Budweiser's Weird New Amber Lager

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Today's inbox brought news of a curious new beer release.

Budweiser is giving beer lovers the chance to experience and taste history with the release of its limited-edition 1933 Repeal Reserve Amber Lager. The recipe behind Repeal Reserve dates back to the pre-Prohibition era when Adolphus Busch created and brewed a special Amber Lager for his friends and local community to enjoy. Due to the onset of Prohibition in 1920, the beer didn’t have a chance to be distributed widely outside the St. Louis area… until now. Beginning today, Budweiser is releasing this historically inspired recipe nationwide to celebrate the Repeal of Prohibition.

In one sense, this isn't entirely surprising. Going to the archives has become a time-honored tradition, particularly in recent history. In an effort to move toward full-flavored beers without acknowledging craft beer, many venerable companies--Guinness, Carlsberg, Coors--have come out with their own throwbacks. Indeed, the twitterati were quick to note and mock AB InBev for this:

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But it is surprising in at least one respect: Anheuser-Busch has rarely used its Budweiser label for anything other than Bud and Bud Light. According to the release materials, this is just the ninth product to use the Budweiser name. Number seven* came out about a decade ago--the tasty but domed American Ale, followed by number eight with the release of Black Crown. That's not many Budweisers in 141 years. Even under InBev, Anheuser Busch has been reluctant to trade on the brand, which is sacred in St. Louis.

For that reason, this does seem like an unusual move. Why use the Budweiser name when you could release this beer under a different label? I was reminded of what Pat McGauley told me back in 2013 when I visited the brewery. His title then was Vice President of Innovation and New Products (it's since been shortened), and we were discussing the difficulty of both appearing new and exciting while also protecting the key asset. He told me, “We’re the Budweiser company, right? It’s the flagship. I’m the Bud man.”  No matter how much ABI wants to lead trends, their greatest brand is and will always be Budweiser. But perhaps, even at the risk of tarnishing it, the company is prepared to take some chances with the name.

On the other, other hand, an industry insider I consulted--with absolutely no knowledge of this product--had a more prosaic view. "My guess is it's been in the works for ages. I imagine some member of the innovation team has been working on this as a passion project for a couple years and it took forever to get off the ground." So maybe it's nothing more than that--another random one-time offering that none of us will remember a year from now. (Unless, of course, it's a hit.)

*The post has been updated to include the release of Black Crown. How could I have forgotten Black Crown?? The company had just released it when I toured the brewery in St. Louis, and, critically, McGauley and I drank it during our meeting. It was marginally less of a failure than American Ale, though it still exists. The editors regret the error.