Budweiser is an iconic American-style pale lager produced by Anheuser-Busch Companies (A-B). It is brewed using a blend of barley malt, rice, hops, water, and yeast. The barley malt, which makes up 70% of the recipe, provides the sugars that yeast will ferment into alcohol. 98% of the barley used comes from American farms in Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota. The remaining 30% of the recipe is rice, an adjunct that lightens the body and adds a crisp, clean finish. In fact, Budweiser uses so much rice that parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev operates a dedicated rice mill in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
After the barley and rice are cooked, the sugary liquid, or wort, is clarified and pumped to kettles where hops are added for bitterness, flavor, and aroma. The wort is then boiled and transferred for fermentation. Purified water from the Missouri River is used throughout the brewing process at Anheuser-Busch’s flagship Saint Louis brewery. Once yeast is added, the wort is fermented for 21 days at cool temperatures between 45-48°F. Finally, the finished beer is either pasteurized in bottles or shipped as fresh draft.
With a better understanding of its ingredients and process, it’s easy to see why Budweiser has such a light, crisp taste. The rice content gives the beer a signature sweetness and dry finish. The extended cold fermentation also develops clean flavors. While some beers use complex grain bills and numerous hop additions, Budweiser keeps it simple with just five core ingredients brewed on a massive scale. This combination has made it one of the best-selling beers worldwide for over a century.
A Brief History of Budweiser
Budweiser’s origins trace back to 1852 when a German immigrant named Adolphus Busch arrived in St. Louis, Missouri. After partnering with another German immigrant Eberhard Anheuser in 1861, Busch married Anheuser’s daughter Lilly and joined the successful brewery.
Busch set out to create a beer that transcended regional tastes and had mass appeal. He succeeded in 1876 when Budweiser lager was introduced. It was named after the Czech city České Budějovice, where a beer called “Budweis” originated.
Budweiser grew rapidly in popularity thanks to new pasteurization techniques and refrigerated rail transportation. This allowed the beer to be shipped far outside its original St. Louis home. Anheuser-Busch continued expanding through mergers and acquisitions over the decades, eventually joining with Brazilian-Belgian brewer InBev in 2008.
Today, Anheuser-Busch InBev operates 12 massive breweries around the United States. The original St. Louis location still produces many millions of barrels annually. Now that you know a bit about Budweiser’s background, let’s dive into what makes this beer so iconic.
Budweiser’s Core Ingredients
Budweiser consists of just five core ingredients: barley, rice, hops, yeast, and water. While simple, it’s the specific choices of ingredients and quantities that give Budweiser its light, crisp character.
Barley malt provides the backbone of Budweiser, supplying the sugars that yeast will turn into alcohol during fermentation. Budweiser is made with 70% six-row barley malt. Six-row barley contains higher levels of enzymes compared to two-row varieties, making it perfect for producing the light-bodied American lager style.
Anheuser-Busch obtains its barley from Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota. Contracted growers must meet the company’s standards for quality and sustainability. Anheuser-Busch purchases around 30 million bushels annually just for its American beers.
Once the barley is harvested, it goes through a malting process. This involves soaking and germinating the grains to activate enzymes. It is then dried by roasting in kilns to stop germination. This malt can then be mashed to convert its starches into fermentable sugars.
One of the keys to Budweiser’s signature light, crisp character is the addition of rice. Rice makes up 30% of the grain bill in Budweiser. Since rice lacks barley’s high protein content, it adds fermentable sugars without increasing body, color, or flavor significantly. The result is a lighter, drier, and cleaner beer.
Anheuser-Busch depends on a massive supply of rice, purchasing around 2.6 million pounds daily. Virtually all the rice used in Budweiser comes from American farmers in states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Missouri.
Anheuser-Busch even operates its own rice mill in Jonesboro, Arkansas capable of producing 160 million pounds annually. Milling the rice ensures it can be properly cooked and blended in the Budweiser brewing process.
Hops are the flowers from the hop plant Humulus lupulus that provide bitterness, flavor, and aroma to beer. Budweiser uses hop varieties like Hallertau, Saaz, Tettnanger, and Willamette. Anheuser-Busch purchases over 3 million pounds of hops each year from growers in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
In Budweiser, hops are added during the boiling stage to impart subtle hop character beneath the clean lager notes. They balance out the sweetness from the malt and add floral, spicy, or citrus aromas. Extensive boiling helps drive off oils that produce stronger hop-forward flavors.
