Budweiser, first made in St. Louis, Missouri, is one of the most well-known beers globally, especially in its home country, the United States, it has had a firm foothold for more than a century. However, many people aren’t aware of what kind of beer Budweiser truly is and why it is classified in a certain way. Let’s start with a quick answer:
Budweiser is best classified as an American lager because of its medium bitterness (IBU of 12), high carbonization, light gold color (SRM of 2-3), the alcohol content of 5%, the use of rice in the brewing process, and the fact that Budweiser is bottom-fermented instead of top-fermented.
However, that certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. Below, we’ll first identify why Budweiser is classified as a lager and not as an ale (the other major category). After that, we’ll dive into the specifics of the beer and why it is best classified as an American lager. We’ll also discuss how the use of rice changes its categorization, and if Budweiser has always been the American lager it is today. Read on!
Is Budweiser A Lager Or Ale?
First of all, it’s essential to know that there are two general categories of beers: lager or ale. These types of beers have different sub-categories. However, all beers fall into either one of the two categories.
The difference between these two beers is how the beer is made and what ingredients are used. The main difference is the brewing process. Beers are either made with a top-fermenting or bottom-fermenting process.
In a nutshell, this means that beer is either fermented at warm temperatures (60˚–70˚F), in which case it’s top-fermenting, which classifies it as an ale. The other option is bottom-fermenting the yeast at colder temperatures (35˚–50˚F) which ranks it as a lager. Read more here about how Budweiser is made.
Budweiser is made with a bottom-fermenting process which means it is classified as a lager.
What Kind Of Lager Is Budweiser?
However, that doesn’t answer the question entirely. Classifying beer as a lager or ale is just the start of the process. Within the category of lager, many more specifications can be made. Let’s see how things add up for the original Budweiser. To classify Budweiser correctly, we’ll use the scale of the Beer Judge Certification Program, which categorizes beers based on many factors.
According to this organization, Budweiser is best classified as an American lager, a sub-category of the overall category of standard American beers. Let’s have a look at why Budweiser falls into this category. Also, if you’re interested in how Budweiser tastes, read this blog we wrote earlier.
Why Is Budweiser An American Lager?
First, it’s essential to know that there are five general criteria that help us classify beers in their categories.
The first criterion is the bitterness of the beer. This is measured in International Bitterness Units (IBU). American lagers have an IBU between 8 – 18, which means they’re less bitter than their European counterparts (such as Heineken or Stella Artois). Since Budweiser has an IBU of 12, this means this beer falls precisely in this category.
Furthermore, there’s the SRM of the beer, which refers to the color. American lagers have an SRM between 2 – 4 which means they have a light, golden color. As you can see in the image below, Budweiser has a very light, golden color, giving it an SRM of 2 – 3. That’s right in line with the American lager category.
Besides the bitterness and the color, there’s also the ‘original gravity’ of the beer. This indicates the beer’s potency and gives a brewer a clear indication of how much alcohol the brew will have after fermentation. American lagers typically have an OG of 1.040 – 1.050. Budweiser has an original gravity of 11.0° Plato, which translates to an OG of 1.044. This is right in line with what we expect from an American lager.
After the fermentation of the beer, there’s another unit that we need to consider called ‘final gravity’. This number represents the amount of unfermentable sugars in the beer that are left after the fermentation process is completed. American lagers have an FG of 1.004 – 1.010. Using an online calculator, we can calculate that Budweiser has a final gravity of 1.0059.
Finally, there’s the most straightforward criterion of them all, and that’s the ABV of the beer. American lagers have an ABV between 4.2% – 5.3%. Budweiser has an ABV of 5%, which means it also fits the category of typical American lager in terms of the percentage of alcohol.
Does The Use Of Rice Change How The Beer Is Categorized?
One crucial element of American lagers that differentiates them clearly from their European counterparts is the use of rice as an ingredient. American lagers tend to use up to 40% of rice (or corn) as one of their ingredients.
The use of rice is one of the factors that change the taste of the beer and the color of the beer. Rice produces a much clearer, lighter brew, which is why European lagers can have an SRM between 2 -6, whereas American lagers have an SRM of 2 – 4. So, in a way, rice is one of the main differentiators between European and American lagers.
Has Budweiser Always Been A Lager?
In general terms, Budweiser has always been a lager. However, Budweiser has been around for a long time (since 1876). This means the beer has changed a lot during the years, simply because beer used to be very different almost 150 years ago.
One of the first differences is the original gravity of the beer. Sources from 1884 suggest the beer had an original gravity (sometimes referred to as specific gravity) of 1.015. By today’s standards, that would place the OG of the beer outside of the limits for an American lager. However, it can be assumed all American lagers had this kind of OG at the time.
Furthermore, the higher OG meant more fermentable sugars in the beer, which led to a higher alcohol percentage. Sources from the time suggest the beer had an alcohol percentage of 5.32% instead of the 5% we know today.
Finally, it’s interesting to know that Budweiser used to be much hoppier before in the late 1800s and early-mid 1900s. This is because beers, in general, had a much higher bitterness because that was simply what people liked at the time.
Also, the kind of hop used in Budweiser has changed throughout the years. Before World War I, the beer was advertised as using Czech Saaz hops (also used in Heineken and Stella Artois to this day). In contrast, these days, Budweiser uses US-grown versions of the German/Czech hops such as Hallertau, Saaz, and Tettnanger, with some European hops plus high-alpha and non-Germanic types such as Willamette in the mix.