Behind-the-Scenes Beertography: A Visit to Anheuser-Busch

AB window_web

At the beginning of this month, I was presented with an invitation to travel to St. Louis as part of a very small media event hosted by Anheuser-Busch. As with many of these things, travel, accommodations and most food was provided for me.

The purpose of the visit was to get a first-hand look at AB’s Research Pilot Brewery, a 15-barrel system with which a staff creates batches of beer as experiments, to test new ingredients and brew control batches of traditional Budweiser.

During my time wandering through the halls, labs and fermenting spaces, I documented my trip on camera and occasionally pulled out my notebook to jot down details and memories. This was a one-of-a-kind opportunity to go behind the scenes and I wanted to share some of it with you.

A long line of bottles sits waiting.

bottles_web

Every day, a collection of these and others are pulled and brought to conference rooms several floors away, where eight to 12 employees hold daily quality assurance panels.

fallen soldiers and glass_web

Our group first saw the aftermath of one of the panels, which featured a conference room table about 10 feet long covered with “fallen soldiers” – partially-consumed glasses of beer.

*Insert beer nerd joke about why people wouldn’t drink a full glass of Budweiser*

Those testing the bottles of Bud are there to work, not drink, so after each panel, tasters are required to take a breathalyzer test. Safety first.

fallen soldiers 2_web

Along with tasting panels for Budweiser, employees also go through Anheuser-Busch’s lineup of brews, from Bud Select to Bud Light Chelada.

bud shelf

While I didn’t personally sign it, the tasting room we visited held a book with signatures of visiting brewers and industry professionals from the past 20 years.

sign-in book_web

No matter how much people do rag on Anheuser-Busch, I’m yet to meet one person who won’t admit their commitment to consistency is nothing short of amazing. They have a team monitoring their fermentation progress around the clock to make sure nothing goes wrong.

war room 2_web

Below, Jim Bicklein, a 28-year employee and brewmaster, pulls a sample of Budweiser from one of their giant brite tanks. Each tank, the width of multiple plane fuselages and length of one, too, holds the beer before it’s ready to bottle.

pouring beer from tank_web

Throughout the trip, our group spent time with Rob Naylor, manager and brewmaster at Anheuser-Busch’s Research Pilot Brewery. On a daily basis, Rob works with his team to create a variety of experimental, specialty and one-off brews.

rob pouring hops_web

Throughout the Pilot Brewery, fermenting beer bubbles away based on recipes of Rob’s creation and that of his coworkers. Below, a batch of “Four Horses” ferments. Each beer is marked with a tag representing the project number (in this case, the 129th project) and the version of that beer (version seven for Four Horses).

The Research Pilot Brewery features 30 to 50 beers in development at any given time and has been responsible for every new Anheuser-Busch beer since 1981.

experiment batch tag_web

Of course, arguably the most important part of AB’s brewing process is its legacy yeast.

yeast tag_web

Vials of yeast are stored frozen to preserve the cultures, of which there are about 40 generations that exist at the St. Louis facility. Every Monday, a new shipment of yeast is sent to all of AB’s breweries around the world in half-barrel kegs.

yeast vial_web

In all, the visit was a worthwhile educational trip that gave me better insight into Anheuser-Busch’s operational side and a chance to meet a variety of employees, from folks working in production up to the director of brewing, quality and innovation. Along with some photos, it also left me with some more questions to ask and story ideas for the future.

glass and logo_web

Back to the normal beertography next month.

Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

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7 thoughts on “Behind-the-Scenes Beertography: A Visit to Anheuser-Busch

  1. Bryan, good report. You might ask them as a follow up why they don’t recreate the spec Budweiser had, say in 1970 or 1933 or 1900. Even as a test brew in the pilot you mentioned, this would be a very interesting thing to try.

    I remember the beer in the 70’s and in my opinion, it is quite different now. Then, it had an appley-biscuit note with some flowery taste from hops evident. Today I don’t get that at all and the adjunct element (said to be 70% in the 70’s in beer books then) seems more prominent.

    Gary

    • All very good points, Gary. The ingredients have most certainly changed and if my memory serves, the InBev purchase pushed the changes a little more.

      One note I did neglect to include was an important to Rob. Because he makes Budweiser batches at the Pilot Brewery, he enters his brew into the regular taste panels, which also test specific batches of Budweiser from plants across the country and world. In one of the recent panels, his brew, made on the Pilot Brewery’s system, was among the top ranked in feedback.

      Thanks for chiming in!

  2. Pingback: Happy New Beer: December 2015 Beertography | This Is Why I'm Drunk

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