving to St. Louis and working in Corporate Brewing in Mike Meyer’s Brewing Process Technology Group, which was primarily a brewing engineering projects group, but also had the fledging new products group as well. The brewing managers involved in new products were considered part of Anheuser-Busch’s Specialty Brewing Group-which wasn’t really a separate entity, but included our group and folks from marketing working together to create  the brewing process and marketing campaigns for these new beers.

When I interviewed for the job, AB had just recently released their first forays into Specialty Beers (we did not call them “craft” or “micro brewed”):  Elk Mountain Ale, Elk Mountain Red Lager and Crossroads (a German Hefeweizen) were most certainly inspired by the growing craft brewing movement, while Michelob Amber Bock and Red Wolf were more American Lager style “crossover” beers. More on these beers later.

While I interviewed, I learned about the latest project, The American Originals project-a marketing effort to reintroduce some long forgotten brands from AB’s pre-prohibition portfolio. I loved the hoppy Elk Mountain Ale, and the opportunity to dive into the history of AB and recreate some very interesting beers seemed like a really cool opportunity. So I was thrilled when I was offered the job, and we left Colorado to move to St. Louis.

ABAmericanOriginalsbeerglasses

The original lineup proposed for the American Originals included Faust, Muenchener, Black&Tan, Bock and Union Man’s Favorite Lager.

ABHistoricalBeersList

Here’s a list of lager beer styles brewed by AB in its history. Not all these beers fit into traditional beer style categories, obviously.

When I got to St. Louis, Dan Kahn and Paul Mancuso had already developed test brews and had mostly completed the recipes for the first three American Originals beers: Faust Lager, Muenchener, and Black & Tan Porter. Dan had just been promoted to be the Executive Assistant to Gerhard Kraemer, then VP of Brewing, and I was taking his place on the team. My job was to work with Dan and Paul to finish the recipes and get them out to the Merrimack and Fairfield breweries for brewing.

The story told about the American Originals beers was that AB found old recipes from Adolphus Busch in their archives, and used his handwritten recipes to recreate some of the more flavorful beers that existed before prohibition. But what we brewers actually saw during the development of these beers was just a small notebook of Adolphus Busch’s in which he scribbled down malt and hops for some of these early beers. The notes were very vague, giving pounds of German hops, or American hops, and weights of malts which had very little descriptors. They weren’t recipes by any means, and so the decision was made to brew beers “in the style” of the originals, based on what little recipe information and marketing and tasting comments we had access to. This made for some awkward conversations and interviews about the origins of these beers.

AB had a Corporate Archives room underneath the big tour center in the St. Louis Brewery. And we also had a Corporate Historian, Bill Vollmar, who was heavily involved in developing the campaigns for these beers, and later supported them with travel to the various tastings held in Seattle and Denver. Bill was an interesting guy, he knew his history, and enjoyed traveling around and showing people some of the things he had in the archives, like the old pocketknife that Adolphus Busch used to give out to customers that had a little picture of himself on the inside that could be seen by looking through a small sight glass in the body of the knife.

AbAmerOrigAdolphusBuschLetter

An 1893 letter written by Adolphus Busch copied from the archives. He was complaining about a counterfeit Budweiser being brewed in the west.

ABAmerOriginalsCover

The cover of the American Originals Sell In pamphlet. Most of the beers never made the cut, though there was a lot of interest in White Label Exquisite and Old Burgundy Lager

ABAMerOriginalsBottleLabelsAll

There were a lot of beers that were considered for the American Originals lineup, but eventually only 4 brews were made before the series was canned in favor of the Michelob Specialty Beers Series: Faust, Muenchener, Black &Tan and later, American Hop Ale, which was brewed instead of Old Burgundy Lager or White Label Exquisite because I suggested we brew a really hoppy ale using only American hops that were available in the 1890’s (Cluster and Fuggle). I will write about each of those beers individually in my next post.

