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.

Elk_Mtn_Hop_Farm
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.

ElkMtn

ElkMtnAle

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.

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

  1. Gary Gillman

    Very interesting history and I remember enjoying a couple of these especially the first one you mentioned when it first came out, it was very good.

    Interesting remark from the brewing director of the day. I have no doubt that wisdom served well for many decades. The question was though, at what point would it stop working and provoke a counter-reaction.
    In my view, that point had been reached when he spoke or not too long after.

    Mitch: in this excellent series I believe one aspect has not been addressed. Were these beers in their bottled form pasteurized? If so, do you think that played any role in consumer reaction, i.e., as compared to bottled craft production which generally wasn’t pasteurized?

    Gary

    1. mitchsteele Post author

      Yes these beers were all pasteurized. It’s interesting, pasteurization has such a bad rap, but we did a lot of side-by-side testing and never could discern any flavor differences resulting from pasteurization, even in beer that contained year, like the Hefeweizens. Pasteurization is probably more common than people realize in craft.

      1. Gary Gillman

        Many thanks for this. Would love to have the chance to participate in such a comparison one day!

        Gary

  2. Jess Kidden

    > Elk Mountain Amber… was the first ale AB brewed in almost 100 years.

    Realizing that it was common for some US brewers in the pre-craft era to brew and market “ales” that had been fermented with lager yeast at warmer temps (so-called “Bastard Ales”) so not sure how these two AB brands I noted below migh fit into the current definition of “ale” in the US-

    Anheuser Busch brewed a beer called “Ox Brand O’Doul’s Irish Style Pale Ale” circa 1988. I purchased it in New England, so it’s possible it was brewed in Merrimack, NH even though the label and 6 pack basket (both of which I still have) said only “Anheuser Busch, Inc. St. Louis, MO”. The beer came in green “heritage” throw-away bottles and, I assume, was a reaction to Coors’ Geo. Killian brand. I’ve always suspected the beer I bought was in a test market and never made it to full national release – with the brand name obviously later used for their non-alcoholic cereal beverage.

    Also, after buying the American Brewing Co. in Miami, FL in ’58 AB continued to brew their Regal Ale in Miami. I have a label for the ale which lists all 5 AB breweries at the time (St. L, Newark, L.A., Tampa and Miami) but specifies that the ale was brewed in Miami. I’ve always had my doubts if the label is real or a repro but newspaper reports at the time of the purchase did state the Regal brands were to be continued, and I have AB ads that note that Regal Beer and Ale were their products. (They later had to sell that brewery due to anti-trust concerns – with National buying it in the early 60s).

    (Happy to send you jpegs of the above material).

    — JK

  3. Barm

    Interesting that the Mountain Red Lager was made with a decoction mash. The received wisdom among American-influenced microbreweries and homebrewers tends to be that decoction is unnecessary, expensive and doesn’t make any difference to the beer. I’m surprised to see a brewing group the size of A-B using it for anything, unless they believed it did make a difference.

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