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images (3)Reviewed by Rebecca Berry

In Bitter Brew, experienced journalist William Knoedelseder tells the remarkable, juicy, inspirational, and at the end, disappointing story of the rise and fall of America’s largest family owned brewery. Christened Anhueser-Busch in 1879, the company started out as a very small brewery that produced a small amount of locally consumed beer. By 1900, the company was the largest brewery in the country, producing over 1 million barrels of its famed Budweiser a year. They remained the No. 1 brewer, with the exception of a short period of time after WWII, until the company was sold to InBev, a four-year old Belgian company owned by three Brazilian billionaires, in 2008.

As much as the story of the brewery itself, it is also the story of the four generations of Busch men who founded, shaped, grew, and loved the company. These men were ingenious; under the leadership of Adolphus Busch, the first president, Anhueser-Busch was the first company to pasteurize beer as well as the first company to ship its product in refrigerated railroad cars. They were dedicated and loyal to their company and employees; during Prohibition, August Busch kept the company running by diversifying into a variety of markets, in order to keep its people employed until Prohibition passed. They were marketing masterminds; Gussie Busch bought the St. Louis Cardinals in 1953 earning him the title of “the man who saved the Cardinals for St. Louis”, as well as acquiring the radio and TV broadcasting rights of a team whose fan base was the largest in baseball at the time. They were ruthless; August III staged a coup and ousted his father Gussie from the position of CEO when he felt that Gussie was too old-fashioned to lead the company into the next stage of development – and he did it all behind his father’s back. They were reckless; August IV more or less concealed a drug problem for much of his life until one fateful afternoon when he got up on a stage to address Anhueser-Busch distributors at a national conference obviously under the influence of something much stronger than alcohol, likely leading to the imminent takeover of the company by InBev seven months later.

Knoedelseder seamlessly intertwines the personal and professional stories of these men and their company in a fascinating read. He starts with the end, telling of the disastrous speech August IV made in May of 2008 that lead to the InBev takeover. It is quite the hook, and the rest of the book doesn’t disappoint. The imagery and detail paint vivid pictures of the cast of characters and the events that defined them and the company, often one and the same. This iconic American (now Belgian) company has a history that would fascinate almost anyone, and the author has written a book that will appeal to almost anyone – a win-win.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Rebecca is a stay at home mom and lives in Plain City, a sleepy little town in central Ohio, with her husband and young son. She enjoys cooking, eating, Zumba, crafting, and of course, reading!

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperBusiness. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.