Why did the series fail? Lots of reasons, but for one I think the lineup was largely uninteresting to craft beer drinkers. It didn’t help that the first two cities we rolled these beers out to were Denver and Seattle, cities that were already well entrenched in craft brewed ales. Lager beers like Faust or Muenchener had little hope of making a dent in those markets. I question why we didn’t focus these beers in the midwest, they weren’t even available in St. Louis for quite a while after the first release, which made absolutely zero sense to me.

Another reason is simply the dynamics of AB’s marketing department. The marketing team that introduced the American Originals eventually got promoted to bigger and better things, and then new managers were brought in. New managers that wanted to “hit their own home run” as we used to say. They weren’t interested in perpetuating someone else’s project, so they came up with their own ideas. If you look at AB’s specialty beer/new beer releases over the recent years, you will see drastic shifts in direction about every 2 years. A lot of that has to do with the revolving door of the marketing team.

And really, what craft beer aficionado wanted to drink specialty beers from Anheuser-Busch? Very few craft beer fans would even give them a shot. This was a real learning experience for AB, and prompted the investments in Widmer and Redhook later in the 1990’s.

And finally, in the AB culture at that time, everything revolved around Budweiser. We couldn’t talk about these beers on their own, all conversations had to relate back to the Budweiser quality message and the rich traditional German brewing heritage that AB had. While it was a good, strong message, I believe it also derailed any efforts made for these beers to have any substantial impact. Wholesalers had more incentives to place Budweiser, and later, in one of the most disheartening conversations I ever had with marketing, I was told that AB did not want to grow the specialty category.

Next Post: The 4 American Orginals Beers: Faust, Muenchener, Black&Tan, and American Hop Ale.

 

 

 

 

 

The Home Brewers Guide to Vintage Beer

Vintage_Beer_cover_new

I recently received this book, The Home Brewers Guide to Vintage Beer the mail, and I am tremendously excited about it for many reasons.

If you’ve read my book on IPA, you know that beer historian Ron Pattinson helped me a lot with it, he contributed numerous data tables on English and Scottish IPA brewing analysis and specifications, and fact-checked my manuscript before publication. His website Shut Up About Barclay Perkins is one of my favorite internet sites about beer. I visit it at least twice per week, because I always learn something new about brewing, not only about historical English techniques, but Scottish, German and American facts as well. He has done amazing work in researching old brewing logs and figuring out how the brewers made their beers, what the ingredients were like, what the style names meant, and along the way, debunking many brewing myths and clarifying the brewing procedures used through written brewing history. It really is an incredible place to learn about brewing history.

By my count he includes over 110 historical beer recipes in this book, covering the following styles: Porter, Stout, IPA, Pale Ale/Bitter, Light Bitter/Light Ale, Mild Ale, Stock/Burton Ale, Scottish Ales, Brown Ale, Broyhan, Grodziskie and some other European styles. In each chapter, he gives a synopsis of how and when the style originated and how it evolved over time. Each recipe is laid out in an easy to follow style, sized for a 5 gallon brew, but easily scalable to your own brewing system. And there are historical notes provided for each recipe as well.

Pattinson IPA Recipes

Here are 4 of the Historical IPA Recipes in Ron’s book.

Pattinson Mild Recipes

Here a couple of Mild recipes

I was never much into history until I started writing the IPA book, and then I got sucked in completely into the history of brewing, and the thrill of discovering extinct beer styles. Ron Pattinson’s website provided a lot of information that I was able to use in the book, and it was very gratifying that Ron was so willing to help.

Ron has worked with many brewers to brew historical recipes including my friends Dann and Martha Paquette at Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project (check out  Pretty Things Historical Beers to see some of the historical beers they have brewed), and John Keeling and Derek Prentice at Fuller’s, who brewed an historical Double Stout and XX Strong Ale with Ron’s help as part of their Fuller’s Past Master’s Series.

I’ve never actually met Ron Pattinson, all our correspondence has been via email. But I am excited that he will be in the San Diego area this spring, and we hope to brew a batch of beer with him while he’s here. He will be selling his book on the trip, so I hope you all come out to any of the events that scheduled (we’re hoping Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens Liberty Station in mid-May). More to come on this as events get planned.

 

The decline of Bass Pale Ale

Here’s a great post on Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile regarding The sad state of Bass Pale Ale.

