"I don't think we're trying to fool anyone," says Peter Kraemer, Anheuser-Busch's vice president of supply and its chief brew master. He says beer-savvy drinkers, the ones who care most about where their brew originated, are likely to have apps that will give them that information with a few taps on a smartphone.
It has been a smoldering issue, and the magazine Consumer Reports might have thrown more gasoline on the fire when it awarded its CR Best Buy stamp of approval to Shock Top Wheat IPA in a tasting of "craft" beers that appeared in its August issue.
In fairness, not all of the specialty beers flowing out of large breweries' tanks attempt to hide their origins. This week, Anheuser-Busch released its second annual Project 12, a variety 12-pack of three experimental lagers fermented with the Budweiser yeast. The packages and labels carry the Bud logo, and the beers take their names from the Zip codes of the plants where they're produced.
One of the three is Batch 23185, a bourbon-and-vanilla lager from the company's brewery in Williamburg, Va. Senior brew master Daniel Westmoreland created the recipe, aging the tawny lager on barrel staves from a Virginia distillery and sacks of Madagascar vanilla beans. He first brewed the beer in 2012 and upped the flavor this time around in response to customer comments.
Could Batch 23185 become part of the company's regular product line? An amber lager from last year's Project 12 assortment was rechristened Budweiser Black Crown and promoted to year-round status. "That would be the ultimate honor for a brew master," says Westmoreland, but he cautions that his recipe is labor-intensive and, needing one oak stave per barrel of beer, would require a large and steady stream of used distiller's wood.
Regardless of the size of the brewery, a beer can't be cost-prohibitive. It has to sell briskly enough to justify its continued production. That's a bigger challenge when you're brewing in increments of 500 barrels (the batch size in Williamsburg) instead of 25 or 50. Apparently, Shock Top Wheat IPA didn't make the grade. Ironically, the brand had been yanked by the time Consumer Reports bestowed its plaudits.