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COLUMNIST

Budweiser Ale? What century is this?

Anheuser-Busch, the brewery that built its reputation on lager, is introducing an ale under the Budweiser name. Budweiser American Ale — an amber ale — is set to launch in October.

While Anheuser-Busch had brewed ales before, the company had always kept its ale offerings far away from the iconic Budweiser name, which has become synonymous with American-style lager.

Considering the growth of craft beer (made up predominately of ale styles) this move is no surprise. Craft beer has grown 58 percent in dollar sales since 2004, while imported and non-craft beer has seen growth of only 1.4 percent in the last year, which echoes the trends of previous years.

Still, that A-B sees ales as mainstream enough to carry the Budweiser name suggests that craft beer has grown up.

For years craft brewers sat at the kids' table while the big American brewers — A-B, Coors, Pabst and Miller — dined at the grownups' table. The grownups appeared to go to great effort to ignore the kids. When they did take note, it was usually to inform the American public that these craft beer kids were just into a fad that would soon fade.

But the grownups failed to recognize that lager was also a fad and ale had preceded it as the beer of choice in America. It wasn't until the late 1800s that lager quickly overtook and nearly buried ale in the United States. Had U.S. brewers followed the Germanic traditions of brewing that led to their rise, ale just might have faded away.

Fortunately for today's craft brewers, the big guys, rather than embracing the vast range of flavorful lagers and ales that call Germany home, concentrated on brewing one inoffensive beer style that can most kindly be described as a sanitized Pilsner. While pale lager is a style that unquestionably satisfies the majority of Americans' tastes, there are those who simply want more flavor than the style can deliver.

The big brewers could have plugged those holes in the market by offering styles that would satisfy those with an ale-tooth or a hop addiction. Yet the scions of those original brewers chose to look the other way.

Craft beer has thrived in the space created by that snub. It has taken time of course, but craft beer has grown up. And much is owed to imports like Guinness, Spaten, Bass and others for expanding palates back in the '70s, '80s and '90s, when Big Lager had a stranglehold on the market.

With Budweiser Ale, the marketplace has come full circle.

Many craft beer drinkers will ridicule any ale bearing the Budweiser name. But anyone who truly appreciates the artistry, vibrancy and innovation that defines Americas craft brewers should thank Anheuser-Busch for two things.

First, they should thank A-B for imitating craft beer. It is indeed the sincerest form of flattery.

Second, craft beer lovers should thank A-B for not making an ale years ago. Had the large brewers catered to the beer drinking public in the first place, the face of American craft beer would be much different.

— Joey Redner is a Tampa resident and world beer traveler.

Budweiser Ale? What century is this? 08/21/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:19pm]

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