I used to love Bass Ale, it definitely was a favorite of mine for many years, especially when visiting “pubs” here in the US, when the only offerings were typically Bass, Guinness Stout and Harp. However, it’s been many years since I’ve even seen it (not that I seek it out). This is a depressing story, about a company that simply doesn’t know what to do with one of the most iconic brands in brewing history.

At one time, in the 1800s, Bass was the largest brewery in the world, and their IPA set the standard for the style. Much of what I researched for the IPA book about 1800s IPAs I found in the Bass Archives (now called the National Brewery Centre archives), and if you ever get a chance to visit their museum in Burton-On-Trent, it is an amazing display of historical brewing in England, including an entire section dedicated to IPA and Burton’s heyday as a world brewing center in the 1800s. Also, there is a very nice pub on site, serving beers brewed exclusively at the Worthington’s small brewery just across the driveway from the museum.

Beers being served at the National Brewery Centre Worthington's Pub. Delicious!

Beers being served at the National Brewery Centre Worthington’s Pub. Delicious!

The state of affairs in Burton-On-Trent regarding the absence of the Bass name and logo on all of their old brewery buildings always seemed very sad to me…not that I blame Coors, who bought the breweries and now operate them. Just a strong statement about the dangers of brewery consolidation of the loss of historical brewing records, memorabilia, and other historical artifacts. Often, when breweries are bought out, much of the written material gets disposed of by the new company, without a thought as to how valuable those records might be to someone else.

This brewery used to be part of Bass. Now it is not.

This brewery used to be part of Bass. Now it is not.

I salute Coors for finally making the decision a few years ago to reopen the Museum and The Brewing Archives, a virtual treasure trove of old brewing documents, recipes and labels. They may have bowed to public pressure, but the fact remains that one of the best museums for beer was on their site and it’s a wonderful thing that it is open for visitors again. And if you do ever get the chance to visit, there are still plenty of historical sites that refer to the Bass heritage found throughout Burton:

The old Bass Water tower, just off the banks of the River Trent

The old Bass Water tower, just off the banks of the River Trent

William Bass house-historical marker

William Bass’s house is identified by this historical marker

 

A better shot of the William Bass house

A better shot of the William Bass house

No trip to Burton-On-Trent is complete without a visit to the infamous Cooper’s Tavern, once a Bass tied house, but now a free house pub. This was the pub that workers at Bass frequented on a regular basis. Now it is a wonderfully historic pub, serving a great selection of beer, and packed with friendly people. I’ve been there a few times now, and have always ended up having lively, friendly conversations with the regulars.

The casks at Cooper's Tavern

The casks at Cooper’s Tavern

The sign outside the door features, not surprisingly, a cooper!

The sign outside the door features, not surprisingly, a cooper!

The house dog, "Eddie" at Cooper's Tavern, making himself at home

The house dog, “Eddie” at Cooper’s Tavern, making himself at home

Any brewer interested in brewing history and recipes from the 1700s and 1800s owes themselves a trip to Burton-On-Trent. Spend at least 2 days there, the historical impact of this town on brewing is massive.

More to come, I have a lot to share about my experiences in Burton-on-Trent.

 

 

 

 

The Anheuser-Busch Conclave (aka the worst plane ride ever)

I don’t know if they still are doing this, but mid-July was always the time of year when Anheuser-Busch held their “Brewmasters’ Conclave”, usually in Williamsburg, VA at their Kingsmill Resort. For a younger brewing manager, climbing the corporate ladder, this series of meetings that spanned several days provided a whole range of emotions, including inspiration, amazement, and also, to no small extent, a certain degree of terror.

The Conclave was set up so that Brewmasters, the Brewing Scientists, and Ingredient Managers (AB had employees at the Director Level who were in charge of hops, malt, rice, yeast and water) could present on the latest developments in the industry, and also research projects that they had conducted over the past year. There was always a lot of groundbreaking research being presented, and I always learned a lot. For a mid-level manager like I was in the mid 1990s, it also provided a very real sense of wonder at the technical expertise and the brain power that was in that room. In all seriousness, Anheuser-Busch’s staff of Brewmasters and Brewing Scientists were the best of the best in the world.

