It is staring me in the face, this blasted bottle of Budweiser.
Thirty-two ounces in a caramel-brown bottle with a bright red label. The King of Friggin’ Beers, baby.
It’s been maybe 10 years since Bud last touched Joe Sixpack’s tongue.
But now, in the spirit of journalistic accuracy, I find myself on the brink of actually tasting this dreck once more.
The occasion is the Budweiser Backlash – a stiff, negative reaction to last year’s network television broadside in which Anheuser-Busch claimed the nation’s burgeoning microbrewery revolution was a fraud. Bud’s corporate flacks charged that the maker of Samuel Adams, among others, was deceiving the beer-drinking public by advertising its brews as handmade in a tiny Boston brewery. In fact, Boston Brewing Co. is a contract brewer – it makes its beers in a string of beer factories that also happen to brew other beers like Stroh’s.
Of course, the attack failed to mention that, thanks to high-quality ingredients, smaller batches and better recipes, those craft beers – no matter where they’re brewed – taste better than Bud’s slime.
Beer-industry insiders say this is part of a broader A-B squash-and-conquer strategy. They note that the company is buying up small brewers, like Seattle’s Red Hook, while it demands “total commitment” from its distributors to carry only A-B products.
If A-B has its way, we’ll soon be back to the days when your choice at the local deli was: Bud, Bud Light, Michelob, Old Milwaukee and, um, Coors Light.
That’s where the Budweiser Backlash comes in . . . But first, I have to contend with this nasty quart of Bud.
I bought mine at Anthony’s (pronounced ant-knees) Cafe on Girard Avenue in Fishtown, neatly packaged in a brown paper bag. It’s a twist-off, naturally – a key component of Budweiser’s slick marketing approach. Few of its regular customers, I suspect, have access to a functioning bottle opener.
I crack the lid and it pours smoothly into a pint glass, building a pillowy, cloud-like head that disappears into a stagnant white covering within 45 seconds. It’s damn near clear – clearer, in fact, than the water from my kitchen faucet. The bouquet is sweet and hop-less.
I lift the swill toward my mouth and . . .
About that backlash: It actually goes back a few years before A-B’s craft-brew assault. Tom Peters, the manager at Copa Too (263 S. 15th St. in Center City), said he stopped stocking the slop about five years ago when he heard how the company was bullying a tiny Czechoslovakia brewery called Budvar over trademark rights to the Budweiser name.
Across town, Dawson Street Pub (Dawson and Cresson streets in Manayunk) also proudly refuses to carry Bud. The pub’s only bottle of the gunk is displayed above the bar, with its familiar red label marked up with the international cross-out symbol.
Out in Denver, craft-brew guru John Hickenlooper of Wynkoop Brewing Co. has banned A-B products from all his pubs. In a letter to his local distributor, Hickenlooper complained about A-B’s “slander” against Samuel Adams, calling it “mean-spirited, misleading and unethical.”
I can’t imagine this backlash is going to put much of a dent in A-B’s corporate ledger. After all, the company just announced it had pushed its share of the market to 45 percent.
But Jack Erickson, who publishes a California-based craft-brew industry newsletter called the Erickson Report, says that misses the point. “What we have now is a beer culture,” Erickson says. “It tends to be young, affluent and opinionated. Beer is an important part of their lifestyle, and they don’t like the big boys pushing around little guys . . . A-B is just trying to take market share – that’s the way they do things. The backlash is the beer industry clashing with the beer culture.”
By the time I finish talking with Erickson, I realize my glass of Bud is still sitting in front of me, untouched. I stare at, but can I – even for the sake of journalistic accuracy – dare to lift it toward my palate?
I always said it would be a cold day in hell when I drank my next Budweiser. Believe me, as chilly as it was in Fishtown this week, it was not quite cold enough.
Two weeks ago I griped about how lousy the beer is in the ‘burbs. Last week, I stumbled across one of the exceptions to the rule: the newly opened John Harvard’s Brew House (629 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne). It’s a chain, but don’t hold that against them. Head brewer Chris Rafferty promises he’ll have direct, local control over the beer recipes – and if his tasty opening-night oatmeal stout was any indication, Harvard’s should be a worthy suburban oasis.
Meanwhile in the city, Copa Too hosts a tasting of ales from McMullen’s of Great Britain on Monday at 5 p.m. Head brewer Tony Skipper, named the British Brewer of the Year by Parliament, will tap a pair of cask-conditioned ales including McMullen’s Country Best Bitter and Strong Hart.