This Bud Tour’s For You: Inside the Budweiser Brewery Tour

Travel Features Anheuser-Busch
This Bud Tour’s For You: Inside the Budweiser Brewery Tour

The two best Budweisers I’ve ever had came within an hour of each other. One made me think of the greatest Canadian movie ever made, Strange Brew, while the other, as is so often the case with Anheuser-Busch, involved horses. Both came as part of a tour of the company’s historic brewery, which is technically in St. Louis, but is big and self-contained enough to feel like its own private town. With dozens of 19th century Romanesque buildings sitting on over 140 acres of land, the Anheuser-Busch brewery is like an idyllic, brick-heavy Anytown USA devoted entirely to beer. It’s like stepping back into the turn-of-the-century world of Meet Me in St. Louis but if they were taking those trolleys straight to getting smashed on cheap pale lager.

The first best Bud I’ve ever had came near the start of the tour. Our first stop was the stable that houses Anheuser-Busch’s iconic Clydesdales, a circular building dating back to 1885, whose main chamber welcomes guests with glorious stained-glass windows and a lavish chandelier overlooking vintage beer wagons from the 19th and early 20th centuries. When I entered one of the horses was out of its stall for grooming; as gorgeous as these animals are, you can’t really get a feel for their sheer, overpowering majesty until you’re in close company with them. He patiently let me rub his nose as his handler brushed his tail and cleaned the feathering on his legs, and then together we posed for a few photos in front of one of the old beer wagons. The big guy even nuzzled his head against my shoulder for a few shots—something he’s no doubt been trained to do, but that I will always maintain proves that he really did love me.

Budweiser brewery tour

After my new best friend was safely back in his stall, my tour guide brought me into the small room where they store the bridles, halters and other tack the Clydesdale wear during a hitch. It was basically a locker room for horses, like something you’d see in a post-game report on ESPN but much smaller and exclusively for equine beer mascots. In one corner of the room was a refrigerator that’s about three feet high, kept at 33 degrees, and permanently stocked with aluminum bottles of Budweiser. My guide and I each cracked one open and even though it was unmistakably a Budwesier it somehow tasted unlike any I’d ever had before; it was crisper, fuller, that recognizable dull bite of a mass-produced American lager—a nibble, really—blooming into something sharper and tangier than usual.    

Here’s where I admit that I’m not typically a Budweiser fan. I don’t hate it, and will readily drink one when presented to me, but my dad worked for Miller for three decades, so it was forbidden in our house. This enforced loyalty has been almost impossible for me to unlearn. When I drink beer I usually go for something that Paste’s own Jim Vorel would give high marks to, and not, you know, something high school kids bug old creeps to buy for them outside convenience stores. And when I am in the mood for something cheap and cold—if I’m at a dive bar or a rock show or a game or hanging out at the pool—I don’t even consider Budweiser as an option. I stick to High Life, or maybe a PBR or ‘Gansett, or whatever dirt cheap suitcase my friends picked up at the liquor store that day. One guy I know drinks Coors Light like it’s his job; whenever I’m at his place I clock in and hoist a Silver Bullet in solidarity.

The Budweiser in that stable was different, though. I don’t know if it’s because it traveled a very short route from bottling to that minifridge to my lips. I don’t know if it was just the right combination of thirst and cold that made it feel so vibrant. I readily admit getting a free beer after petting and cuddling a Clydesdale in his living room probably had a lot to do with influencing my perception. Either way, it was the first time in my life I’ve ever thought that there might be something to this Budweiser stuff, after all.

I might not drink a lot of Bud, but I appreciate and respect its place in American history. It’s not the first or best, but it’s undeniably the most iconic American beer; in the 1800s Anheuser-Busch’s pioneering use of pasteurization, ice houses, railcar refrigeration, bottling, and heavy and effective marketing turned it into the country’s first truly national beer. That history is inescapable at the brewery, where 150 year old buildings loom over state-of-the-art brewing and bottling technology, and where a historic 1860s school building now houses a museum devoted to Anheuser-Busch. Whether you drink Budweiser or not, it’s enough to make a trip to the brewery worth your time.

That history is most powerfully felt in the brewery complex’s main brew house, which towers over the rest of the brewery like a castle. Opened in 1892, it was the fourth brew house built within the complex in under 30 years, a sign of how explosively Anheuser-Busch grew during those years. Inside the Romanesque fortress looks like a palazzo stretched into a skyscraper, with an atrium-like central open space rising throughout its six stories. Elaborate cast iron railing surrounds the balcony on all floors, hops made of terracotta adorn the building’s columns, and two massive chandeliers made of wrought-iron drop from the ceiling all the way to the first floor. The equipment needed to make beer—vast vats, tubs and kettles—sit on every floor, with piping connecting it all from one story to the next. Between its gorgeous, elaborate detailing and its sheer overwhelming size, this building is the complex’s piece de resistance—a visual statement about the Budweiser brand and its singular importance to American beer, preserved in its unmistakably 19th century original presentation. 

