This Bud’s a Tour
When you are in St. Louis, a visit to the Budweiser Campus is a worthwhile experience. When you step into the Mothership, the grandeur, and rich history are immediate. You can enter the massive gift shop from the main hall, continue to the bar at the far end, or take a self-guided tour around the central atrium. All along the walls are the chronological history of Anheuser and Busch. It was fun to see how packaging and advertising have changed over the years. The Bud-Weis-Er frogs were a favorite from my youth. The Tours desk is at the far end of the hallowed hall of history. You can book in person or online. I booked online since we wanted to do two of the more popular tours that sell out in advance. What kind of can-crushing beer-venture could be so popular? The Clydesdales.
As one of the smaller group tours, the Clydesdale tour combines historical facts with a close-up meeting with the gentle giants. Our group consisted of a few couples, a family with several moody teens, and some younger kids. The teen girls couldn’t believe their parents were dragging them on a tour and swore they would not allow any photographic evidence of this travesty. The teen boy was the complete opposite, with a pleasant smile and take-charge attitude. Oh wait. that young man was our tour guide.
Drinking age is not a requirement of the tour, but it’s required if you’re going to take advantage of the beers included on the tour. We followed Dougie Houser outside to the stables. Originally built in 1885, the domed ceiling and stained glass are reminiscent of a cathedral. Here we worship the equines of the Church of Hops & Barley. Although there were multiple stalls with plaques of “General” or “Sergeant,” only a couple of horses were in residence. The names on the stalls are from the original teams. This must have been why the current occupants did not look up when their names were called. Horses, like cats, always respond when called.
An antechamber of metal and leather was all that stood between us and meeting Clyde up close. The harnesses on display each weigh 250 lbs. and hitch the team of 8 to the iconic wagon. The dalmatian riding in the front seat was there to guard the horses when the drivers were away on deliveries. It just goes to show how the smallest group member is usually the ﬁercest protector. While we waited, anyone over 21 could grab a bottle of Budweiser from a glass front refrigerator. Feeling as though we were taking the beer stash of the local leatherworker, we each had a drink in hand as we moved into the next room.
Our 18-year-old guide introduced us to one of many caretakers with Lance. He was sleepy-eyed and couldn’t care less about his adoring fans. Lance was on vacation between appearances with various teams around the country. His horsey getaway included a daily full bath and standing for photos between meals. His vacation must have been relaxing because he fell asleep during the viewing. The elephant in the room was actually a giant horse penis that kept appearing as Lance drifted off in his standing nap. Some men shufﬂed around in their inadequacy. Women tried to avoid looking directly at it, and the moody teens tried to escape out a back door.
During photos, Lance towered over everyone but continued in his docile, sleepy manner. The caretaker smartly turned him to face the cameras so that nothing would hang out for photos. Every star needs a handler to keep them from ﬂashing the paparazzi. After bidding farewell to Lance, we returned to the great hall to end the tour with another free drink at the tour bar. Our next tour would start in 20 minutes.
This group was far larger and did not include any children. The next group gathered around a pleasant older woman who may have stepped out of a fairy door in a large oak. She was as tall as she was wide with a tinkling bell of a voice. We all got to make another stop in the Clydesdale Cathedral since it was part of the more extended tour package. Lance and his drooping dong were nowhere in sight. Paying our respects to the team once more, we raised our glasses and continued down the sidewalk to a collection of towering ornate brick buildings.
It looked like the outside of the 1970s Wonka Chocolate Factory. Our golden tickets got us each a shot glass of beer and a bench seat for a short agriculture lecture on the hops and barley process. A large amount of their barley comes from Idaho. Bee and I also come from Idaho. It’s a small, drunken world. After a walk down a shrinking hallway, we rode an elevator up to a fermenting ﬂoor. The humidity and mash gave the entire upper ﬂoors a wet sock smell that was far from refreshing. We were quickly distracted by the multistory chandelier and giant mashing tanks. The interior looked like it should’ve housed a Victorian-era greenhouse, with intricate wrought iron and domed glass ceilings for natural light. “Beer grows where my Rosemary goes.”
We stopped in a chilly building of giant tanks that housed beer aging in beechwood barrels. The tanks were equivalent to 3600 barrels. They called it a cellar, but I think it becomes a warehouse with certain square footage. Several names were printed on the tanks. They were either donors of money or the souls of beer ghosts trapped inside. The aging process goes faster with a blood sacriﬁce or two.
Continuing into the campus, we noticed various images of animals adorning gates, walls, building corners, manhole covers, and anything that stood still long enough for an artist to catch it. The next building held a mosaic of beautiful tiles akin to a Grecian pool pavilion.
Despite the lavish and history-rich decor, many people glanced about and wandered into hallways. They all share the same pained expression of disappointment. The tour did not yet include a bathroom. I was one of the searchers and eyed the hedge outside while I asked our Spirit guide if there was a restroom nearby. She assured me there was one on the upper ﬂoor of the bottling factory. As we climbed several ﬂights of stairs, determination morphed into desperation. Finally, we reached the top ﬂoor with a wide viewing window of the factory.
The tour guide pointed down the far hallway, and 2/3 of the group race walked to the promise of sweet relief. As I have discovered in my military career, places that don’t expect to have a signiﬁcant number of women never have adequate facilities. While the men’s room had multiple urinals, the ladies’ room had a single toilet. We became a highly efﬁcient group of performers. The ﬂush of the toilet was your cue to enter while the current occupant moved to wash their hands. Zippers and buttons were an afterthought. Once the dance of urination facilitation was concluded, we could appreciate the massive bottling line before us.
Lines of raised tracks ushered bottles through a maze of machinery until they were safely sealed into a cardboard box. A few fresh boxes had been pulled off the line and were available to the tour group. Although the beer was room temperature, it was the freshest you’ll ever taste from an aluminum bottle. I tried a sip from Bee’s bottle and avoided taking one of my own. My bladder decided free beer wasn’t the novelty it once was.
Upon exiting the factory, we were greeted by several Budweiser trolleys to take us the ﬁve blocks back to the main building. The trolley driver pointed out a building that was once a school for workers’ children. Now ofﬁces, the Budweiser campus had everything needed to be its own city. If Mr. Wonka wanted to close his gates to keep out spies, the factory could continue production until their current workforce managed to escape.
Our last stop on the tour was at the bar for another free drink. With the restroom within view, I enjoyed a seltzer and followed my companions into the gift shop. Anheuser-Busch marketing is genius. After several drinks, it seems far more likely that your family would appreciate souvenirs from your tour. Beer boxers for Dad, a beer sweatshirt for mom, beer stein for Uncle, and a Clydesdale Christmas ornament for Grandma. They had better hope you don’t sober up before reaching the cash register. Unfortunately, the horse ornament was not anatomically correct. Grandma still loved it.
Cheers and safe travels, my friends.