When your last name is Busch and you live in St. Louis, there are certain expectations placed upon you. First and foremost, perhaps, is the understanding that if you get into the beer business, your beer better be pretty good!
Regardless of what you may think about Budweiser, the brand St. Louis’ Busch family built into a national powerhouse, it defined an entire style as the great American lager. Those are the standards William K. Busch, the great-grandson of Anheuser-Busch founder Adolphus Busch, must live up to.
I recently sat down with Busch and brew master Marc Gottfried in their suburban St. Louis offices to talk about Kraftig, the brand Busch has launched as part of the second phase of Busch beer brewing in St. Louis.
“When Anheuser-Busch was purchased in 2008, it marked the first time in 150 years that a Busch wasn’t involved in brewing beer in St. Louis. I wanted to keep that tradition going and give back to the St. Louis community,” Busch said.
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With eyes wide open and a full understanding of what creating a new beer under the Busch name meant, Billy Bush created the Kraftig brand. Following the rules of Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law dating back to 1516, Busch sought to create a beer that was both true to his family’s German roots and ultimately delicious.
“We had to decide whether we wanted to do what everyone else was doing and create yet another craft beer or do something different. So we decided to enter the American Premium Lager segment of the industry, but create a lager that has more flavors and aromas,” Busch said.
With that in mind, Busch partnered with a German master brewer to create the perfect formula for a beer that would be fuller and more flavorful than the likes of Budweiser, Miller and Coors, but in no way heavy or pondering. Kraftig means “strong” in German, and that’s what Busch was going for — strong flavors and aromas.
“Everyone thinks we just did one recipe, and that was that. But Billy was extremely particular about what he wanted. We did test batch after test batch until we got it just where he wanted it,” Gottfried said. “The German brew master still thought it was too light, but we understood the American palate and decided to make it in that style.”
Busch added, “We wanted to brew a beer that everyone could drink, but one that has real flavor.”
Busch brews just two beers, Kraftig and Kraftig Light. I tasted the Kraftig Light during my visit, and there’s no doubt it has a lot more going on than your standard American-style light beer.
Starting with just the St. Louis and Southern Illinois markets, Busch has taken the Kraftig brand across Missouri, recently introducing the beers to the Kansas City and St. Joseph markets. He has also expanded into Southern Texas.
Busch says his goal is to build Kraftig into a national brand. “My dream is to buy Grant’s Farm (site of the original Busch residence and home to the Budweiser Clydesdales) and open a brewery there. If not there, I definitely want to have a brewery in St. Louis,” Busch said.
One thing’s for certain, it’s going to an interesting journey for this fourth-generation Busch launching the second chapter in the Busch brewing legacy.
Dave Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and Wealth TV for 12 seasons.