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Meet the Brew Crew

Some 40 years after the end of public tours at the Anheuser-Busch Cos. brewery in Van Nuys, the facility is opening its doors once again, albeit on a limited basis. For one weekend a month through September, the public can see the how Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob and other brands are brewed in the San Fernando Valley. Tickets for the tours are completely sold out. Jeff Jenkins, senior brewmaster, said the tours are a way to remind the greater Los Angeles public that the brewery is here. Tours had previously been offered when the Busch Gardens theme park was located on the property until closing in 1979. “We are not just a billboard on the side of the road, but we are people,” Jenkins said. But Jenkins points out that the Van Nuys facility, taking up 1.7 million square feet on 95 acres at Roscoe Boulevard and Haskell Avenue, was never designed as a tourist attraction because it is so spread out. The summer tours involve a fair amount of walking, he added. “I think it is our way to show folks what we do and the size and scope and the quality and the passion that we put into it,” Jenkins said. Product samples More than 30 beers are made in Van Nuys, including Budweiser and Bud Light and the many variations of those brands. Also, Anheuser-Busch has craft and specialty beers such as Rolling Rock, Shock Top Primary, Busch and Michelob made at the facility. In addition to supplying California, the plant ships beer to Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and 40 foreign markets. The brewery makes and distributes 12 million barrels of beer annually. The tours last between an hour and an hour and a half. The cost is $25 for guests 21 years and older and $10 for those between 13 years and 20 years old. No one under 13 is allowed on the tour. The tour starts in a bar area on the first floor of the administration building. In one corner is a small gift shop with Los Angeles specific Budweiser souvenirs, such as shirts and hats. Guests then see the brewhouse, which contains the mash cooker, lauter tun and brew kettle; the room where 14 varieties of hops are cooled at 48 degrees Fahrenheit; the tasting room where Jenkins and other company personnel taste the beer brewed that day to make sure it meets standards; and the lager cellar where the beechwood chips are added and where visitors can taste a sample of beer from one of the tanks. The tour continues to the packaging center to see a bottle or can line operating and then ends back at the bar. “You can have a couple of complimentary samples,” Jenkins said. “You get to keep your hat and glass.” To conduct the tours, Budweiser has brought in guides from its locations in Fairfield, Houston and Fort Collins, Colo. They have learned the history of the Van Nuys plant, Jenkins said. “They are Anheuser-Busch tour guides, just not necessarily full-time employees in Los Angeles,” he added. “We bring in professionals for this.” Vincenzo Giammanco, president of California Beer Festival, a Ventura firm that puts on beer festivals around the state, said offering tours was a great decision by Anheuser-Busch because it’s something that craft beer makers or even beer drinkers in general would likely attend. “That scale of production is on another level,” Giammanco said. “Most people have seen what looks like when a restaurant has a brewery with a couple tanks, but I am sure they are pumping a lot of product out of there.” Local audience Opened in 1954, the Van Nuys brewery is the third oldest of the dozen that Anheuser-Busch operates in the U.S. “For a long time west of the Mississippi, we were it,” Jenkins said. “We had to fill the whole west half of the United States.” For more than 10 years starting in the mid-1960s, the beer maker operated the Busch Gardens theme park on the property until it was closed to make way for an expansion of the beer-making operation. The idea to open the brewery to tours now came from an open house from last summer. There was such a positive response that the company decided to offer a new experience for people interested in seeing what goes on inside buildings they pass on a regular basis, Jenkins said. The target audience for the tours is not visitors to Los Angeles but instead those who live here. “The initial intent was to open it up for our neighbors,” Jenkins said. Similar tours are underway at Anheuser-Busch breweries in Cartersville, Ga. and Williamsburg, Va. during the summer months. Unlike the Van Nuys location, however, those breweries are not selling out. At six other breweries in the United States, the company offers year-round tours, plus added attractions such as live music, a beer school or the chance to spend time with the famed Clydesdale horses. While Budweiser is the largest brewery in the L.A. market, is not the only one opening its doors to visitors. Smaller craft breweries pull back the curtain on the brewing process as well. For example, Angel City Brewery in downtown L.A., offers free tours seven days a week. Golden Road, a unit of Anheuser-Busch in Los Angeles, offers no-cost tours three times a day Fridays through Sundays. Jenkins doesn’t see the tours at smaller craft breweries as competition. “I love they are able to showcase the art and science of brewing,” he added. “I just want to be able to show people in my backyard that we can do that, too.” Giammanco, of California Beer Festival, said that the craft beer boom over the last 10 years has made people used to seeing tanks and other beer-making equipment up close. “Forever, it was like ‘Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,’ you never got to see the inside,” Giammanco added. For those who can’t take the summer tour in Van Nuys, another chance to visit the brewery takes place on Sept. 22 when it opens to the public for its second op,en house. There will be games, food trucks and limited tours of the brewing process.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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