From H.L. Mencken's "Bilder Aus Schöner Zeit"
After some rumblings (Brandweek reported the story last month), I can confirm that Michelob has returned to its roots. All-malt Michelob is shipping now. The idea at Anheuser-Busch was evidently to return the bottle to the classic "tear-drop" shape that was unique to Michelob. But the bottle was not the only tradition around this beer: Michelob had originally been a draft-only beer, and A-B's finest beer, jealously and fanatically guarded.
Enter the new emphasis on classic brewing techniques at A-B. A-B brewers have always been highly trained, very skilled professionals. But with the success of the craft segment, they are getting more freedom to flex their abilities; Marketing, in the form of A-B's directorate of new ideas, has realized that there's money to be made in flavor. And while this has led to such bizarre experiments as the new fruity Mich Ultra and Spykes, it has also led to the wholly acceptable Michelob Porter and Hefeweizen.
So when the marketing boys said let's go back to the traditional Michelob bottle, the brewing boys said, let's go back to the traditional Michelob: all-malt. "This is a step upwards in malt character," said A-B brewer Nathaniel Davis, when I talked to him Tuesday morning. "There’s also a slight beef-up in hops. If someone loved Michelob last month, they’ll love it now. It’s not a change you’d call dramatic. It’s a fairly subtle shift."
How's it taste? The thing that caught my attention first was how it looked. The foam looked much better than any other mainstream American lager I'd seen in quite a while: thicker, more mousse-like, and long-lasting. (Nathaniel confirmed that they'd noted the same thing.) There's a mild but brisk hops aroma, a surprisingly citrusy scent for a Euro-hop: that's the Alsatian Strisselspalt that A-B buys up, almost the entire crop. And the beer itself is deliciously clean and yeah, malty, more in a Bohemian pils style than a German.
I could easily see sessioning with this at 5.0%. Is it the equal of, say, Pilsner Urquell or Augustiner helles? No, it's probably not even the equal of 1890s Michelob, to be honest. But few things are. What it is, is a nice lager beer that beautifully fits my profile of a session beer.
Ready for a shock? They took Michelob Light all-malt too, and Michelob Amber Bock. That makes Mich Light the biggest-selling all-malt light beer around, and makes Amber Bock something I am probably going to try with lunch to satisfy my curiosity. A-B is bringing the whole Michelob line -- with the obvious, mutant exception of Ultra and its spawn -- solidly into the arena pioneered by the Michelob specialties we've been seeing the past few years.
What does all this portend? Well, I'm sure there's going to be plenty of hand-wringing and portents of doom from the craft beer protectionists. A-B is merely looking to gut the craft beer industry and leave it a smoking wreck, after all... As if they could. They took a serious shot at that back in the 1990s, rolled out the big ad guns and the power of their massive monolithic distribution system. Hmmm...it didn't work. That's because the most solid demand for craft beers comes from the bottom up, from people who are, generally, more interested in what the beer tastes like than in what being seen drinking it projects to other people. They aren't swayed by spin. Well, not as much.
I see this as the latest sign that craft beer's tide is rising faster and stronger than anything can slack it, and A-B is taking the shift in consumer mood seriously enough that they are re-tooling one of their major marques to meet it. Because despite what Nathaniel said about this being subtle, going all-malt is a not-so-subtle sign of admission of the superior quality of all-malt beers...which says what about corn/rice beers? I think we're seeing what may be the first major move towards the Gallo-ization of Anheuser-Busch.
In the meantime? I can't wait for this stuff to come out in sixtels. I'm going to have a deck party as soon as the weather warms up and see if I can fool some geeks into loving an A-B beer. Consider yourself warned...and somebody bring me my willibecker, I gotta oil up my tonsils...
Throw out the lifeline across the dark wave;
There is a brother whom someone should save;
Somebody’s brother! Oh, who then will dare
To throw out the lifeline, his peril to share?
(Refrain:)Throw out the lifeline! Throw out the lifeline!
Someone is drifting away;
Throw out the lifeline! Throw out the lifeline!
Someone is sinking today.