Feature

The Budweiser sale: The end of American beer?

The King of Beers was never a really good beer, but it was a national icon that now belongs to Belgium.

Truth be told, it was “not great beer,” said Bob Kerr in The Providence Journal-Bulletin, but “it was adequate,” and it was ours. Not only was Budweiser the first beer many Americans ever tasted, it was a symbol of America itself. In those massive, noble Clydesdales we saw the strength, determination, and gentleness of the nation we aspired to be. Each swig from this “King of Beers” was a reminder that we’d thrown off the yoke of monarchy. And then came last week, and the news that Anheuser-Busch, along with the iconic beer they make and bottle, is being sold to a beverage conglomerate from Belgium. Yes, that Belgium, said Barb Shelly in The Kansas City Star. The Belgians “are suspiciously tight with the French,” and wouldn’t join our Coalition of the Willing to fight in Iraq. Now these interlopers have swooped in and snapped up one of our cherished national icons. “This, my friends, is the end of the world as we know it.”

Beer is supposed to make you sentimental, said The Dallas Morning News in an editorial, but let’s not go overboard. Painful as it is to think of “the King of Beers kneeling at the feet of foreign potentates”—or of “oil-rich Arab sheikhs buying the Chrysler building” in New York, as happened last month—these sales represent a huge influx of foreign capital when our economy needs it most. Nothing has really been lost. The Chrysler Building will remain in New York. Budweiser will continue to be brewed and bottled in St. Louis by the same American hands that make it now. If you’ll pardon the pun, the glass in this case is very much half-full.

As far as I and a lot of other beer drinkers are concerned, said Edward McClelland in Salon.com, Belgium can have Budweiser. The beer itself was always flavorless and watery. But thanks to a century of first-rate advertising campaigns, it became the 800-pound gorilla of the American beer market, “crushing dozens of local brands that formed part of this country’s colorful drinking heritage.” But in the past decade, said beer-industry historian Maureen Ogle in The Miami Herald, independent microbreweries have come roaring back. Now, next to the ubiquitous six-packs of Bud, you can find Saranac, Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada, Yuengling, Magic Hat, and 1,400 other brands, brewed in small, careful batches. America’s “king of beers” may now be Belgian, but long live the new kings.

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