King of Beers Dethroned

Since A-B sold out to Belgian brewer InBev, things have changed in the St. Louis bar scene. In a typical St. Louis County strip-mall bar during a Friday happy hour about 70 percent of the male patrons would sit behind an Anheuser-Busch product--Budweiser, Bud Select, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, even Busch.

Not anymore.

I stopped drinking Select as soon as the announcement of the buyout came last Sunday.  But I was shocked last night when I walked into The Corner Pub & Grill in West St. Louis County to see a long line of Pabst Blue Ribbons on the bar.  Of 10 men at the bar, six had PBRs, two Miller Lite, and mixed drinks for the other two.

The tables were similar.  Of the eight people in my group, only one drank an A-B product, even though five of us had beer.

In his greatest-ever column , Jonah Goldberg praised Budweiser in terms that made one blush:

And I love Budweiser, the King of Beers. I admit it without shame or reservation. I love how it tastes. I love it ice-cold, not petri-dish warm like some foreign swill. I prefer it in a bottle. But a can or draught will do just fine if the alternative is some wheaty garbage that tastes like a bran muffin drenched in old tea. Budweiser tastes clean, pure, and crisp. Budweiser is the best conductor of that electrical charge to your brain that comes with that first swallow of beer after a long day. Budweiser does not vary in quality from coast to coast or pole to pole — and is available everywhere in between. Yes, Budweiser — just call him "Bud" — is your loyal friend in any port, at any time. Indeed, Bud's standards are so exacting and its convenience so universal that it's the most reliable beverage in the world — soft drinks and water included (cola changes with the culture, and fish still copulate in water, as W. C. Fields pointed out long ago). To paraphrase Homer Simpson — after his wife blew his chance at a million bucks — "Ah, good ol' trustworthy Budweiser. My love for you will never die."

I wonder if Jonah feels the same today.  I don't, and that saddens me.

I worked at Anheuser-Busch for a year as a contractor.  For a St. Louis kid growing up on the South Side, there were three hallowed jobs:  KMOX Radio, the Cardinals, and the brewery.  I was in heaven.  I was proud. I loved every day, knowing that my work contributed to better sales of the King of Beers.

I was also a St. Louis Cardinal Football season ticket owner from 1978 to 1983.  The brewery's sale feels much like the day the Big Red moved from St. Louis to Phoenix--like a lover moved on to someone new.

America has lost its symbol.  As Jonah put it:

There is no product — Coca-Cola and the Mustang included — that better tells the story of America. First, there is the packaging: unapologetic red, white, and blue, with a bald eagle. There is a distinct 19th-century patriotism about a Bud. Today's cans look like they would have gone unnoticed on the shelf 100 years ago (though beer wasn't available in cans until the mid 1930s). Even the forthright promise, made on every container, encourages nostalgia: "This is the famous Budweiser beer. We know of no brand produced by any other brewer which costs so much to brew and age. . . ." How fitting that in this nation, which reveres texts above all other things, our most popular beer boasts a 46-word declaration (not a slogan or motto) for the world to see.

No more.  Budweiser joins the rands of everything else that was once symbolic of American heritage and pride that packed its bags and moved.  If someone convinces me that the sale is provably a result of the Bush administration's policies, I will never forgive him.

I miss my Bud.

For a more politica take on the InBev takeover, read Just a Girl in Short-Shorts.