Over at the Wall Street Journal, Roger Lowenstein reviews Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America’s King of Beers. It’s not a happy tale (the title isn’t subtle), but author William Knoedelseder seems to have a great deal of inside scoop.
“The process began at birth,” Lowenstein explains, “when a few suds of Budweiser were ladled onto infant tongues before they tasted mother’s milk. As Mr. Knoedelseder writes, the Busches ‘understood they were part of something bigger than themselves.’ If this was an inspiring credo, it planted the seeds of tribal strife. ‘I eat it, sleep it, and dream about it,’ Gussie Busch, the founder’s grandson, said of his business. ‘My family, of course, comes a close second.’ He meant it.”
The review continues,
Busch heirs were reared by emotionally distant fathers who coolly judged their children’s executive potential. The result, according to this well-researched account, was a saga of corporate ambition, serial philandering, bitter divorce, substance abuse, gun mishaps, untimely deaths and family feuds, all of it papered over by material over-indulgence.
One instance Lowenstein cites really jumps out: “In a plot worthy of Shakespeare,” he writes, “August III planned a coup, thoughtfully calling for a doctor to wait outside the boardroom just in case the old man reacted badly to being fired. Gussie survived the experience but declared war on his son and threatened to break with (and disinherit) any relative who stayed in the business.”
When I was in college, the best my housemates and I could afford was a keg of Busch Light. It was terrible, especially when it warmed. (We’d throw a bag of ice over the keg and jokingly refer to it as Busch Ice.) I remember touring the brewery in St. Louis—each visitor was given a couple of tickets to sample Anheuser-Busch products, which struck me as a bit parsimonious. (At the Heineken brewery tour, the trip was capped off with a 30-minute all-you-can-drink reception.)
The company was ultimately bought out by InBev of Belgium (hence, the “fall” of Anheuser-Busch). As I noted in a previous post, InBev has since acquired Corona. Eventually it will take over the world.
Photo by Posi66