William Knoedelseder’s recent book Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America’s Kings of Beer covers a lot of ground: the Busch family dynasty and the antics of its members, the company’s importance in Saint Louis and its struggle to become (and then remain) the biggest brewer in the U.S.—and, relatedly, Anheuser-Busch’s commitment to quality. Of all the revelations in the book, it’s that last part that surprised me the most.
I grew up with Budweiser—I’m pretty sure it’s the first beer I ever tried, and probably the reason that I thought for a long time that I didn’t like beer—and I don’t remember anyone thinking it was particularly good. And in craft-beer circles if it’s mentioned at all, it’s generally to make a negative comparison: for example, “This beer is swill; you might as well just drink Bud Light.” (Incidentally, the introduction of Bud Light in 1982 was what finally allowed Anheuser-Busch to take the lead in the battle with Miller for dominance of the market, Knoedelseder says.)
For research purposes, I drank some Bud Light last night, and the truth is that as long as it’s cold it doesn’t taste terrible. It doesn’t taste like much of anything, of course, but whatever flavor it does have is apparently carefully controlled (or was before the InBev takeover; the book doesn’t get into whether the formula has changed since then).