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The King of Beer|
by Gerald Holland
(originally published in The American Mercury, October, 1929).
Because of the incessant warfare of the brewers for the local market, the process of obtaining a saloon was no difficult task for any aspiring barkeep with a hundred dollars or so. He need only hint of his intention to a few brewery collectors and then recline to take his choice of propositions. Adolphus Busch made the offer most generally accepted.
The candidate first had to get the approbation of a majority of residents in the neighborhood that he had selected. Armed with that, he bought a government license for a trifle of $25. There remained the necessity of obtaining fixtures, glassware, and the city license, which cost $600. Adolphus took care of all three. He arranged for the rental of a shop, put in the fixtures and a few choice murals, and then directed the young man to begin. He charged the new customer $9 for a $6 keg of beer and applied the extra $3 to the city license.
With all his ingenious devices, however, Adolphus was trailing the Lemps when the great revolution broke. That turning point in brewing history occurred when bottled beer dawned upon the world. Its importance lay in the fact that bottled beer could be brought into the home, or shipped to distant points and still remain unspoiled. Adolphus hadn't the first bottled beer in town but he was the first to bottle it for shipping. He accomplished that under rather peculiar circumstances.
A close friend, Conrad the wine merchant, had been experimenting with the new process. He was the real father of Budweiser. The story goes that while traveling in Bohemia during the early seventies he dined in a small monastery where he was served a brew that he immediately declared to be the best he had ever tasted. He offered the holy men who had made it a good price for the recipe. He got it.
Returning the America, he had the Busch brewery make the beer for him and called it Budweiser after the town of Budweis, where he had discovered. He bottled the new drink in his own small shop. But soon, like old Eberhard Anheuser, he found it hard to keep his books balanced, and before long he was in debt to Adolphus. While the bill was increasing, the new Pasteurization process made it possible to bottle beer that would remain forever unspoiled. Adolphus met the situation immediately; he wiped out the debt and staggered Conrad with an offer for the formula. He was taken up and Conrad joined the Busch brewery as technician.
Now the stage was set. Adolphus had bottled beer to sell; not only that, but he had the best bottled beer in the country at the moment. While his rivals in St. Louis were struggling with wagon-load orders, he coolly turned his back on the local market, invested deeply in a wardrobe, and set out as a traveling ambassador of beer.
He scoured the name, and eventually the world, everywhere preaching the gospel of Budweiser. His work was done magnificently. In a few years, the aid of the United States was predominantly in the hands of Anheuser-Busch. Adolphus had an agent in every city in the Union, and owned real estate in every State. The plant in St. Louis expanded to such a point that it almost dwarfed the city. It employed 7500 men and covered 142 acres of ground, and there 110 individual buildings in the group. The payroll exceeded $10,000,000 a year and the properties were worth $40,000,000. Every year Anheuser-Busch flung 1,600,000 barrels of beer to a thirsty world. All but 10 percent of it was drunk in the United States, but even the relatively small amount sent abroad exceeded the entire sales, domestic and foreign, of most of its rivals.
Adolphus widened his field. He bought a railroad or two (including the St. Louis & O'Fallon, which was later to figure in the Supreme Court's valuation decision), a coal mine and several hotels. With Budweiser now the chief product of his brewery, he reduced his sixteen brands to four -- Michelob, Faust, Budweiser, and the standard pale beer. Michelob was perhaps the best beer ever made in America and the most expensive; it sold for twenty-five cents a glass. Like Budweiser, it originated in Bohemia, but in this case it was Adolphus himself who found it. He bought a glass of beer there for a few cents that struck him as being even better than Budweiser. He returned home and ordered his staff to duplicate it. Michelob was the result, but it cost so much that the sales were always comparatively small. In New York, at one bar at least, it was sold for forty cents by a barkeep who told his patrons that it was imported. Michelob was never bottled.
Faust was named in honor of Tony Faust, the St. Louis restaurant proprietor. It was less expensive, but withal an excellent brew and worthy of the sound food that accompanied it at Tony's.
Meanwhile, the Lemps desperately followed the lead of Adolphus and achieved a wide circulation of Falstaff. But the old feud was ended. Adolphus had no rivals.
Part One |
Part Two |
Part Three |