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Book Review: Bitter Brew by William Knoedelseder

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Known as the King of Beers, Budweiser was not always the brew we know it as today. Just before and a short time after prohibition, Budweiser, like many other beers of the time, was bitter and weak. Only after the Generation of Anheuser-Busch and their involvement in the repeal of the laws of prohibition, was an all-out effort made to take a brew and make it stand out from the rest.

In Bitter Brew by William Knoedelseder, we follow the history behind the brew, and yet the story cannot be complete with the family and the foibles that were a part of this small kingdom. The year 1933 is when prohibition was abolished and the golden years of Budweiser and the reign of the Anheuser-Busch family began.

Adolphus Bush, a German immigrant, worked diligently to save up enough money to open a brewery supply company. His fortunes changed when an early customer, Eberhard Anheuser, came into the brewery though a defaulted loan.

When Adolphus married Anheuser’s daughter Lilly, the dynasty was set, although there was no way of knowing this at the time. Adolphus became very involved in the brewery and became the first brewer in the United States to pasteurize his product, giving it a longer shelf life without fear of spoilage. He built rail ice- houses, giving him the ability to move his beer longer distances. He also began buying up some of the local taverns, giving his beer an undisputed home. All of this helped Bud to become the nation’s first national brand of beer.

Prohibition was brutal for all breweries and Anheuser-Busch was no different. The family though held the ear of the president and was very involved in the political arena.

With the death of Adolphus, August Sr. took the reins of the company. Never giving up the fight for the repeal of prohibition and their fortunes dwindling, they continued running the business and keeping people employed though the worst of time, making a name for themselves.

Bitter Brew, though is about the family and their lives, and their interaction in the lives of others. In the golden years after the beer was changed to a new recipe, the business became about the people that worked in the breweries. We follow the ups and downs of the family itself but also that of friends and workers. There was something magical about being involved in the Budweiser family; a caring and reaching out to those that were a part.

This is then also about the ending and the changing of the guard, and the difference of a company that had been a part of the American landscape and involved in the backdrop of the prohibition era. Looking back at the heartache and heartbreaks, like looking backwards from a kaleidoscope, where all the disjointed pieces still fit together within the whole, and how the changes of venue no longer held the same heart.

If you are interested in history and the growth of a dynasty, you will enjoy this material. I found it quite fascinating reading, and felt sadness in the pit of my stomach as I neared the end. The story includes so much, including the commercial success and personal growth to the beginning of the Clydesdale as the mascot of the company.It also delves into the darkness of both privilege and power.

A marvelous book for the library, this would also make a great reading club or discussion group addition. It is full of heart and feelings as well as the ending of a Golden Age.

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About Leslie Wright

Leslie Wright is an author and blogger in the Northwest.
  • Rene

    This book is Fiction. As an insider there are some facts,.but there is a lot of embellishment. Do not take this as a documentary of American History. It is sad that former employees like Mike Brooks, who clearly had a good life with AB, as we all did would allow his family to create a book that can mislead readers who cannot discern fact from fiction. The Busch family are good people. They do not deserve to be the continual target of bad press; including mixing fact with fiction.
    Rene’ – former loyal employee