Yeast is the magical microorganism behind fermentation. Without yeast converting sugars into alcohol and CO2, beer would not exist! Budweiser likely uses the lager yeast Saccharomyces pastorianus. This bottom-fermenting yeast works well with the cooler temperatures favored by lagers.
During fermentation, the yeast cells feed on sugars from the barley malt and rice, producing alcohol and subtle flavor compounds. Budweiser ferments at 45-48°F for around 21 days, which allows the yeast to work slowly and produce clean, crisp flavors.
Water is the main ingredient in any beer by volume. Budweiser sources its water from the Missouri River near its St. Louis brewery. The water undergoes filtration to remove impurities while retaining desirable minerals that impact taste.
Different minerals in the water can accentuate hop bitterness, enhance sweetness, or dry out the finish. The mineral profile of Budweiser’s Missouri River water helps complement the beer’s crisp drinkability.
Overview of the Budweiser Brewing Process
Now that we’ve covered the ingredients, let’s look at how Budweiser transforms those raw materials into a fermented alcoholic beverage. Like most beer, Budweiser is brewed using a basic seven-step process:
Modern Budweiser brewing is a high-tech, high-volume production. At Anheuser-Busch’s 12 US-based breweries, the process happens on a massive industrial scale. But it closely follows the same essential brewing steps used for centuries of beer making.
Milling is the process of cracking the barley malt into smaller pieces called grist. This allows water to more easily access the starches inside the barley and rice. Budweiser uses a combination of 70% barley malt and 30% rice.
The rice undergoes milling at Anheuser-Busch’s Jonesboro facility before being shipped to breweries. Barley malt is milled on-site immediately before mashing. This helps preserve freshness. Powerful roller mills gradually crush the grains while keeping husks intact.
During mashing, the milled grains are mixed with hot water in large mash tuns. Enzymes activated during the malting process convert barley and rice starches into fermentable sugars. The main sugars are maltose and glucose.
Mashing happens through a series of temperature-controlled rests. A protein rest helps break down proteins that can cause haze. Next, a saccharification rest activates starch-converting enzymes. The resulting sweet liquid is called wort.
Lautering is the process of separating the spent grains from the sweet wort. In the past, Anheuser-Busch used a specialized machine called a Strainmaster for this. But today, lauter tuns with false bottoms or filters are employed.
The grain bed itself acts as a filter medium as the wort is drained off. This clarified wort is very sweet from all the converted sugars. The grains are rinsed to extract any remaining sugars before being discarded.
The wort is then transferred to a brew kettle and boiled vigorously. Hops are added at this stage to impart bitterness, flavor, and aroma. Boiling sterilizes the wort, stops enzymatic activity, and concentrates wort sugars and hop flavors.
Budweiser boils its wort for around 1.5-2 hours. This extended boil helps drive off sulfur compounds and volatiles from hops that could cause off-flavors. It leaves mostly bitterness and subtle hop essence.
After boiling, the hopped wort is cooled rapidly and aerated before yeast is added. This oxygenation helps the yeast multiply quickly. The cooled wort is then pumped into large fermentation tanks.
Budweiser uses a bottom-fermenting lager yeast (likely S. pastorianus) that ferments at cooler 45-48°F temperatures. Fermentation takes approximately 7-10 days. The yeast consumes sugars and makes alcohol and CO2 as byproducts.
Once active fermentation completes, Budweiser undergoes conditioning for 21 days total at cold temperatures. This extended lagering allows yeast to settle out and flavors to smooth out. Undesirable compounds like acetaldehyde and sulfur are reduced.
During lagering, Budweiser is stored in horizontal tanks and saturated with CO2. Tanks feature beechwood chips that help absorb off-flavors. This is where Budweiser gets its signature “beechwood aged” character. The result is incredibly clean, crisp beer.
After conditioning, the beer moves to packaging. Budweiser is put into kegs, bottles, and cans at extremely high speeds. Bottled Budweiser undergoes flash pasteurization to stabilize it whereas draft beer does not.
Finished Budweiser contains approximately 5% alcohol by volume. It’s served ice-cold, showcasing its pale golden color and snow-white, frothy head – a true classic American lager!
