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Beer Fact or Bullsh!t: Did Budweiser steal Miller's story? 

Beer Fact or Bullsh!t: Did Budweiser steal Miller's story? 

By Templars Guest Blogger Mike Malsed

 

Budweiser is known for its excellently produced Super Bowl commercials, and they did not disappoint this year. Although it was not the typical Clydesdale and Puppy type of commercials that are fairly universally loved, it presented a heartwarming story of an immigrant and a dream. 

 

According to the commercial, Adolphus Busch emigrated to America, "Because I want to brew a beer." (at the 17 second mark) and was welcomed with hatred. He sailed up the Mississippi river by paddle boat, abandoned ship when that burned, and then slogged through the rain and mud to get to Saint Louis where he finally presented his beer to Eberhard Anheuser. Great story! It presents Busch as an outcast who only had a dream: to make a beer. He had to overcome hardship at every turn, always holding on to his precious notebook with Budweiser in it.  

 

There's only one problem. It's almost entirely wrong. In fact, there's an even bigger problem with it – it's almost exactly the story of another brewer from that time, Frederick Miller. More on that farther on, let's get back to Adolphus Busch. 

 

How wrong is this picture we're painted of Adolphus Busch? Well, let's start with his emigration. It was not rough. He made his way quickly and uneventfully to St. Louis where the German community was flourishing. He got a job at a wholesaler, joined the Union side in the Civil War and served briefly before getting an honorable discharge and going back to the wholesale business. 

 

He got into beer by selling grain to Eberhard Anheuser, and catching the eye of Anheuser's daughter, Lily, (and ditto for Anheuser's older daughter, Anna, with Busch's brother, Ulrich's, eye). While Anheuser owned a brewery, his real aim was to make soap, of all things. He ended up owing Busch quite a bit of money and offered him an interest in the brewery in lieu of payment. That the Busch brothers married both daughters was probably not overly coincidental.  

 

Now Anheuser-Busch was a brewery, but the funny thing is, neither of them really knew how to make beer, yet in the highly Germanized area of St. Louis, beer was extremely lucrative. Busch was a salesman, and could sell just about anything. Including bad beer – which he did by schmoozing just about everyone and everything. He knew he needed better beer – there were a lot of breweries in St. Louis at the time and a number of them made better beer than Busch – but that solution would come later, when a friend traveled to Bohemia and the town of Budweis and tasted the local beer. He got the recipe, came back, and had Busch contract brew it. But, just as with Anheuser, this friend ended up owing Busch money so he sold out and Busch now had his beer, Budweiser.  

 

None of this resembles our little story, does it? Let's try a different one, then.  

 

Frederick Miller learned to brew beer in France and Germany with an uncle, at the age of 14. He visited multiple cities and countries learning how to brew and soon started brewing under a royal license. He married in 1853 and had a son. Due to unrest in Europe, they emigrated to the US in 1854 with $9000. For a year, Miller researched where he should go to start a brewery and finally decided upon Milwaukee. He traveled up the Mississippi on a steamboat, sleeping on a sack of meal on the deck while he waited for a berth to open. He then traveled overland to Milwaukee, not an easy trek in 1854, and one which would include slogging through the mud.  

 

Once in Milwaukee, he found an abandoned brewery which he purchased for $8000, nearly everything he had, and in an era where beer cost $5 per barrel, or 3-5 cents a pint. But he went there with a recipe and a dream, and he found good water and access to good raw materials.  

 

Now this sounds like the commercial that Anheuser-Busch broadcast at the Superbowl. A man with a dream, overcame obstacles and persevered, invested everything he had to start that brewery. Miller Beer.  

 

In order to avoid propaganda from any side, I found sources predating 1925. I was able to find information regarding Frederick Miller dating back to 1895, and Adolphus Busch dating back to 1929. 

 

The King of Beer, Gerald Holland, the American Mercury, October 1929, reprinted at http://www.beerhistory.com/library/holdings/kingofbeer1.shtml 

 

Fred Miller Brewing Co, Milwaukee Wis, 1895, reprinted by Wisconsin Historical Society at http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/tp/id/58150 

 

 

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