Budweiser is, for many drinkers, the epitome of the classic American pale lager. Its easy drinkability and clear lineage from the Bohemian-style lager made Budweiser a major hit for the Anheuser-Busch brewing company. Budweiser is a staple beer for many American drinkers who might wonder why Budweiser first came out and when. Here’s our abridged version:
Budweiser was first launched in 1876 by Adolphus Busch, the German-born co-founder of the Anheuser-Busch brewing company. Busch was inspired on a visit to Germany by the lagers popular in the Bohemia region of the Czech Republic. Busch took it upon himself to produce similar beer for American drinkers at his brewery in St. Louis, Missouri.
That’s the brief answer to when Budweiser came out and why, but there is plenty more detail to consider. In this article, we’ll take a close look at why Adolphus Busch pushed Budweiser to become a national sensation, where it was first brewed, and how the beer has fared since then.
Why Did Budweiser Come Out?
Adolphus Busch was already in the brewing business when he returned to Europe for a holiday in the 1870s. He had co-founded a brewing company with a fellow German immigrant, Eberhard Anheuser, in 1864. Upon a visit to Bohemia, Busch was so inspired by their pale, easy-drinking lagers that he came home with an idea to sell a similar beer to American drinkers. In St. Louis, the high percentage of German immigrants made is a prime market for brewing, and Busch consulted his friend, bottler Carl Conrad, on producing an accessible Bohemian-style lager.
Budweiser was always meant to be a light, thirst-quenching lager. Like many of America’s other major, popular beers, it is a proud proponent of the German-American brewing tradition.
Although Budweiser began at the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis, Missouri, Adolphus Busch had bigger ideas. He didn’t simply want to produce a local beer for local drinkers. His plan was to take Budweiser nationwide, offering his crisp, refreshing lager to as many Americans as he could. This began in 1878, when Busch implemented pasteurization as a standard practice for Budweiser brewing, allowing the beer to travel further without spoiling.
To accomplish this, Busch focused his marketing and expansion efforts on the Budweiser brand. This push came after the death of his friend and business partner, Eberhard Anheuser, in 1880. In a time before widespread electronic refrigeration, Busch built a network of railside ice houses to allow for easy transportation of Budweiser across the United States. He also launched the beer industry’s first fleet of refrigerated freight cars.
Busch’s preferred way of doing business was full vertical integration. He bought hop farms, bottling factories, ice manufacturing plants, railways, and even the right to build diesel engines in America. By owning and controlling all aspects of his business, Busch was able to make Budweiser the leading priority for the Anheuser-Busch corporation.
The Boom Years of American Lager
As Budweiser expanded nationally, so did the American appetite for light lagers. Anheuser-Busch pushed Budweiser aggressively throughout the late 19th century, so much so that they breached the 1 million barrel sales mark in 1901 for the first time. Anheuser-Busch, under Adolphus’ leadership, became one of the leading American breweries. The success of Budweiser and other German-inspired American lagers lead to the widespread adoption of pale lagers as the go-to beer for American drinkers.
Adolphus Busch proudly brewed his beer while inspired and motivated by German brewing tradition. Although he personally preferred wine, Busch’s German heritage and the strong German presence in his adopted home of St. Louis saw that tradition integrated with cutting-edge American ingenuity and tenacity.
The Prohibition era saw the end of many American breweries. When it became illegal to sell or consume alcohol, Anheuser-Busch staunchly refused to shut up shop. Instead, the Busch family shifted their business to the production of non-alcoholic beverages. This diversification and Busch’s earlier adoption of vertical integration practices allowed the company to retain most of its workers throughout the Prohibition era.
When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Anheuser-Busch celebrated. August A. Busch, Jr. presented a team of Clydesdale horses as a gift to his father, August Anheuser Busch, Sr. The Budweiser Clydesdales pulled the first case of post-Prohibition beer from the St. Louis brewery in a red, white, and gold beer wagon and became an icon of American brewing.
Where Was Budweiser First Brewed?
The story of Budweiser is, in many ways, also the story of St. Louis, Missouri.
St. Louis boasts several features that made it ideal for becoming a haven for the nascent American brewing industry. The high presence of German immigrants was one factor. St. Louis’ German population brought both an appetite for beer and the traditional knowledge of how to make it with them to the United States. St. Louis also boasted an ample water supply thanks to the mighty Mississippi river and many caves for keeping beer cool in the German lagering tradition.
St. Louis’ relative proximity to the major industrial center of Chicago and the nationwide network of rail lines that survived the Civil War also made it very easy for Anheuser-Busch to quickly expand its distribution.
Why is it Called Budweiser?
Budweiser’s German heritage does not end with Adolphus Busch and his adventures in Europe. The name of the beer is actually a German derivative, literally translating to “of Budweis”. Budweis, refers to a region of Bohemia in what is now the Czech Republic. Adolphus Busch named his Bohemian-style lager after Budweis, embracing the St. Louis’ beer market’s sizeable appetite for the brews of their homeland.
Although Budweiser was originally intended as an American beer for American drinkers, in recent years, the brand’s expansion into other territories has led to some trademark disputes. The Budweiser Budvar Brewery in the very region where Adolphus Busch first tried Budweiser frequently butts heads with Anheuser-Busch over the use of the “Budweiser” name in Europe. As a compromise, keen-eyed beer drinkers will notice that, in many parts of the European Union, Budweiser, as Americans know it, is sold as “Bud”. In fact, in some countries like the UK, both “Budweisers” are readily available under the Budweiser name!
Another name change, albeit entirely aesthetic, came in 2016. In the lead-up to the 2016 Presidential elections, Budweiser gained permission from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to temporarily sell Budweiser under the name “America”. Budweiser cans and bottles adorned with the new “America” logo were sold from May until the election in November. Much of the text on the packaging was replaced with patriotic slogans, such as “E Pluribus Unum” and “Liberty & Justice For All”.