A small (but important) part of the drive behind our move to Portland is my love for beer. Having worked as a server in a microbrewery, and having grown up in the microbrewery-rich Philadelphia region, I've taken an enthusiast's approach to my beer drinking whenever I've been able to afford it.
In doing so, I've spewed out many a loose-tongued tirade on the vast, American-style light beer conspiracy that chokes our sensibilities and robs us of a pleasurable embibing experience. Americans, for the most part, are happy to settle for any one of several straw-colored, flavorless beers without ever considering their error. Of those responsible for this shameful situation, Budweiser
stands at the forefront.
But here seems to be a good time to subscribe to Joey's theory regarding fast food chains. I think their food is garbage, regardless of whether it's a burger joint, a fried chicken shack or a fish taco shop. Joey disagrees, and points to each company's size and financial success as measures of their quality. As he says, they wouldn't be so big if they weren't doing something right.
That said, Anheuser-Busch
- producer of Budweiser and many, many more malt beverages - must have something going on that's worth checking out, even if their flagship beer isn't even technically beer, according to the German Beer Purity Law
(it's brewed with rice).
But I'm only going to have so many opportunities to visit such a mammoth place as the St. Louis A-B factory. So I bit my lip and prepared myself for a McBrew tour, topped with advertising, marketing and a side of crass commercialism.
The tour touched on a number of symbolic aspects, like the Budweiser Clydesdales – a fleet of horses that were once utilized on a practical basis before being retired and kept around for decoration. Way back in 1933, when the 21st Amendment came into effect, a carriage led by these horses brought a special delivery of Budweiser to the White House for President Roosevelt. Now, they’re among the largest single collection of Clydesdales in the world – a perfectly unnecessary attribute for a brewing company to have.
But the tour kept going, and covered a fairly expansive area, in and out of numerous buildings and up a handful of escalators. The tank room counted among the most interesting, for the sheer, mammoth size of the beer tanks contained therein. Each of these containers held 200,000 six-packs of beer, or over one million beers each – and there were something like sixteen tanks in the room. Sounds like quite a hangover to me.
It was a very ornate brewery, this Anheuser-Busch, and they took a lot of pride in it. And our tour guide, a kid spending his summer with a sweet job here, was a very informative fellow with a pretty solid knowledge of the company and its products. Hats off to him - his name was David, in case his boss sees this.
Speaking of products, following the tour, we were given the opportunity to sample a few of the company’s vast array of styles of beer. Over the years, A-B has acquired quite a few other breweries and continued to produce their beers, so thankfully, we didn’t get stuck with three pints of Bud or Bud Light. The whole experience was considerably more positive than I had expected.
All this excitement worked us up quite an appetite, and we referred to one of our guidebooks for a local recommendation. The first place we stopped was closed, with an ominous sign inside the door threatening legal action against any “trespassers.” So instead, we got a family-sized combo of piping hot barbecue from a place called C & K’s. They didn’t have seating, and we didn’t have time to sit down for a picnic anywhere, so we had to stash it and come back to it. Oh, the tension. The reason, of course, for our hurry was that the All-Star Parade was about to begin at Busch Stadium. We didn’t have tickets to the game (about $350 apiece), but none were required for this public display in front of the stadium. I enjoyed myself, but Joey didn’t. He felt that a parade should involve music being played, batons twirling and a generally lively atmosphere. This, on the other hand, was merely a bunch of dudes he’d never soon before (Joey’s not a baseball fan) being driven into the stadium on Chevy trucks with their families. Still, I got up close and snapped a few good shots.
The second it ended, we walked briskly back to the car to dive into our succulent barbecue. I’d insisted on getting ribs while we were in St. Louis, because I thought they were prepared in a different style, like with a dry rub or something. In fact, the name “St. Louis ribs” simply refers to the way they’re cut, which didn’t seem any different from any other ribs I’ve eaten. But this combo was massive, intended for twice as many people as we were. It came with ribs, rib tips, chicken and pig snouts (!), as well as a container of dill-seasoned potato salad and a whole loaf of Wonder bread. This was some great barbecue, excluding the snouts – they were edible but tasted like they were all cartilage.
After a frustrating exit from the parking lot, we hit the road to Louisville, which was a long drive back to the east, seeing a few hilarious names on signs along the way. Interestingly, we had to pass from Central Time back to Eastern Time, and did so without realizing it. So when the GPS told us we’d arrived at 8:47, and our stereo still read 7:47, we were thoroughly confused.
Regardless, we stayed with Joey’s cousin Derrick and his wife Lauren in a nice suburb just outside of town. Derrick works as a firefighter, which entails 24-hour shifts on the job, but with two-day breaks in between. On this particular day, he had work the next morning, so we put up our feet and enjoyed a low-key evening in the comfort of their home. Thanks guys, and sorry for not taking any pictures while we were there. They would have made the ending here a little more colorful.