After brewery tour, this Bud's for you

April 11, 1993|By Tim O'Connor | Tim O'Connor,Kansas City Star

ST. LOUIS -- There's no charge to get in, and they give you free beer and pretzels before you leave.

Does this sound like a great tour or what? That the visit to the Anheuser-Busch brewery is actually interesting makes it even better.

Anheuser-Busch's imposing brick complex is about two miles south of downtown St. Louis and dominates its neighborhood. A guided tour takes about an hour.

Although it includes looks at the famed Clydesdale horses and the bottling operation, it does not actually show any beer being made. The century-old brew house will be under renovation for the next year or so, and tours do not enter the building.

Anheuser-Busch is by far the biggest player in the beer industry. It produces nearly half the country's beer and is just about twice as big as the Miller Brewing Co., its nearest competitor.

Anheuser-Busch offers tours at 10 of its 12 breweries across the country. But the St. Louis brewery is the oldest and the flagship, where 6,000 employees produced 13 million barrels of beer in 1992.

How much beer is that? Try singing "4.3 Billion Bottles of Beer on the Wall" on your way to St. Louis.

At the start of the tour, a guide reels off statistics about the company's history and business ventures, which include not only beer but also the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, theme parks, food companies, metal and recycling companies and other subsidiaries.

The first stop on the walking tour is clearly a high point for most visitors: the circular stable, built in 1885, that houses the Budweiser Clydesdales, the horses made famous through so many beer commercials.

Walls are adorned with trophies and other prizes won by the horses over the decades, and the beer wagon the horses pull is on display in the central part of the stable. The horses are in stalls that line the walls of the circular building.

The stable is one of three buildings in the brewery complex that are national historic landmarks. The 1892 brewhouse is another, while the third is an old public school, built in 1868, that August Busch had attended as a child. After the company bought the building, Busch chose for his own office the room in which he had attended classes.

Since 1852 there's been a brewery on the land now occupied by Anheuser-Busch. Most of the buildings in the complex are constructed of red brick, and while the oldest and newest were built more than a century apart, the styles meld seamlessly.

After leaving the stable, tour groups visit a stockhouse that contains 66 gargantuan lager tanks, lined with beechwood, where beer ages for three weeks or more before being bottled.

Each of the tanks holds 3,600 barrels of beer, about 200,000 six-packs. All told, the brewery complex has 500 such tanks, which hold 20 million gallons of beer, the tour guide said.

The only part of the tour that shows actual production (on most days, anyway) is the canning and bottling operation. (While the brewhouse is closed, visitors are shown a film of the brewing process.)

Machinery in the packaging plant allows Anheuser-Busch to fill 14 million cans of beer a day. In just one minute the plant can fill 10,000 cans, 7,000 bottles and 17 kegs of beer.

Finally the tour gets to what most of the visitors have been waiting for: Buses take you back to the tour center's lounge, where bartenders pour freebies -- limited to two per person -- of 15 different beers that are made or distributed by Anheuser-Busch. They also have soft drinks for those who want them. At the tables are pretzels or other snacks made by Eagle Snacks, another subsidiary.

Right next to the lounge and on the way to the exit is -- surprise, surprise -- a large gift shop well stocked with all sorts of merchandise emblazoned with company logos, from T-shirts to beer glasses to vending machines.

At least half the 20 or so people on the tour I took made purchases in the shop, and several proudly wore their new Budweiser shirts out the door.

The brewery tours are offered from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. The brewery is just off Interstate 55 at Arsenal Street. Tours begin at the tour center, which is at 12th and Lynch streets. Parking, like the tour, is free. For more information call (314) 577-2333.

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