So the Belgians are buying Anheuser-Bush for $52 billion, and good for them. Don’t know much about ’rithmetic, but I know plenty about beer, having sluiced the stuff down on a pretty regular basis ever since I was old enough to fool bartenders with my fake I.D.
As the years rolled by and I approached my twenties, I began to realize that the stuff I was drinking was by and large watery swill. And this was even before it had occurred to American brewers that they could remove all flavor completely and sell the remainder as “Lite” on the false premise that it wouldn’t make you “Hevy.”
Back in those days one of the two worst beers in the country was Genessee, which at least had the virtue of being down in the dollar-a-sixpack range. The other was Budweiser, which charged full mass-market prices.
The only decent beer generally available in America (and only, as I recall, on the East Coast) was Ballantine’s Ale. Most barflies found its beer-like flavor, derived from things like hops and barley, to be bitter and repellent.
Of course there were foreign beers on the market too — Heineken’s, Corona, Beck’s, St. Pauli Girl and a few others. But they were expensive and barely better than the American stuff.
I learned why in 1959 when we joined a group of American noncommissioned officers on a tour of the Löwenbräu brewery in Munich. It ended in the tasting room where the brewmaster invited us all to get shitfaced, compliments of the house.
Once the process was well along he challenged the sergeants with various feats of strengths. None of them could match him, and so I stepped forward like a damned fool, as my wife playfully remarked while failing to pull me back to my seat.
But the chance to stick it to a roomful of career sergeants was not to be passed up, not by a recently-discharged private who was confident he could do the brewmaster’s tricks. And promptly did so. Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d… Oh, well.
Back, however, to our overview of beer through the ages. During the tour the brewmaster had shown us a room full of pipes and catch basins and filters which removed impurities that could cause the beer to spoil during transport.
What was being filtered out, I asked. The flavor? “You might call it that,” he said. “Yes.”
My suspicion is that Budweiser has similar rooms, where product quality is scientifically lowered to the level that the American lush has come to expect from a premium brew.
Whatever direction Budweiser’s Belgian owners decide to take with their new company, it can only be up.