DENVER _ Would you believe it? A blueberry ale from Anheuser Busch? This is no lie _ the makers of Bud Light _ are test-marketing two blueberry ales in the Midwest and yesterday afternoon, I had a chance to sample both.
It sent my mind lurching back to 1989, when I first sampled Grant Johnston’s prize-winning Bluebeery Ale at Marin Brewing in Larkspur, CA. The craft beer movement was still tiny then and not in my wildest imagination would I have believed that a decade and a half later I’d be sitting in a hotel lobby in Denver, sampling Blueberry Ale from Budweiser.
Whew. The mind reels and boggles.
There’s more: a very decent Marzen, a pale ale that has been in the Anheuser Busch lineup from time to time and A-B’s fall seasonal: Jack’s Pumpkin Spiced Ale, under the Michelob label. There’s also a 10 percent alcohol by volume Michelob Reserve out there somewhere. But they didn’t have a sample.
Another sign that the world’s largest beer company is changing course: A-B’s public relations folks also produced the brewer who helped design the beers. He’s Florian Kuplent, a German-born, German-trained brewer who worked in Belgium and for the late New England Brewing Co. in the U.S., before signing on with big Bud.
Before I even tasted the beers, I fired questions at the PR team about marketing strategy, why the maker of the world’s top-selling beer (It’s either Bud or Bud Light) would do something like this. I asked if the fact that sales of craft beer were up 7 percent last year and are growing at a similar rate this year had anything to do with it.
Also, I noted that Miller’s now owned by a beer company again, South African Breweries, and InBev, the former Interbrew is growing rapidly figured in their strategy.
But they demurred, so we focused on the beer.
First, the blueberry ales, starting with the best:
— Wild Blue*** is an 8 percent alcohol by volume ale, made with malted barley and a touch of rice. Hops, I believe, were noble _ Hallertau and Tettnang. “We only use aroma hops,’;’ Byrne said. Whole blueberries are added to the mash.
This one was delicious, fruit aroma, taste is dry with just a bit of sweetness, then a hit from the alcohol. Very drinkable. I wondered aloud how this one would develop, if they put it in wooden barrels for a year or two. No response on that one, but I believe, I’m right. A lactic edge and no rice would make this a spectacular beer.
— Blue Horizon*, a five percent, all-barley malt beer, is a great name. But it was a true alco-pop. Sweet and a bit fizzy. A decent alco-pop at that. This one, no doubt, will survive. Modern tastes run to sweet. Personally, I’m voting for Wild Blue.
— Jack’s Pumpkin Spice ** was an interesting beast. Again, all barley malt, 5.5 percent beer. “Golden Delicious” pumpkins from a farm in Oregon, were added to the mash, along with a spice blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Pumpkin nose, spicy taste. Like a pumpkin pie, If you like pumpkin, this would be worth a try. It will be on sale on tap and in bottles in 12 and 18 bottle Michelob Specialty Sampler Selection boxes until mid-December. The 18-bottle sampler includes two pilsner glasses as well. A-Bs next seasonal rolls out in December Each season will bring a new beer, Byrne said.
— Marzen *** is a very respectable, 5.2 percent version of an Oktoberfest lager. It’s a 100 percent barley malt beer, a blend of two-row and caramel cara-pils malts, Hallertau and Tettnang hops. It’s also dry hopped _ hops added after the wort cools. Most American-style Marzens tend to be quite malty with lots of hops. This one’s more like the fest beers being served this year in Munich: Crisp, malty mouth feel, dry finish. Excellent fest beer.
— Pale Ale** also is a dry-hopped, all barley malt beer. Byrne explained that it’s more like an English version of a pale ale, rather than the American style, with over-the-top Cascade hops. This is a middle-of-the road pale ale. To be British, in my opinion, it needs more malt, less dryness.
Anheuser Busch says all the beers _ with the exception of the blueberry ales _ will be available nationwide this month.