Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Pink Boots at Anheuser-Busch

"The sole advantage of power is that you can do more good.” ~Baltasar Gracian

September 26: I awoke to the sound of helicopters landing on the roof of one of the buildings. It was one or more of the Augusts or some other high level executive arriving for an early morning meeting.

My contact at Anheuser-Busch, Brewmaster George Reisch, met me at my trailer at 8:30 am and walked me up to the Clydesdale Stables. On this trip I am mostly visiting breweries that invited me, and George had invited me to visit Anheuser-Busch. I felt bad that A-B was the only large national-brand lager brewery I was visiting on this trip. Dr. David Ryder had invited me to visit Miller in Milwaukee, but with relatives in the Milwaukee-area, I just couldn’t schedule Miller in.

At the Stables I met with Jim Poole, General Manager of Clydesdale operations. Jim and I talked about my trip and he gifted me two Budweiser shirts and two Clydesdales baseball caps.

Then Jim had an extra special gift for me – a Clydesdale horseshoe. He shook my hand as he handed it to me, as though I was receiving an award of some kind. I found out later that it is very rare to be given a Clydesdale horseshoe. My friend, George Reisch, has been working for A-B for 28 years and never got one. Employees rarely get them. Only visiting dignitaries get them. I guess that means my role as the west coast's unofficial craft beer "Goodwill Ambassador," is now official!

It’s a huge steel horseshoe, worn a bit on the front edge, as it’s a real horseshoe that was worn by one of the Clydesdales. I measured it later: 9 inches across at the widest part, and 8.5 inches long at the tallest part. You can see me holding it in the photo at the top of this page.

Jim led the way to the center of the round stables barn where two restored antique horse-drawn beer delivery wagons glowed with bright red paint beneath the skylight. He opened the stall of “Big Jake,” the largest Clydesdale they have. Clydesdales average about 18 hands (6 feet) high at the shoulder. Big Jake is 20 hands (6-2/3 foot) tall at the shoulder, which put the top of his head well above seven feet. He’s not just larger than other Clydesdales in height. Big Jake is a barrel-chested draft horse and he’s big and strong in all dimensions. Jim is justifiably proud of his big horse, Jake.

Big Jake is now the largest horse I’ve ever seen and petted. The previous record holder for me was a black Shire draft horse I met at the Young’s Brewery in London, England in 1984. That horse was 19 hands (6’4”) tall at the shoulder. Back then, Young’s delivered beer around London each Wednesday morning with their horse-drawn beer wagon, just to hold onto tradition. Now Young’s Brewery is no longer in London. I hope they kept their horse program and just moved it to the countryside.

You can tell by these photos that Big Jake’s head was about the size of my torso. His strong muscular neck is also about the size of my torso. Jim told me that Big Jake loves attention. Big Jake didn’t stand still as I held the rope to his halter for the photos. I was careful to keep my pink boots out of range of his huge hooves. Big Jake kept nuzzling my face, trying to steal kisses, but I was too shy to plant one on his dinner-plate sized nose.

Then Clydesdale Secretary Robin McNabb took me to visit Scott Smith. Scott’s official title is Scheduling & Administrative Coordinator of Clydesdale Operations. That means he’s the horse traffic controller. They’ve got five teams of horses on the road at all times. Altogether A-B has about 48 horses that are used for appearances, and another 200 in their breeding program, including studs, brood stock, and colts too young for yoke and collar training. The Clydesdale program is aware of a colt that looks like he will grow as large as Big Jake is. Big Jake is 3 years old, and Clydesdales continue to grow until they are 7 years old. They live to about 18-20 years. Currently Big Jake can only pull a single horse wagon. He is too large to put into a team because teamed horses must be the same size. They are hoping the colt finishes out at Big Jake’s size.

I met the Budweiser dalmation dogs, then George picked me up and we walked to the RPB, not to be confused with PBR. The RPB is the Research Pilot Brewery. I’ll just call it the pilot brewery. There we met with Jane Killebrew-Galeski. Jane is in charge of the RPB and all the young eager brewers working therein. George departed and Jane led me on a tour. A-B is careful that each guest is escorted at all times.

Photo at right was taken in one of the RPB fermentation rooms, L to R: Jane Killebrew-Galeski, Teri, Adam Goodson and Hannah Burnett.

The pilot brewery is a complex 9-barrel gravity-fed brewery that takes up nine floors in a narrow tall building. Every piece of equipment in the building recreates the exact processes and outcomes that occur in “The Saint Louis Brewery,” which is the big brewery onsite.

