A NEW BUSCH BREWERY IN ST. LOUIS? BELIEVE IT (UNFORTUNATELY).

Do not adjust your computer monitor. It’s true. A new Busch family brewery appears to be headed for St. Louis, home of the former Busch-led Anheuser-Busch Brewery. William K. Busch is looking to put the “Busch” back into St. Louis beer for the first time since the company’s 2008 acquisition by Belgian brewing giant InBev and the subsequent departure as CEO of fifth-generation leader August Busch IV, perhaps better known colloquially as “The Fourth.”

William K. Busch, also known as Billy Busch, is the son of third-generation AB leader August “Gussie” Anheuser Busch Jr., which makes him the uncle of former CEO August Busch IV. He’s not a particularly well-known member of the family. In fact, as a sort of measuring stick, if you Google “William K. Busch” or “Billy Busch,” the only image you’re going to get of him is an action shot of Busch on a horse, because he’s apparently a competitive polo player. This makes the announcement the other day that he’s opening a new brewing venture, the William K. Busch Brewery, all the more surprising. He was never involved in the “family business” up to this point, and that’s actually the only reason he can legally open his brewery now–he didn’t have to sign a “no-competition” agreement like those members of the Busch family who actually worked for the brewery when it was acquired by InBev.

The really weird thing about the proposed William K. Busch Brewery is what it will actually produce–an American lager and an American light lager.* Sound familiar? Instead of taking the opportunity to make something different from AB’s history, Billy Busch intends to make essentially the same beer, competing directly against the megacorporation his own family created. No word on if it will be beechwood-aged. The brewmaster will apparently be Marc Gottfried, brewer for St. Louis brewpub Morgan St. Brewery.

*UPDATE: In the time since this post was originally written, the William K. Busch Brewery launched these lagers, which are known as “Kraftig.”

Now, this seems like kind of an insane course of action to me, but I’m not a Busch.

In that spirit, please note this: I am no expert on the tangled web that is the Busch family tree. It is a very confusing, eccentric, fascinating family, riddled with power struggles and the occasional scandal involving the death of random people who got too close to the family. The most common way of taking control is by wresting it away from your father amid bitter recrimations. It’s basically the succession style of Roman emperors, which makes it all the more proper that it’s a bunch of “Augustuses” in charge. You could spend all day simply trying to understand who is who and who does what in the family.

For that reason, I’ve contacted someone who does know a thing or two about St. Louis beer and the Busch family, St. Louis Post-Dispatch beer writer Evan Benn. Benn is the author of a great beer blog, Hip Hops, that is a must-read if you’re planning on doing any craft beer drinking in the St. Louis area. I’m actually going to be there for a wedding this weekend, and the two breweries I plan to visit (Six Row Brewing and Urban Chestnut) are largely because of what I’ve read on Hip Hops. He’s also the author of “Brew in the Lou,” a Post-Dispatch book on the history of St. Louis brewing. Who better, I figured, to explain this whole situation? What follows is the brief conversation we were able to have.

Kid Carboy Jr.: What kind of reputation does Billy Busch have there in St. Louis and in the Busch family? It really doesn’t sound like he had much interest in the brewing industry before, or he wouldn’t even be in the position to be able to start a brewery now, because he’d be restricted by the no-competition clause.

Evan Benn: Billy Busch has stayed out of the limelight here in recent years, unlike some of his other family members. He was involved in a nasty custody battle in the late ’80s that garnered a lot of headlines, but that was a while ago, of course.

Carboy: When would this William K. Busch Brewing start distributing beer? Was this just announced? If they put in a physical location, where would it be?

Benn: The plan is for the brewery to get their first two lagers into the St. Louis market as soon as November, with broader distribution to follow. It will initially be contract-brewed through a facility in Wisconsin (I’m guessing Stevens Point but haven’t gotten that confirmed). They haven’t decided on a physical location yet, nor have they said that it will definitely be in St. Louis. It will be a St. Louis-based company, however. This just came to light this week.

Carboy: I’m a little confused on the lineage. Is Billy a son of The Third? What exactly happened to the previous planned Busch-Timmermann Brewery that made it fall through?

Benn: Billy is the son of August “Gussie” Busch Jr.  August Busch III and Billy are half brothers.  August Busch IV is Billy’s nephew.  Adolphus Busch IV and Andy Busch are two of Billy’s full brothers. *

I’m unclear what made the Busch Timmermann plans fall through, but I do know that Mr. Timmermann is not a part of the current brewery project.

*You see? It’s nuts.

Carboy: I have heard from St. Louis people often that this Morgan St. place is among the least interesting breweries in town–there’s a reason I wasn’t planning on heading there this weekend, for instance. What do you make of them? I know you’re a craft beer geek, don’t hold out on me.

