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Thursday, Sep 21, 2023


When you drive down the 405 freeway through the San Fernando Valley, there are several landmarks the eye cannot escape. One is the massive Anheuser-Busch InBev brewery. The complex on Roscoe Boulevard in Van Nuys is where America’s most iconic beer is made: Budweiser. More recently, though, a new iteration of the lager was created inside its walls: Budweiser Black Crown, the brainchild of former Van Nuys brew master Bryan Sullivan. The beer was crafted as part of a contest among the 12 brew masters in the company and was originally called Batch 91406 for the ZIP code where it was produced. The new brew is available for purchase now, but will make its splash into the market during a Super Bowl commercial on Feb. 3. So why does the giant brewer need yet another variety of beer, since it already sells Bud in light, platinum and other versions? “People like variety in their beers,” Sullivan said. “This type of beer is just another way for us to offer that.” But much more may be at stake: the beer market has changed and Anheuser-Busch needs to change with it. Since InBev, a huge Belgium brewer, bought Anheuser-Busch of St. Louis for $52 billion in 2009, the company as a whole has done well. But its classic Budweiser beer has been losing market share for years. The decline has occurred as consumer preference has shifted to Mexican imports and craft brews, something InBev is keenly aware of. Last year, the company introduced Bud Light Platinum, which boasts a higher alcohol content than Budweiser, and is heavily promoting its Belgium import Stella Artois. It’s even taken on craft brewers directly with its Goose Island and Shock Top brands. Anheuser-Busch sold about 50 million barrels of Budweiser in 1988 when it was America’s top seller with a 26 percent market share. The king of beers sold less than 18 million barrels in 2011 for an 8.4 percent market share. Budweiser now sits in third place, putting it behind Bud Light and Coors Light among best-selling brands in the country. “It’s been a trend for several years now that people just prefer small, local and entrepreneurial beer,” said Benj Steinman, president of consulting firm Beer Marketer’s Insights in New York. He added Mexican imports have taken big share of the market, with more than 14 million barrels imported in 2011. Keg stands Anheuser-Busch kicked off a contest to introduce a new version of Budweiser about a year ago. After tasting the dozen original recipes by its brew masters, Anheuser-Busch brewed small batches of six of them. Those beers were then sampled around the country at concerts, bars and festivals to more than 25,000 people. Sullivan’s brew was preferred. It is an amber-colored beer, slightly darker than the classic Budweiser. In addition, it has 6 percent alcohol content versus 5 percent for class Budweiser. Sullivan stayed somewhat close to the Budweiser model with his beer, using the same two malts, caramel and two-row barley. But the brew master wanted more bite to his beer and used four different types of hops, which he said are obvious from the scent alone. “I wanted to make something a bit darker and with more hops, but it needed to stay crisp and refreshing like the original Budweiser,” he said. Sullivan, 34, began working for Anheuser-Busch 11 years ago in their St. Louis facility, where he was an intern. Within a few years, Sullivan was transferred to the brewery in Van Nuys. Three years ago, Sullivan became brew master, a position only one person in each of the 12 breweries around the country has. “I started to see the fermentation process of beer differently,” Sullivan said. “It’s a living organism. Beer making is an art and a science.” Budweiser Black Crown will be brewed in Van Nuys, as well as Anheuser-Busch facilities in Columbus, Ohio; Williamsburg, Va., and St. Louis. Thomas Mullarkey, an analyst who covers Anheuser-Busch for Chicago-based investment research firm Morningstar Inc., said the Project 12 contest was mostly about publicity and gives the company a way to attract customers back to the Budweiser brand. “It’s not a game-changer,” Mullarkey said. “But it’s publicity. And that counts for something.” Nate Scudieri, senior brand manager for Budweiser, said the company is not concerned with the success micro brews have seen and considers it healthy for the industry. “We love beer and are happy to see the beer market grow,” Scudieri said. “It just gives consumers another option.” Indeed, the proliferation of micro brews is not the first time the American brand has seen competition. Through the last 25 years, Budweiser has faced several shifts in the beer market. Steinman, the consultant, said that about 20 years ago, consumers became more interested in light beers as the health-consciousness of the country increased. Through the last 10 years, it’s been about the micro brew and the Mexican import. Indeed, Budweiser’s fall from its formerly commanding position has gone somewhat under the radar as the company has smartly jumped on every trend with multiple varieties of its core beer. The company has enjoyed breakout success with its light version. What’s more, Anheuser-Busch InBev commands 48 percent of the market share for beer in the United States, between its domestic and imported brands, which include Beck’s, the various Michelob beers, Rolling Rock and others. Worldwide, the company is now the largest brewer in the world with $39 billion in sales in 2011. Moreover, it is seeking to buy the remaining shares of Grupo Modelo, the Mexican manufacturer of Corona, that it does not already own. If that acquisition goes through, its portfolio will contain seven of the top 10 selling beer brands in the world. “Their profitability is still gangbusters,” Mullarkey said. As for Sullivan, since Batch 91406 was named the winner of Project 12, the St. Louis native been promoted. The former Van Nuys brew master now runs an Anheuser-Busch canning facility in Jacksonville, Florida. “I’m just living my dream,” Sullivan said. “I had no idea this whole thing would be the endgame.”

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