We started on the top floor where the raw materials come into the process. Some of the floors looked like they could be out of any well-designed small craft brewery. Other floors duplicated processes that small breweries do not use.

On one floor there was an interesting stainless steel thing made up of two long rectangular air ducts. One duct went straight up and down, the other came in at right angles, but it took a few dips that gave it a wavy look. Jane said that sterile air is passed through the post-boil wort to draw out additional sulfur pre-fermentation. The wavy looking air duct’s wave acts like a sewer trap and prevents splashed wort from running backwards into the air duct.

Another process that craft breweries generally don’t use is the step where Polyclar is added. It’s an additive that helps make A-B beers extra clear and bright. The Polyclar doesn’t stay in the beer, it gets stripped out along with any yeast and chill haze the beer contained.

The RPB building also had a large learning center on one floor where lots of young brewers worked away at shared computer monitors. A-B is very strong on education and taking responsibility, and these young folk were working hard at learning and “owning” the projects they were assigned.

When Jane graduated from U.C. Davis nearly 30 years ago, the A-B Research Pilot Brewery was just being built. Jane's dream and the dream of all her classmates was to run the RPB at Anheuser-Busch. Jane didn’t land that job upon graduation. She ended up at PBR instead of RPB at first, but she didn’t give up on her goals. Now Jane is “The Woman.” Brewing is a man’s world, and it’s exciting that Jane never gave up and got what she went after. You go girl!

Photo at left was taken in the RPB cellar, L to R: Tom Moritz and Andy Havens and Teri.

Jane walked me over to “The School House.” Early in the brewery’s history, this building housed the elementary school that Adolphus or August or one of the early A-Team attended. It was across from the brewery in those days, and the street that ran between the school and the brewery was a city street. The original brewery and school now form the heart of the A-B complex.

We entered through the school’s front door, which Jane normally never uses, and we saw a few busts of the early A-Team and some antique photos of the land that the A-B complex now occupies. It looked like three buildings on a barren plain in Texas! Now the land is filled up with a myriad of buildings of various heights.

I was ushered into a sterile white-walled conference room with Jane, George, a man named John Serbia, and Kristi Zantop who used to work at Alaskan Brewing Company in Juneau, Alaska. John wore a crisply pressed white business shirt and tie, and I could tell he was all business. He asked me a few open-ended questions, and for the second time today I misinterpreted the questions.

Earlier, when Jim Poole, G.M. of Clydesdale Operations asked me what my favorite brand of beer was I answered, “My own.” I know it’s a trite answer, but as Brewmaster of a brewpub, in other words a big fish in a very small pond, I get to make certain decisions. If I didn’t like my own beer I would change it. In my opinion, if I answered that any other beer (other than my own) was my favorite beer, then by gosh I shouldn’t be a brewpub Brewmaster: I should go to work for that other brewery! Then Jim rephrased the question, “What Budweiser brand is your favorite brand?” Oh. Oops.

Well that’s just what I felt like after giving John Serbia long answers to his questions. I practically gave him my life story. A serious guy in a suit deserves a thorough answer, right? Then I realized I’d misinterpreted his questions, and that he just wanted to know how I lined up all my contacts to visit during this trip. Oh. Oops.

After the meeting I asked George, “Who was that guy?” Oh, just the Vice-President of Brewing. Oops.

Not to worry George admonished! We’re off to lunch, then to the 220. We took an elevator to the executive lunchroom, walked past it and entered a small private dining room. Four place settings were ready, each with a brightly printed menu sitting atop the plate. The other two guests couldn’t join us, so George and I enjoyed a beer and food pairing lunch that he and the chef had designed.

George is an expert on beer and food pairing, and lately customer education of beer and food pairing has constituted a large part of his job. A-B is about to publish a huge new cookbook full of recipes using beer, beer pairing suggestions, and lots of gorgeous photos of food and glasses of beer. (The Budweiser logo and beer labels are tastefully absent from most of the food photos, I am thankful to report.)

George is all about flavor. He designed beautiful display boxes full of quart plastic jars of raw materials, and hired a fulfillment center to create and ship truckloads of these boxes. A-B is very big on consumer education, and the distributors order these boxes to educate their sales reps and consumers on beer ingredients.

