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William Knoedelseder's Bitter Brew is a well-researched and easy-to-read look at the six Busch men who made Budweiser and the other Anheuser-Busch (A-B) products the best-selling and most recognizable beers in America. Although beer is at the heart of the narrative, Knoedelseder concentrates on the people, advertising campaigns, and sideline businesses as well as the political atmosphere under which A-B rose to greatness only to be swallowed up by an international conglomerate 150 years after the family tapped its first keg.
Bitter Brew covers a lot of territory, including A-B's philosophy of beer making. But what fascinated me the most was the intelligence and business savvy of the elder Busches, who bolstered the foundation on which the company's successes would be built. They made it a point to meet their distributors personally, provide beer to their workers, and be generous to their community. They carefully planned for both Prohibition and the repeal, placing A-B so far ahead of the other brewers that they remained in the top spot for decades. [Image from Wikimedia Commons; in the public doman (click to enlarge).]
I was interested to learn about Budweiser's long history with sports, especially the St. Louis Cardinals. In fact, the Busch family owned the baseball team for a number of years and, of course, built the stadium that was named after them. I also liked reading about the stories behind the various advertising campaigns, such as the Clydesdales, Spuds McKenzie, and the frogs. (If you don't remember these ads, you can look them up.)
The peek behind the security guards and into the Busch compound was equally as fascinating. From the parties, planes, and boats to the affairs, divorces, and accidents, the family never seemed to be a rest or at peace. Perhaps this was part of what led to August Busch IV's inability to hold on to the company and why the family was unable to adapt their product to a new generation and the changing tastes of American drinkers. [Image of August Busch Sr. from Wikimedia Commons; in the public domain (click to enlarge).]
William Knoedelseder's Bitter Brew is a fascinating look at, as the subtitle says, the rise and fall of an an American family and an iconic American brand.
I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Harper Audio; 12 hr, 12 min) read by Peter Berkrot, who did an excellent job keeping me invested in the book, despite a few mispronunciations. My only regret is that I didn't have access to the photo insert that was bound with the print book.
Buy Bitter Brew at an Indie or a bookstore near you. This link leads to an affiliate program.
HarperCollins / Harper Business, 2012
Source: Review (see review policy)