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Budweiser makers use Idaho for farm-to-table beer lesson

Wading through Clark Hamilton’s barley field last week were, from left, Gary Hanning, director of global barley research at Anheuser-Busch; writer Pete Reid; Clark Hamilton, contract farmer for Anheuser-Busch; Ralph Judd, director of raw materials at Anheuser-Busch; Colleen Lucas, Budweiser brand director; and Rob Naylor, brewmaster of Anheuser-Busch’s Research Pilot Brewery.
Wading through Clark Hamilton’s barley field last week were, from left, Gary Hanning, director of global barley research at Anheuser-Busch; writer Pete Reid; Clark Hamilton, contract farmer for Anheuser-Busch; Ralph Judd, director of raw materials at Anheuser-Busch; Colleen Lucas, Budweiser brand director; and Rob Naylor, brewmaster of Anheuser-Busch’s Research Pilot Brewery. Anheuser-Busch

RIRIE Yeast, grain, hops, water.

The core ingredients of beer often are emphasized in advertisements to give the impression that the beer is simple. It always tastes the same, and it’s readily available at stores and watering holes across America.

But the reality of the grain-to-glass process is complicated. During a behind-the-scenes event for beer writers from across the nation July 27, Budweiser showed what goes into a beer, including how much quality control it takes to produce them.

Eastern Idaho, where Budweiser has invested heavily in growers and a malting facility, was the stage for the event.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, Budweiser’s parent company, is the umbrella for more than 200 beer brands, 16 of which are valued at $1 billion or more. In 2014, AB InBev generated $47.1 billion. Its biggest brands, Bud and Bud Light, account for 46 percent of the U.S. beer market.

AB InBev executives flew to Idaho Falls to spend three days showing how much goes into their “simple” beer. The trip centered around a day that started on a contractor’s farm in Ririe and ended at the malt plant south of Idaho Falls.

Dave Maxwell, ABInBev’s director of brewing, said the process starts with breeding barley seed varieties that will produce good beer and be favorable to growers contracting with ABInBev. From there, growers — dealing with the unpredictable nature of, well, nature — work to produce enough grain to brew the No. 1 and No. 3 beers in the world in terms of sales, Bud Light and Budweiser.

“We make Budweiser across the country,” Maxwell said. “Our recipes are the same, our process control is the same. Our goal is to have the Budweiser in California taste the same as it does in New York.”

The homogeneous taste of a Budweiser is a sense of pride for Bud brewers and executives; it’s probably touted more than any other aspect of the brand. But it takes work to be able to stand behind that claim.

Budweiser has 54 breweries around the world and 12 in the U.S. Each week, taste testers sample beer from every Budweiser brewery in North America, and every month they sample beer from every Budweiser brewery in the world.

Brewers at each individual brewery sample the wort — the sweet liquid of a beer before it is boiled, hopped and fermented — of their batches every morning and the beer every afternoon.

But before seed is planted, there needs to be a recipe. That’s where Rob Naylor, head of the Research Pilot Brewery at Anheuser-Busch, located in St. Louis, comes in. Naylor’s job is to tinker. New malt on the market? Brew with it. Get to know its characteristics and how it could interact with other ingredients. The same thing goes for hops and yeast.

Naylor brews two to three times a day, four days a week. He uses a 15-barrel system. Barrels hold 31.5 gallons. Some of the beers are experimental, such as sours or barrel-aged beers that he produced for beer festivals or special events. Others are simply to test ingredients. Those will never see the shelves.

But some of the beers born in the pilot brewery are more familiar, such as Budweiser Select and Bud Light Lime-A-Rita.

Naylor said that even though the bulk of the beer he brews is flushed or distributed to employees, every batch helps train brewmasters on how to use various ingredients.

Budweiser does everything in-house. It produces its own yeast trains and malts its own barley. It contracts growers to produce hops and barley, using ABInBev seed. So when Naylor needs a new ingredient to tinker with, it has to be produced by his co-workers.

Gary Hanning, director of Global Barley Research, works to create new seed varieties, but he also experiments in the malting process at a micro-malt house in Fort Collins, Colo., where they do test runs with 70-gram batches — about 2.5 ounces.

The operation spans the globe. It’s expensive and time-consuming. But when the world’s largest beer company wanted to show American media its operation, it picked a day in Idaho, where nearly half of Anheuser-Busch’s barley comes from.

“The relationship we have with the growers is extremely critical to our success,” Maxwell said. “We can’t do it without them.”

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