Growing up, I was never much of a beer drinker. But on the odd occasion that my underaged friends and I would sneak a beer in the woods by our homes, it was always an Iron City beer, ’cause that’s what Pirate fans drank in Pittsburgh. Besides, it was high treason to drink anything other than Iron City, and still be part of the cool kids’ club.
Had I been born in St. Louis, I’m certain that things would have gone differently. I’d be a Cardinals fan, and my “go-to” beverage would be Budweiser from the beginning, because Budweiser beer, introduced in 1876 by Aldolphus Busch dominated the St. Louis market, on its way to becoming the first national brand in America, thanks to pasteurization and a fleet of refrigerated rail cars.
In 2008, Anheuser-Busch (A-B) succumbed to a $52 billion hostile takeover by Belgium-Brazillian company InBev to become the world’s largest brewer, and cemented its global stronghold by merging with its rival, London-based SABMiller one year ago for $100 billion.
North American operations remain headquartered in St. Louis, where tours are conducted regularly for beer aficionados interested in A-B’s time-honored brewing process, and for history buffs who appreciate the architecture and design that’s been selected by the National Register as Historic Landmarks.
Leah and I arrived at Lynch St. for the 45-minute tour beginning at 3:10 pm. Upon entering the corporate complex, we were surrounded by tall Romanesque red brick buildings with elaborate flourishes and embellishments.
We entered the Welcome Center,
designed to house its branded gift store, pub space, and exhibits.
Soon after, we were introduced to our assigned tour guides, Tim and Andrew who spoke about sticking together amid the tight security surrounding the campus, before ushering our group of fifty outdoors to gawk at the Clydesdales in the exercise yard.
These massive draught horses stand at 18 hands, and have been carefully bred by the brewery to retain their chestnut coloring and markings, making them the most identifiable mascot in beer branding and advertising.
From there, it was a short stroll to the Carriage House where we were split into two groups: those on a steamboat cruise stuck with Andrew, while the rest of us walk-ins aligned with Tim, a self-professed expert on all things beer, who dared to be challenged with any questions on Anheuser Busch.
After moving to Washington, DC to attend college, my beer drinking habits matured. Staying true to my roots, Iron City was quickly replaced by Rolling Rock, a more “premium” beer with a smoother taste in a green bottle imported from Latrobe, PA.
Once inside the Carriage House, we were introduced to Murry, who was being braided for the 3:30 pm parade.
A peek inside the paddock, showed it to be far cleaner and neater than many major hotel chains across the country.
In fact, the art-deco structure gleamed from ceiling…
…to floor with nary a strand of straw out of place.
And that’s when things went awry. Returning to the carriage room, I noticed that everyone had left the building.
Running through the exit doors, I caught a glimpse of Leah up ahead and hurried to her side, only to realize once we returned to the Welcome Center, that she had followed the wrong group. We scrambled around outside to find Tim’s tour, but after pulling on a few secured doors, and with no one in sight, we were hopelessly lost.
Back at the Welcome Center, we approached a tour concierge to confess our situation.
“Not a problem!” she addressed. “Follow me!”
We backtracked to our last stop, before she led us into a building showcasing immense tankards–each one capable of Beechwood aging 3600 barrels of beer at a time.
We continued our personal tour until we eventually rejoined Tim in an elaborate Tasting Room…
…during his lecture on the ingredients and the brewing process,
while everyone sipped on a 6 oz. portion of chilled Budweiser.
A wacky summer abroad between my sophomore and junior year enlightened and refined my taste in beer, having sampled Grolsch in Enschede, Kronenbourg in Strasbourg, Carlsbad in Copenhagen, and Hafbrau in Bavaria. I loved them all.
But I must admit, that after finding our way back to the tour, my little cup of Bud tasted mighty refreshing.
The twenty-five of us rode the elevator up to the Mash House. The moment the doors closed the Bud jingle sounded.
“Do you know the composer’s name,” I inquired.
Without even thinking, Tim responded as the elevator doors reopened, “Steve Karmen, who also wrote the ‘I Love New York’ jingle.”
We spread out across the ornate wrought iron railing to take in the scene. No doubt, the Mash Tanks were impressive.
And three hop vine chandeliers from the 1904 Worlds Fair were dangling from the five-story ceiling.
Then it was outdoors again, this time near the clock tower–the second most photographed structure in St. Louis–
where Tim revealed that business as usual during Prohibition years depended on the sale of Brewers yeast and a non-alcoholic malt beverage concoction.
“Any last questions?” intoned Tim.
I glanced at my watch, and true to form, it was 3:55 pm. We were precisely at the 45-minute mark, but something wasn’t right. I pointed to the tower, and got Tim’s attention. Here was my last chance to stump Tim.
“Hey Tim, did I miss daylight savings time, or did the clock master just get ahead of himself?” I surmised.
Tim looked at the tower clock and hesitated. “Well let’s see a minute. The clocks get turned back this weekend, so I’m pretty sure it’s been set in anticipation of the event… Well, that concludes our tour today. However, the best is yet to come, since we’ll now return to the Biergarten where you can redeem your wood token for a ‘cold one’.”
I lingered behind. I wanted another shot of the clock tower.
I finally caught up to Leah inside the Welcome Center, where deep lines had already formed in front of the bar. But another station beyond the crowd had fewer people standing, so that’s where we went. To my surprise, the bartender was drawing Stella into familiar chalices from the tap–my newest favorite, and one of A-B’s newest brands since last year’s merger.
I ran into Tim on my way to an available high-top.
“Quick question, Tim! What’s the significance of the ’33’ on the Rolling Rock bottle?”
“I get that question a lot,” he began, and rattled off, “Rolling Rock – from the glass lined tanks of Old Latrobe, we tender this premium beer for your enjoyment as a tribute to your good taste. It comes from the mountain springs to you.”
Tim was the real deal, and so was my Stella.
P.S. When editing photographs for this post, I compared the meta-data between the clock tower shots. Even though the two were taken 5 minutes apart, the times on the clock were exactly the same. Final analysis: THE CLOCK IS BROKEN!