It also doesn’t have AC, so expect to sweat a little. (Maybe a crafty plan to put you in the mood for some cold, refreshing beer?)

Budweiser brewery tour

If you’re interested in actual facts about Anheuser’s past, that museum in the old schoolhouse has what you’re looking for. Its exhibit details the company’s creation and expansion throughout its early decades, its pre-Prohibition success, the existential threat of the Volstead Act, and then Anheuser’s dominance of the industry after Prohibition’s repeal. Sure, it’s basically marketing—and the history of Bud’s advertising is obviously a big part of the exhibit—but it’s both a more exhaustive and even-handed look at the company’s past than something like The World of Coca-Cola. The ways they tried to stay afloat during Prohibition are fascinating today, a hidden history of near beer and beer-adjacent products forgotten to time for all but the most dedicated industry watchers and historians. Like, did you know that during Prohibition Anheuser-Busch made a cereal-based near bear called Bevo, with a jaunty little version of Renard the Fox as its mascot? And it was so popular when people couldn’t legally drink actual beer that it was referenced often in pop culture at the time, in works by Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, and Irving Berlin, and even inspired the nickname of the University of Texas’ real-life steer mascot? It’s mentioned in The Music Man. I know a lot of useless facts and old-time business and had never heard of Bevo until I visited that museum. I’m not going to do anything with that knowledge, unless I somehow wind up on Jeopardy or something, but it’s still interesting to learn about it. 

Thank you, Anheuser-Busch museum; thank you for letting me know about Bevo.

The second best Budweiser I’ve ever had came at the end of the tour. It would’ve been Bob and Doug McKenzie’s favorite part. 

After meeting a horse, learning about the company’s history, and watching every step of the brewing process, we wound up at the end of the line: the lager cellars, where freshly made beer sits in giant silver vats before being packaged and shipped out into the world. A knowledgeable, enthusiastic guide checked a nearby computer to confirm the age of the beer I was about to drink: it was about 15 hours old. After briefly explaining how this beer shoves off from the brewery and winds up in homes, bars and restaurants across the country, the guide offered a taste to anybody who wanted one. Everybody did. He half-filled glasses straight from the vat itself, opening up a tiny tap on the side and making sure to pour with minimal head. Although it wasn’t the startling revelation that the stable beer was, it was still unforgettable in the way individual Budweisers rarely are. This wasn’t just drinking a beer at the brewery that makes it, something that was days or weeks old and had already been sealed up in a keg, bottle or can; this was drinking a beer barely half a day after it was finally, officially beer, direct from the industrial equipment that birthed it. Like that stable beer, it was unusually crisp, clean and cold, and whether by actual quality or simply the circumstances I was in, more enjoyable than every Budweiser I’d ever had before that day.  

Yes, this is basically the kind of container Rick Moranis was trapped in at the end of Strange Brew, the Bob and Doug McKenzie movie he, Dave Thomas, and Max von Sydow starred in back in 1983. Yes, that’s an old, stupid pop culture reference that middle-aged men like me are pretty much obligated to make when visiting a brewery. No, I am not ashamed. For many, even somebody whose dad worked in the industry, that movie was my introduction to the concept of breweries, my first (and, for years, only) concept of where and how beer is made. As I sipped that incomparable Bud, I could think of only one thing: a comically swollen Rick Moranis taking the longest whiz in recorded history. 

When the tour was done, I grabbed a brat in a pretzel bun with sauerkraut and a whole grain mustard made with Goose Island 312. It wasn’t open when I was there, but there’s also a biergarten that serves food and hosts various special events throughout the summer. And of course there’s a gift shop filled with all the Anheuser-Busch merch you could ever need. (You can buy a Bevo shirt.) 

Today, though, a couple of months after that tour, what really stands out is the legacy of this place and this company. The impressive architecture of its brick fortresses, with their stained glass and ornate chandeliers and terra cotta vines. The eye-opening museum, which, yes, glorifies the company at almost every step, but also has a clear focus on actual information and history that you don’t always see at other corporate museums. (Seriously, World of Coke, you’re an embarrassment.) The 150-year-old stable housing one of the most magnificent animals to ever rest its head upon my shoulder. And, yes, on top of all of that, those two surprisingly good Budweisers, which made me think, for the first time ever, that maybe it could be the king of beers, after all.

Budweiser brewery tour

Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.

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