Benn: Morgan Street is our only all-lager brewery, and its brewmaster, Marc Gottfried, is a lifelong prodigy of brewing* who churns out some excellent, award-winning beers. There is certainly nothing uninteresting about an India Pale Lager or a Bohemian-style Golden Pilsner that has won gold medals against pilsners from all over the world.  The only real strike Morgan Street has against it, in some people’s eyes, is that it’s located in a part of downtown called Laclede’s Landing that tends to get overrun by tourist types** and young party kids on the weekends.***

*He started brewing at 13 and was named the youngest Master Brewer in North America at the age of 22. Very impressive.

**Like me, for instance.

**Okay, I’ll give you that, but if you peruse the Morgan St. Brewery’s website (which is a frighteningly outdated-looking site, by the way), it’s definitely not making any references to India pale lagers, and that’s pretty much what I was going off of. That and there’s a few stouts on the list, so I’m not sure if “all-lager” is accurate. I pray that they’re not some sort of lager-stout. UPDATE: Benn informed me that they are in fact lagers, which I personally can’t help but imagine as some kind of hideous, Frankensteinian lager-stout hybrid. I’m suddenly very afraid.

Carboy: And finally, what in God’s name is Billy Busch thinking in starting a new brewery that is just going to make more American lagers and light lagers as its flagships? There is no way that he can possibly think that he’ll be competing with AB-Inbev. No one could be that delusional. Please confirm that this is impossible. I mean, how many other breweries do you see opening today that just make those kinds of beer? You see…none of them, because that market is already spoken for. And by volume, that market is already decreasing each year. Is there a reason he wouldn’t do something a little more crafty? Does it seem as pointless to you as it does to me?

Benn: You could be right, or Busch could be on to something. A lot of people have taken the InBev takeover as an opportunity to try out some non-A-B beers. Some people are just looking to support a local brewery, but not everyone likes big imperial stouts or double IPAs that many of the craft brewers produce. So in that sense, it could be a smart call for a local-owned brewery to fill the niche of making the kind of easy-drinking lagers people have been drinking and loving their whole lives. Time will tell.

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A big thanks to Evan Benn for contributing his opinions and replying speedily to my request. Personally, however, I find it difficult to envision the citizens of St. Louis deciding en masse that they want to support the “local” Busch-owned brewery over just buying another Bud Light–this just doesn’t seem to be in the typical macrobrew drinker’s mentality, to me. It’s the craft beer drinker who goes out of his way to drink with ideals, like where a beer is made or who makes it. Unless Billy Busch is somehow able to beat Budweiser in price (and that would be some really cheaply made beer), I can’t expect the William K. Busch Brewery to amount to much.

But who knows? I could be wrong. As Benn said, time will tell. If you’ve bothered to read all this, please let me know what you think.

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14 comments

  1. CZAR VLADIBEER S. BOOTIN' · ·

    I don’t think it’s a ridiculous thing at all. Even if the beer is purely session beer and doesn’t have the flavor profile that befits a poncy alehead can replace the 3 kegs of bud light I drink a year because I’m cheap.

  2. Kid Carboy Jr. · ·

    I guess I’m coming from a fundamentally different perspective that typically consumes zero kegs of Bud Light per year.

    You know, it’s funny when you think about it, but craft beer drinkers who ALSO drink macro-lagers occasionally might be the biggest market for this beer. Pure macro drinkers don’t go out of their way to make purchases motivated by ideology, right? But craft beer drinkers do, on a regular basis. You could very well have Schlafly drinkers looking for a cheap beer grab some of this William K. Busch beer I suppose, thinking “Well at least it’s locally owned.” Although I would still think that locally BREWED would be preferable.

  3. Sir Carboy,

    If you’ll be in STL, and you don’t visit Schlafly, you’ll really be missing out. Both of the other breweries are awesome – and the beer is too – but Schlafly has a great selection and is the perfect jumping off point for the other two.

    When at Urban Chestnut, I can’t recommend the Schnickelfritz, Winged Nut, and most of all Harwood Myth enough – if you dig a solid porter the Myth is a legend.

    Cheers!

  4. Kid Carboy Jr. · ·

    Oh I DO dig solid porters. I dig them very frequently. I’ll probably dig that one repeatedly. Thanks for the recommendation.

    I do want to visit Schlafly, but I think I’m going to save it for a trip of its own. I’ve been meaning to get there for a while. The main reason for Urban Chestnut and Six Row is that they’re both very close to the church/hotel where the wedding is happening.

    …I don’t know what it means, but I really like the name “Harwood Myth”. It makes me think of an English professor in a tweed suit.

  5. I reached out to my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Miller (no relation), about using her name to start a small lager brewery in Milwaukee. Stay tuned…

  6. The Grim · ·

    Benn is biased – he’s good friends with Morgan Street so of course he’ll give them an endorsement.

  7. Kid Carboy Jr. · ·

    Grim: I don’t doubt that he’s probably friendly with most of the beer people in town. I would hope as a journalist he can still make a semi-accurate assessment.

