While Anheuser-Busch operates twelve breweries across the United States, each day its St. Louis brewery alone produces more than 5,000 barrels of Budweiser – and that’s just one of the 20 brands for which the brewery is responsible. To brew all of this beer, over 1 million pounds of grain arrive by train in St. Louis on a daily basis. Samples of malted barley and rice are taken from each and every rail car that arrives to ensure that all grain is worthy of an A-B beer.
From there, the approved grain meets water at the brew house to become wort. The wort is then pumped to fermentation tanks where it is introduced to yeast – at which point the concoction can first truly call itself “beer.” With yeast being a living organism, fermenting such a massive amount of beer is not without its challenges. The beer must be monitored constantly, with samples taken regularly from the fermentation tanks to ensure that all is going well.
Additionally, many of the beers A-B produces are lagers, which means that they must undergo a secondary fermentation highly sensitive to very miniscule temperature fluctuations. During this process, the beer is kept cold to accommodate the yeast and facilitate the proper fermentation that will further clarify the beer. This is how a lager such as Budweiser gets its signature crisp, clean finish – one that is highly difficult to duplicate.
Even after the beer has been made, it must pass inspection by a panel of testers made up of St. Louis Brewmaster Joel Boisselle and his fellow brewers. Each day at 3:00PM, they taste for any potential flaws, comparing beer from different tanks to ensure consistency across the board. Though automated testing might be able to determine color or carbonation, highly trained humans are able to detect more subtle discrepancies that no machine can. Even the water – some of which might not go into beer, but is used to wash bottles, tanks, and equipment – is sampled obsessively to ensure that it’s always free of impurities.
Not only are batches of beer from single breweries tested against one another, but beer from different breweries is, too. One of the most difficult aspects of brewing beer internationally is that the brands must be consistent throughout the world. “People are on the move more than ever,” explains Boisselle. “If I travel to Los Angeles, for example, and order a Budweiser, as a consumer I would expect it to taste the same,” he says. People identify the brand and expect it to taste the same no matter where they might drink it. As a result of these comparative tastings, all breweries are given report cards and must maintain a high level of quality to continue brewing.
While it’s easy to assume that beer brewed on such a large scale could only be churned out by an entirely computerized army of robots, a human being will touch, smell, and taste any A-B beer during every step of the brewing process. Experimenting with new styles, ingredients, and flavors is an undeniably creative endeavor – but finding new ways to maintain consistency while producing vast amounts of beer from century-old recipes requires equal levels of ingenuity and understanding of the art of brewing.