The more the average person knows about brewing ingredients and how beer is made, the higher the percentage of consumers that appreciate beer, and the more that beer will be valued as a gourmet beverage. With malt, hops and energy prices going through the roof (and being in short supply), it becomes imperative that beer is valued and priced nearly equal to wine. Many small breweries’ very survival in the coming years will be based upon whether this scenario happens or not.

After lunch, George took me on the back-stage tour of the brewery, cellar, and packaging areas. I was impressed with the can lines. If I remember correctly (I don’t take any notes and I'm writing this seven days later), the 12-oz. cans flew through the lines at over 1,600 cans per minute, and the 16-oz. cans at over 1,300 cans per minute. They were a colorful blur.

The brewhouse is still in the original building. It’s a gravity-fed brewery on several floors, with many kettles and mash tuns. There is a large central skylight looking down several stories. The center of each floor is cut out, as you can see by the photo above right.

George said, in the old days they planned ahead: They moved kettles, mash tuns and tanks between floors by lowering them or raising them through these cut-outs in the floors. Plus the cut-outs allowed the natural light to get to each floor.

George also took me up inside the clock tower. He checked his watch. He didn't want the bell to bong while we were up there. Photo above left is the exterior. Photo below right is the interior.

After the tour we went to “The 220.” I checked my watch. It was around 3:00 pm. Apparently 220 referred to the room that the sensory panel used to meet in. We entered a sumptuously appointed conference room with stained glass window inserts and a carved malt and hops motif on the ceiling.

George showed me the adjacent staging area before the sensory panel began. The staging area had five dishwashers. The sensory panel members are so serious about having neutral glass, that once the glasses are washed (with unscented soap and tons of rinsing of course), they drip dry and are stored in the dishwashers.

In the center of the conference room was a large mahogany-colored conference table surrounded by plush leather office chairs. A specialized computer monitor sat in front of each spot except one. I sat at the non-monitored spot. Today they would taste Budweiser from each of the Anheuser-Busch breweries all over the world, and they invited me taste with them.

I told George that these beers would probably have subtler differences than I am used to tasting. After all the style is so similar – they’re all Budweiser malt-and-rice-lagers. George said, probably not so subtle differences between them. George was right, there were definitely differences between the Budweisers, in fact larger differences than I was anticipating. However, the differences were certainly subtler than the differences between two IPAs produced by two microbreweries, for example.

As the tasters filed in, George introduced me and I gave each my “Road Brewer” business card with my route map on the back. George had done a lot of advance legwork prior to my arrival and everybody seemed to know who I was. Wearing pink boots everywhere was probably a dead give-away.

The group consisted of all men wearing crisply ironed shirts and ties, Kristi Zantop who I’d met earlier, and me. I was a bit wary, having had the experience in 2001 and 2002 of judging the Australian International Beer Awards with a lot of large brewery bigwigs who just didn’t know what to make of a young(ish) female brewer/judge.

The atmosphere in the A-B sensory room was decidedly different. It was a relaxed atmosphere of friendly people, joking and welcoming, who were there to do a serious job. I felt accepted and relaxed into the banter. Okay, I was still nervous. But nobody was trying to make me feel out of place. My nervousness was just me.

After the sensory panel George walked me to my trailer where I made phone calls to get the directions for tomorrow’s drive. When George picked me up an hour later, he gifted me a mixed case of A-B beers and two 750 ml bottles of their 2007 Brewmasters Reserve.

Please notice I didn’t say that George gifted me a mixed case of A-B products. I have a pet peeve I’d like to air here: I hate it when brewers (or any brewery employees or distributors) call their beer “product” or their brewery a “plant.” We’re not making widgets here; we are brewing and fermenting beer. Let’s not forget that! All beer is brewed and fermented, no matter what size the brewery is.

I wasn’t listening for whether or not A-B’s employees called their beer “product” or their brewery a “plant,” but if they did, it was at the same or a lesser rate than those words are used at a large craft brewery.

In fact, I hazard a guess that A-B people are coached to avoid words like “product” or “plant.” Let’s all take a play from the A-B playbook, and if you ever catch yourself telling someone how passionate you are about your “products” or your “brand,” stop and repeat the sentence like this, “I am passionate about the beer that our brewery brews.” Heck, write it on the blackboard a hundred times if you have to.

Beer, with its history and tradition, is so much richer than that grim industrial image allows, and language is key to how consumers perceive any “product.”

OK, off my soapbox now. (And if I am guilty of the offending words, feel free to point that out.)