Why Budweiser Tastes the Way it Does
Now that you understand the ingredients and brewing process behind Budweiser, it makes sense why it tastes the way it does. Here are some of the key reasons Budweiser has its light, crisp character:
- High rice content adds subtle sweetness while lightening body and finish
- Extensive boiling drives off hop oils leaving clean, muted bitterness
- Cool fermentation with lager yeast produces highly drinkable, neutral flavor
- Long aging smooths out off-flavors and improves clarity
- Beechwood aging helps absorb sulfur compounds and volatiles
- Neutral water profile lets malt and rice sweetness shine
While brewing technology has evolved, the core philosophy behind Budweiser has stayed remarkably consistent through the decades. It emphasizes drinkability through a refreshing, easy-drinking profile. The brewing process is engineered to produce the trademark light body and mild flavors American lager drinkers love.
Comparison of Budweiser to Other Major Beer Brands
|Beer||Style||ABV||Key Ingredients||Brewing Process||Flavor Notes|
|Budweiser||American Adjunct Lager||5%||Barley, rice, hops, water, yeast||Extended boiling, long lagering, beechwood aging||Crisp, light, mild sweetness, low hop aroma|
|Heineken||Euro Pale Lager||5%||Barley, hops, water, yeast||Cool fermentation, short lagering||Slight maltiness, moderate bitterness, herbal hops|
|Guinness||Irish Dry Stout||4.2%||Barley, roast barley, hops, water, yeast||Top-fermenting ale yeast, nitrogenated||Rich dark maltiness, coffee notes, creamy texture|
|Corona||Mexican Pale Lager||4.6%||Barley, hops, water, yeast||Simple brewing, no lagering||Mild maltiness, low bitterness, light fruity esters|
|Sam Adams Boston Lager||American Amber Lager||5%||Barley, hops, water, yeast||Long lagering||Caramel and toasty maltiness, moderate bitterness|
|Sierra Nevada Pale Ale||American Pale Ale||5.6%||Barley, caramel malt, hops, water, yeast||Dry hopping||Prominent citrus and pine hoppiness, bready malt backbone|
FAQs about Budweiser
Why does Budweiser use rice in its recipe?
Rice is used as an adjunct in Budweiser to lighten the body and finish of the beer. Since rice doesn’t contain proteins or strong flavors like barley malt, it thins out the mouthfeel and creates a crisp, refreshing beer. The rice content is a major factor in Budweiser’s signature light, drinkable profile.
What type of hops are used in Budweiser?
Budweiser uses a blend of noble hop varieties like Hallertau, Saaz, and Tettnanger. These German and Czech hops impart subtle floral, spicy, or herbal notes. Budweiser focuses more on clean bitterness rather than prominent hop aroma.
What is the alcohol content of Budweiser?
Original Budweiser contains 5% alcohol by volume (ABV). This is moderate strength for a lager. There are also lower alcohol versions like Budweiser Prohibition Brew which contains 0.5% ABV.
How long is Budweiser aged during production?
Budweiser undergoes a total of 21 days of fermentation and lagering (aging). Most beers only require a couple weeks, but the extended time helps Budweiser achieve extremely clean flavors.
What is beechwood aging that Budweiser uses?
During lagering, Budweiser tanks are lined with beechwood strips. The beechwood helps absorb sulfur compounds and other volatiles. This is where Budweiser gets its subtle “beechwood aged” character.
Is Budweiser brewed and sold in other countries?
Yes, Budweiser is brewed locally under license in over 20 countries around the world. However, the recipes are slightly tweaked based on local tastes and ingredients. Only Budweiser brewed in the US can officially use the name.
Has the Budweiser recipe changed much over the years?
Remarkably, Budweiser’s core recipe has remained largely consistent since first introduced in 1876. The ingredients and brewing process honor the original approach while incorporating modern technology and quality control. This consistency is key to Budweiser’s identity.
Budweiser has earned its reputation as the quintessential American lager through a relentless focus on quality ingredients, technical innovation, and delivering a consistent product. Its refreshing flavor profile makes it the perfect accompaniment to a hot summer day or evening out with friends. Even among more craft-oriented beer connoisseurs, Budweiser’sstanding as an influential piece of American brewing history remains rock solid.