13 April 2013

Weekend Cooking: Bitter Brew by William Knoedelseder

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

Who needs soap operas and fiction if we can read the real-life story of a family like the Busches? The tale of the St. Louis beer kings is brimming with multiple marriages, drink and drugs, mishaps and scandals, family feuds, and misspent opportunity all played out in an arena of decadence and opulence.

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
ISBN-13: 9780062009265
Rating: B
Source: Review (see review policy)


rhapsodyinbooks 4/13/13, 6:18 AM  

I love reading about beer families (and chocolate families, and so on). I lived in Milwaukee for a number of years and we had our own beer family there as well! (Pabst)

caite 4/13/13, 7:04 AM  

this sounds excellent. They make terrible beer...at least these days...but the history sounds great. I had the chance to tour the St. Louis brewery and it was great! Love those horsies!
right up the the tasting..BLEH!

Rikki 4/13/13, 7:20 AM  

Sounds like an interesting family story.

Beth S. 4/13/13, 7:31 AM  

This sounds like quite an engaging piece of nonfiction.

Heather Webb 4/13/13, 8:24 AM  

I went to high school my junior & senior year just outside of St.Louis so this book is particularly interesting to me. As a matter of fact, you just gave me a gift idea for a friend who still lives in the area. Thanks!

Alex 4/13/13, 8:58 AM  

It is always intersting to read about how things began (though Selfridge's on Masterpiece Theater is a snore). I am a big beer fan and prefer it to wine most of the time, so I found this really fascinating.

Jackie McGuinness 4/13/13, 9:51 AM  

This sounds like a great book, we love visiting local breweries when travelling.

JoAnn 4/13/13, 11:29 AM  

I'll bet my brother-in-law would love this one! Missing photos, maps, etc. is one of the biggest drawbacks in listening to nonfiction. I almost always end up borrowing a library copy just to take a look.

JoAnn 4/13/13, 11:30 AM  

I'll bet my brother-in-law would love this one! Missing photos, maps, etc. is one of the biggest drawbacks in listening to nonfiction. I almost always end up borrowing a library copy just to take a look.

Vasilly 4/13/13, 1:20 PM  

I don't drink but this book sounds too good to pass up. Thanks for the review.

Anonymous,  4/13/13, 1:25 PM  

This was one of my fave nonfic reads last year. It's great. :)

Esme 4/13/13, 2:23 PM  

I am going to have to read this book-they sound as dysfunctional as the Johnsons.

Sheila (Bookjourney) 4/13/13, 3:26 PM  

I have this one on the shelf - I am looking forward to it!

Carole 4/13/13, 3:32 PM  

Thanks for the review. Always good to know about "foodie" non fiction. Cheers

Linda 4/13/13, 4:35 PM  

I visited the Budweiser plant years ago. I remember enjoying the tour and the tasting room. Sounds like a great read.

bermudaonion 4/13/13, 4:53 PM  

I'm really looking forward to this book!

Mary R. 4/13/13, 6:38 PM  

How funny that after many, many weeks where I didn't have a food-related post to link this week I had one all set to go and it ends up being a review of the same book (also listened to) that you wrote about! I agree that it was fascinating, and am sorry to have missed the pictures.

Joy 4/13/13, 8:38 PM  

Well, I have to read this one since I live in St. Louis. It looks like St. Louis County Library bought 302 copies and they are all checked out! But I'm only 9th in line so it won't take too long to get my hands on a copy.

Joy's Book Blog

Heather 4/13/13, 10:13 PM  

I don't drink beer at all s I would have missed this book but for your review. Sounds like a fascinating look insid this family. Thanks.

Alice 4/14/13, 1:36 AM  

I hope to be actively cooking and dive into my Italian cookbooks when I move into my new apartment. It's got a waaaaaaay nicer kitchen - a real kitchen, so I can experiment. The Move in 10 days!

Sandy Nawrot 4/14/13, 8:09 AM  

We did a couple of family vacations in St. Louis and back then it was all about Busch. Also they used to own Sea World, and when we first moved to Orlando we would love to go there and do the beer tasting. We were so sad when that went away :( I'm going to hunt this one down. I'm sure I would find it fascinating.

Anonymous,  4/14/13, 1:23 PM  

This sounds really fun - I love a well-researched food book.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity 4/14/13, 4:23 PM  

Ooooh, I bet Scott would love to listen to this one! Neither of us are beer drinkers but Scott loves random trivia and I bet this one would fill his head with all sorts of tidbits to share. ;)

Peaceful Reader 4/14/13, 6:55 PM  

This sounds like a fun read. We don't drink much of their beer preferring craft beers but I think reading the history of the company and the family would be interesting.

Daryl 4/15/13, 9:44 AM  

i know just the person for this book ... thanks!

Unknown 4/15/13, 2:27 PM  

Having grown up in St Louis from age 6-23, I had heard about this book and much about the AB company and men. I think it might make for a good, and different type of read for me.

Julie P. 4/17/13, 8:48 PM  

I remember touring a Busch brewery when we lived in Texas. I bet my dad would enjoy this one.

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