George picked me up and we drove to Schnuck’s Gourmet Market. (Pronounced schnook, like the name you call the Yiddish guy who cheated you at penny poker.) George’s wife Kathy, daughter Veronica, and daughter’s boyfriend Drew joined us.

Schnuck’s had asked the A-B distributor to set up a beer-food pairing dinner. That’s not so uncommon, but beer dinners normally take place in fancy restaurants. This was the first time that George had heard of a beer dinner being held in a grocery store. George thought it was important to get this idea out to the craft brewers to use, as there are gourmet grocery chains (like Whole Foods and Wild Oats) all over the USA.

You might wonder, why would a Brewmaster at Anheuser-Busch care about small craft brewers finding new exposure outlets? Well, if you knew George, you wouldn’t wonder. George has been working as a brewer for A-B since 1979 when he graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He is a fifth generation Brewmaster, but his lineage did not brew at A-B. George’s great-great-granddad opened the Reisch Brewery in Springfield, Illinois. George’s great-grandfather, grandfather, and father all worked there. I’m not sure when it closed its doors, but it didn’t survive the 1960’s and 70’s.

In the early days of the Craft Brewing Movement (Revolution to us who lived it), when the MBAA or any other brewing group dominated by old-style lager brewers pooh-poohed the microbrewers and equated them as no better than homebrewers, George took it personally. He told me that every slight he heard against a small craft brewer felt like a slight against his father and forefathers,and all other small family-owned breweries like Reisch Brewing Company.

George showed an interest in brewing at an early age. His father taught him to homebrew in the early 1970’s when it was still illegal and George was in high school. (FYI: President Carter legalized homebrewing in 1978. Thank you Jimmy!)

George tells the story that when he entered college, he wrote to Anheuser-Busch and told them that he intended to work for them someday. He took a combination of coursework at UW-Madison, with his first two years geared toward Chemical Engineering and his final years geared toward Food Science. All designed to give him the education he needed to become a professional brewer. (There were few brewing courses at Universities in those days.)

In 1979 George traveled to A-B for an interview, and was shocked when his interviewer pulled an old faded letter out of his drawer, unfolded it and showed it to George. Indeed, it was George’s letter. The interviewer said, “We’ve been waiting for you.” George has been with A-B ever since.
Tonight George was the Master of Ceremonies at Schnucks. He’d already worked with the chef to design the menu and beer pairings. He spoke to the wait staff with last minute instructions on how to time delivery of the beers and the glasses.

Two beautiful “Bud Girls” showed up and greeted the guests as they arrived. The 9-table dinner was sold out at $10 per ticket. I can guarantee you that goodwill was the only profit from this dinner, as the food, beer and labor costs were certainly higher.

(Okay, another pet peeve of mine: I wish A-B would feature its women brewers in its ads and at special events instead of nameless Bud Girls. I think putting a true feminine face on beer is more beneficial toward attracting women into the profession. Think about it: before you can have a woman brewer, you must have a woman beer drinker! I don't know which large brewery's advertising department belched out the Swedish Bikini Team, but those platinum-wigged women never inspired me to drink a single beer. The Bud Girls don't make me thirsty either.)

George was in his element at Schnook's, teaching the guests how to pour a beer down the middle of the glass but only filling the glass 1/3 full. He twisted his tilted 1/3-full glass to show us how to gauge the Belgian lace effect. He admonished us to sip, taste, and then sip again, allowing the flavors of the beer and the food to mingle in our mouths. “Beer is the servant of food,” George told us. He gestured with his hands as he described how a beer served with cheesecake mingles and creates a cheesecake smoothie in your mouth.

Afterwards George brought out the chef and the rest of the Schnuck’s staff for their well-earned applause. He handed out a take-home gift to everyone: a Reidel beer glass that he and the Reidel designers had created, with the Michelob logo on it. I hope my fancy Reidel beer glass makes it all the way back to Oregon! I’ve got it wrapped up in the two Budweiser Clydesdale shirts in my trailer.

After the dinner was over, George hooked me up with A-B National Retail Sales Draught Training Manager (and Elvis Impersonator) Scott Seggi who gave me a ride back to my trailer. (Who comes up with titles like that one?)

Before I finish my Anheuser-Busch post, I have to tell you the joke that I learned there:

“How do you know when you’re really retired?”
“When August the 3rd and August the 4th are just really nice days at the end of summer.”

1 comment:

Sid Boggle said...

I believe Young's retired the dray when they moved the brewery to Bedford. I think the ram and geese went along, too...