Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Beer of the Week: Budweiser American Ale

Budweiser American Ale – It’s the best thing old Bud has ever produced

By William Brand
Oakland Tribune
WELL, I’M CAUGHT between a rock and hard place. Let me explain: Anheuser-Busch, the jolly-about-to-be-Belgian-owned giant, has a new beer: Budweiser American Ale. I like it, and that’s the rub.

Anheuser-Busch has made ales before. But this one’s the first ale to ever carry the Budweiser name. Until now, Budweiser has been a light lager, made in an ersatz German style with lots of rice added to the barley mash to create a beer I really don’t like very much. I like it so little that once when my wife and I had a big fight, she gave me a gift-wrapped can of Bud as a “present.”

To me, Bud Light is the same, except more watery. True, they’re America’s two best-selling beers. But I just don’t like them.

Over the years I’ve met a number of people who work for A-B, and I’ve gotten to know a number of Budweiser distributors. They’re nearly all great folks. The Anheuser-Busch brewers I know really like beer and tend to be very sharp. It’s just been their chosen lot to have to make the same bland beers, over and over and over.

While Bud and friends rumbled along, churning out their beer – millions and millions of barrels sold – the craft beer revolution has been changing American beer-drinking tastes big time. Craft beer and import beer sales keep growing in double digits.

Of course, the market share’s still small. But craft beer and fine imports are where the action is. The keen minds at A-B see that. Their answer is Budweiser American Ale ***. It’s our Beer of the Week, and quite rightfully so.

Eric Beck, the brewmaster in charge of making the beers, says it’s an amber ale, 5.2 percent alcohol by volume, with 25 to 28 International Bitterness Units. It’s made with two-row pale barley and caramel malt. Bittering hops are Palisade, aroma hops, spicy Saaz and Willamettes and piney, citrusy Cascades. It’s also dry-hopped with Cascades – fresh hops are placed in the fermenter with the beer. Every ingredient is American. It’s going to be released nationally in kegs on Sept. 15 and in bottles on Sept. 29.

It’s a beautiful medium copper color with a big, rocky head of tan foam and a nose of malt and spice from the hops. The taste is mouth-filling, with notes of caramel and ripe fruit. It has a mildly spicy hop finish. In a word, a very good beer in almost anybody’s book. Paired against the signature American craft beer, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, it’s not nearly as hoppy and the malt taste is simpler, not as multilayered and silky. Still, it’s an excellent beer. I’ll drink it again.

LAST NOTE: Making this an all A-B column: Anheuser-Busch has spun off Michelob into a separate company, and the brewers there have also produced two new beers, Michelob Pale Ale **1/2, 5.2 percent,  and Dunkel Weiss **1/2, a 5.5 percent beer made with a blend of barley and dark-roasted wheat. Ice-cold, they’re excellent.

Problem is, once I let each beer warm, they lost their zap. The pale ale was very dry without malt complexity or a hoppy finish. The Dunkel was spicy and sweet. It lacked the complexity of Gordon Biersch Dunkelweizen, my current favorite.

Note: This column was first published Aug. 26, 2008 in the Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times.
Reach William Brand at whats ontap@sbcglobal.net and ask for his Retail Beer Store List or Good Pub List. Read more by Brand at www.ibabuzz.com/beer.