    I was in St. Louis this weekend and they spoke fairly highly of Morgan Street beers when I was visiting Urban Chestnut. Or they spoke highly of the pils, anyway. The rest they said were kind of boring. But still, I figured they would be more oppositional than that.

  8. Cindy BARRY · ·

    Yes- happy to hear The Busch family.is keeping the name in St Louis. They are.a ledgend. We all love the beer, and all you have to say is the Arch?? U know Anhueser Busch beer??? Good news, :)

  9. I grew up in St. Louis. I could smell the brewery from my parents house. The name “Busch” implies royalty in St. Louis. I don’t know how well the William Busch brewing Co. will do in the rest of the world but I suspect it will do fine here.

  10. The term macrobrew should imply nothing about taste and only about scale of production & distribution. But the fact that it does shows you what most Americans like to drink: smooth, less filling, light lagers. I think a new American owned good tasting macrobrew is definitely in order. Molson, SAB and InBev can kiss it. InBev has really made a lot of A-B loyalists unhappy around STL for what they’ve done and are doing to our once beloved company. And if Kraftig does not take off to that scale like I’d like to see (and honestly invision), I’ll be happy to support them all the same. I’ve been wishing Schlafly would make a similar light beer for sometime (their summertime lager is worthy of drinking all year imo). I think there is an underestimation of how thirsty the masses are for drinkable American owned light beer that does not leave you rolling up to the party with a 12 pack of PBR. Simply put – most beer drinkers do not care for the taste complexities of the microbrew long tail AND a good % are not happy in their relationships with the mega corporations.

  11. Kid Carboy Jr. · ·

    13owie: I understand that argument that you’re making, but I still find it hard to believe that a lot of people would really feel the same way—or that a lot of MACROBREW drinkers would feel the way you feel.

    You, 13owie, unless I’m mistaken, are a craft beer drinker, right? You mentioned at least drinking some Schlafly brews. This means that, almost by definition, you care a lot more about the product you’re consuming than the people who drink AB beer every day. You’re more motivated by everything that goes into a beer, and you actually allow those factors to influence your buying decision.

    I would argue that the people who drink Bud Lite every day simply won’t care enough to go out of their way to find and drink Kraftig. There may be craft drinkers in the St. Louis area who actually want light, all-malt beers and don’t care who makes them, but you have to assume that’s a minority of a group that is in and of itself ALREADY a minority–craft beer drinkers. So let’s say it’s less than half of the craft-drinking populace, which is itself only 5 percent or so.

    When this product is available, someone should do an experiment. Talk to Bud Lite drinkers sitting in dive bars on a Friday and Saturday night, and ask a few thousand of them, “Will you switch to drinking an all-malt lager, Kraftig, and stop drinking Bud because Kraftig is brewed by a Busch-owned company, even if it’s more expensive?” The gaurantee you, you’re not going to be getting a lot of responses of “yes.”

    I personally doubt there is anything that inBev could even do that would stop St. Louis residents from drinking Bud. They could print “Go to hell, St. Louis” on every can and I don’t think the overall bottom line would change. And it’s because people who drink that stuff day in and day out do so out of habit, programmed brand loyalty, but more than any other reason, because of ECONOMICS. It’s cheap, and it’s a standard-bearer. I mean, why are there so many people who drink Bud Lite every day but would never stoop to drinking Busch Lite or Natural Lite? Is it because those beers are actually a lot worse? Of course not. It’s because there would be a stigma to buying even cheaper than the brand leader, Bud. It’s the same reason you’re not going to walk into a well-to-do person’s house and find a bunch of supermarket-brand soft drinks in the fridge.

    Ultimately, the only people really interested in Kraftig will be people like you. You’re into good beer and don’t care where it comes from, but that’s not a big market. The people who drink Bud? They’re not into “good beer.”

  12. brian luft · ·

    Wooohooo
    BILLY BEER 2.0. Where can I get some??

  13. I have friends who have quit any A-B products because of foreign ownership. Doesn’t mean you don’t end up on another shore,(molson-coors etc) I’m going to try the WKB light because i’m alight beer drinker. Not everybody wants or likes a IPA with a half a teaspoon of unknown crap at the bottom. (what is that shit anyway?) Get over it ! There is never going to be too many breweries and we don’t need to discourage anyone.

    1. Haha, I got a chuckle out of the “unknown crap” reference. That stuff, when you see it, is basically just ale yeast that has fallen out of suspension. It’s easy enough to leave behind, and perfectly nutritious if you do choose to drink it, just so ya know.

      Additionally, that’s something you’ll only find in craft beers that are bottle conditioned—that is, allowed to carbonate naturally in the bottle. Those that are force-carbonated, like a light lager, won’t have any sediment to speak of. So if the sediment thing is a turn-off, there are still many, many craft breweries to try and beers to get that don’t have any.

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