According to all the papers last Thursday, Belgian-Brazilian beer company InBev just “launched an unsolicited bid to acquire Anheuser-Busch Cos. for $46.4 billion.” The two companies would combine to create the largest beer company in the world with more than 300 brands and $36 billion in annual sales. Big news right?! The day before this announcement, I was lucky enough to find myself in St. Louis on an hour and a half tour of the Anheuser-Busch brewery, and over the next few days I watched the local news fallout. (Picture shots of stacks of Bud and Bud Light 30-packs next to 6-packs of bottled beer with foreign sounding names – “Stella Ar-what?? Never heard of it!”)
At first, it seemed to me that the general St. Louis populace was unimpressed by the potential deal. A bartender I tried to talk to was far more interested in discussing the text message exchange that led to his recent breakup than in going over the details of what a merger would mean for the city. (Apparently the girlfriend refused to answer her phone and would only reply via text. Also she is 20 years old to his 26. She’s really young, so she likes to go out and party with her friends a lot, which is totally cool, you know? But then when he wants to go out and party with his boys without her, it’s, like, this whole big issue. SIGH. Women.)
Unfortunately, since I took the brewery tour the day before the announcement, I couldn’t get any inside viewpoints either. Our guides didn’t leak any news or accidentally allude to the coming fracas as they led us on our overly long, ad-laden walkabout of the largest beer brewery in the U.S.
Barley Cleaning House!
Mash Tanks! (kinda Willy Wonka-ish?)
Two things made the heat and conversations about barley worthwhile. Wait. Four things:
- Telling my dad about the natural Beechwood Aging process, which I haven’t done yet but look forward to.
- Clydesdales. Did you know Anheuser-Busch seriously owns a huge herd of them? I thought it was just a gimmick, and, I mean, it is. But also they really do own a ton of them.
- Two free beers at the end of the tour. Score!
- The other tourists, including an older German couple who answered all the tour guide’s rhetorical questions and STOLE a Beechwood chip, a young beer lover who mimed cutting a hole in and drinking from a nearby pipeline of Bud, and, of course, an array of insane small children.
Where to begin with the small children! There was the doughy dark haired 4 year old who danced and spoke throughout the entire tour, throwing her arms up and shouting “Monkeeeeeey!” as our sweaty guide tried to get through a joke about hops. There was also the frizzy blond 5 year old who crawled into my lap and firmly grasped a piece of my hair while her parents were folding her stroller. There was the 7 year old kid with sunglasses who spent three full minutes picking a wedgie and inexplicably had a green magic marker Hitler mustache drawn on his upper lip.
My favorite was that boy’s older sister, who was maybe 9 or 10 and stood next to me on a long series of escalator rides as she experimented with different standing positions. Naturally she saw herself as miles more mature than the rest of the sub-four-feet crew and as such looked the part with a chin-length bob, tan jean shorts and a fanny pack. I spent many a family vacation under the age of 10 dressed similarly and doing similar nervous escalator experiments. The best part of her look was a recently purchased lime green hat with a rhinestone image of the Gateway Arch on the front. Completely in love with her choice and her enthusiasm for travel, I couldn’t help but think, “Why buy that hat? Will you really wear it back in Chicago or Kansas City or wherever?” I was then suddenly reminded of a certain family trip hat that I myself purchased at about this same age.
On my first trip to see a Broadway musical, I begged my parents to buy me a black Broadway baseball hat with that frowny-face/smiley-face drama mask symbol embroidered on the front in gold and purple thread. They tried to make me realize that, since I wasn’t given to wearing baseball hats anyway, I wasn’t likely to wear a Broadway themed hat very often. I proved them SO wrong by wearing the hat, backwards of course, every single day of summer camp that year.
By the 7th week it got pretty sweaty, so I decided to soak it in a sinkful of water for a day or so. My counselor, who, you know, coincidentally also used to wear a backwards hat a lot, saw it in the sink and yelled out into our cabin, “Umm… whoever’s hat this is in the sink, they’re ruining the brim by soaking it like that. Just… so they know.” Oh well.
So maybe travel merchandise isn’t as big of a rip-off as I’ve been assuming? It gives you a tangible thing to help you remember a trip and kind of identify or distill what it meant to you maybe? On the other hand. Around the same age as the Broadway hat, my parents took me to Chautauqua, NY, an idyllic little vacation town on the edge of Lake Chautauqua in the Southwestern corner of New York state.
I immediately romanticized the place, and I wanted to get a T-shirt to remember it. I got one that was probably two sizes too small (it was the style?) and I never never once wore it. Even up until this trip, though, I would come across it sometimes in my closet and think, “Oh, Chautauqua! I loved Chautauqua.” So when I got a chance to return there a couple weeks ago, I had HIGH expectations. My first stop was a huge bar where I hoped to befriend some locals, since vacation season hadn’t really started yet. Unfortunately when I walked in, I realized I was the only woman in the entire, two story complex. Gay bar? I considered it, but I’m pretty sure not. Exuding a nervousness common to young women traveling alone, I tried to ignore some stares and find the bathroom, which turned out to be a small room with a toilet separated from the bar by a vinyl flowered shower curtain. Chautauqua! Full of magic and romance.
Luckily, I walked out to the water a little later just as five kids pulled up their hoods and wandered out onto a dock for a while, which actually did make for a pretty magical scene.
After they left, I went out too and looked around.
I didn’t recognize a single thing from when I’d come there with my parents, but it was still pretty beautiful. I stuck my toes in the 50 degree water for a minute and then continued on my way out of town.
So the trip didn’t quite live up to my gray baby T’s expectations, but I think it was still worthwhile.
Now returning to St. Louis. As a result of the big business news, I stuck around for three days longer than I’d originally planned so that I could go to a “Save Anheuser-Busch” rally that I decided I couldn’t miss. In the days leading up to the rally, I got to know St. Louis pretty well, but more on that later.
The rally was organized by SaveAB.com and held at the Al Hrabosky bar across from Busch stadium on Saturday, June 14 two hours before the Cardinals faced the Phillies. There was a tent, there was a DJ, there were speeches (one by Al Hrabosky himself!), there were stickers, signs and giveaways. The crowd completely tapped the bar’s significant supply of Bud Light, and very soon only bottles were available.
Before the rally, I really didn’t understand what the big deal about the buyout was, but now to be honest, I kind of get it. For example, the company is still technically run by a Busch descendant, President and CEO August A. Busch IV. Kind of cool? Anyways. The rally ended with some “HELL NO, BUD WON’T GO” chanting and a march to the stadium, where the Cardinals beat the Phillies based mostly, in my opinion, on a bad final call. But it was really their day, not Philadelphia’s, so I can’t muster up too much bitterness.
All in all, it’s been a very exciting week for St. Louis, and I’ll definitely be watching to see how the InBev vs. AB battle ends. And as far as souvenirs go, I am definitely holding onto my SaveAB T-shirt, even if I never wear it.