The Conclave was a situation where the presenters could sometimes “make” their careers, and also where they could see their careers fall apart. This is because even though it was called “The Brewmaster’s” Conclave, it really was the “August Busch III” conclave. He sat in front center, and basically led the show, drilling each presenter mercilessly with questions. There’s no doubt that August Busch III knew his brewing science, he was amazingly hands-on when it came to beer quality, taste and the science behind the art of making beer. As such, he asked tough, intelligent questions, and it was certainly a badge of honor to survive a presentation at the Conclave without being tripped up, let alone have a successful presentation.

When I was working in Corporate Brewing, I went to the Conclave several times, and I had to give presentations two years in a row. It was always on the subject of our new beer program and the Specialty Brewing Group, going through a list of every new beer that we had in development. We presented on the marketing plan, the recipe, and where the beer was going to be brewed.

The brewmasters from all 12 US breweries and all the International breweries attended, and everyone who worked in Corporate Brewing, R&D or the Brewing Technical Center was flown out on corporate jets from St. Louis. My second time presenting at the Conclave, when the flight schedule was first published, I noticed right away that I was scheduled with about 15 others to fly on the same plane as August Busch III. After I recovered from my shock, I approached the administrative assistant in Corporate Brewing, who was in charge of scheduling the passenger list for each flight, with a desperate plea to put me on another plane, and she told me “oh no, don’t even worry about it, August ALWAYS flies the plane, you won’t even see him”. I felt a little comforted after that, but not much.

As a side note, AAB III is in fact a licensed pilot, and almost always flew the corporate jet when he visited any of the breweries in the AB system, which is why he never tasted the brewery’s beer during a visit. He took it back to St. Louis with him, and tasted it later that evening. And if he didn’t like it, there was hell to pay, but that’s another story. When he was working at the corporate offices in St. Louis, he flew in on a helicopter, and landed on the roof, and then walked to his office on the top floor.

So I took some ribbing from some of my coworkers that morning in July as we waited to board the jets. No one wanted to trade places with me, that’s for sure. I boarded the plane with my coworker in New Products/Specialty Brewing Group and the rest of the unlucky souls, and sure enough, there was August Busch III sitting in the cockpit. I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to 2 hours in a plane with a man I considered the one of the most intimidating men in the world so I defintely felt a sense of relief when it looked like he was indeed going to fly the plane.

We take off, get in the air, and lo and behold, the cockpit door opens, and AAB III walks out, and explains that his son Stephen was going to fly the plane so he could “chat” with all of us. Well, my stomach dropped so fast….and he spent the next two hours peppering all the passengers about our beer and their upcoming presentations. When he got to me and my partner, we basically ended up giving him our entire presentation, and he gave us very explicit direction to be sure to include the projected sales margins in the Conclave, which we had to scramble to get as soon as we got off the plane. We survived the flight, but definitely needed a beer when we landed.

We were scheduled to present on Day 3, the last day, which was a half day. Conclave presentations often evolve into very deep follow-up conversations (or grillings), so we were behind schedule on day 3, and VP of Brewing Doug Muhleman approached us and said it looked like our presentation was going to get cut due to time constraints. Believe me, I had mixed feelings about that, but the primary feeling was one of relief. It had been a rough Conclave already, and I didn’t want to end up on the chopping block like some of the others.

At the mid-morning break that 3rd day, I was in the lobby getting a cup of coffee when I turned around and unfortunately, made eye contact  with AAB III. And of course, he noticed me, and came over and said: “hey! when is your presentation?” And when I replied that it had been cut, he said “oh no you don’t…I want to see it”…so I went and told Doug Muhleman, and we were hastily inserted back into the schedule.

The presentation itself went fine, and I made it through with only minor scarring. I don’t remember much of it to be honest. But I remember that flight out to Williamsburg, and probably always will, and I also remember how easy the return flight was, how relaxed, how enjoyable, because the Conclave was over, and I was flying on the plane without the CEO.