Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America’s Kings of Beer: William Knoedelseder

Beer pairing: Anything that isn’t A-B

Book style: Non-fiction

I’m usually terrible at finishing non-fiction books. I don’t know why. Maybe too much college and military training? Lots and lots of text books and not always the most exciting of subjects. Regardless of the reason, I rarely finish them, or they take months to finish.

Maybe part of the reason I finished this one at a relatively good pace was because it was a library book and I had a deadline, or because it was about beer, or a combination of both. Either way, I actually finished this non-fiction book! Woohoo!

Onto the review: I thought this book was fascinating. As a beer lover, and mostly Anheuser-Busch hater, I wanted to actually get to know my facts. I started out as an A-B hater because I’d heard about some of the low, dastardly things they’d done to small craft breweries in order to try to snuff them out (like they should fear the competition considering they own around 45% of the market). I was a craft beer snob, but I don’t like hating on something if I know nothing about why I’m hating on it.

This book actually gave me a lot of respect for A-B and helped me to understand where it all went wrong. Augustus Busch, along with his father-in-law Eberhard Anheuser, created the beer from a Budweis recipe in the 1800s. I gave great respect to the duo, including their ancestors up until the 80s and 90s, because while many companies were trying to figure out how to make a beer quicker and cheaper, A-B kept to their German roots and would not back down from the authentic recipe.

More shouts of respect came to the company and the Busch family during prohibition. The company was doing fantastically up until prohibition, and the family could have retired off of their wealth and abandoned it all, living well through the 30s and the rest of their lives. But they didn’t. They understood how important their company was to the people, and to their employees, so they kept almost every one of their employees during prohibition, and switched to selling wheat based goods and other items until prohibition ended. Nice job A-B.

The downfall of A-B really started in the 80s and 90s, when Busch III took over, ousting his father, Gussie, who was probably one of the best owners of A-B during it’s history. Busch III didn’t seem to have as good of a business sense and made a lot of bad decisions. His son, August IV was the ultimate downfall of the company. Before him, the descendants of A-B had to truly work their way up through the company. They started brewing on the floor and worked their way up. It was not given to them. August IV did work at the bottom, like his relatives, but he messed up at almost every turn, and even with messing up (including being the cause of at least one woman’s death), still moved upward in the company.  The book theorizes all the different reasons August IV ended up as he did, but regardless of the reasons he became hooked on drugs, partying, and women, it was a crutch and inhibited good decision making for the company. August IV was the reason A-B sold to InBev and took away one of America’s icons.

I found myself shaking my head several times through the book. Sometimes, I’d catch myself laughing, grumbling, or re-reading out loud to my husband because I had to share this information.

After reading this book, I don’t hate A-B as much as I used to, and for good reasons now. August IV really screwed America out of an icon and that’s unfortunate. He’s been battling some nasty demons and I hope some day he can break free of them. For A-B, I hope that they respect InBev respects what they used to be and the significance the company had for well over 100 years in the U.S., and I hope that A-B doesn’t lose it’s perspective and remember where it started.

For anyone who enjoys beer and the history of beer in the U.S., I highly recommend it.


Overall rating: 9.5/10



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