Sometimes I think that it must be hard being Budweiser.
On the surface, that sounds ridiculous. After all, Budweiser, by their own website’s admission, is the best selling beer in Canada. Bud Light is further down the list, but it’s still extremely popular. They command a pretty sizeable portion of the market and that market share is based primarily on the fact that these products are a known quantity. A Budweiser in Espanola is going to taste the same as a Budweiser in Flin Flon. I don’t know if they have Budweiser in Tuktoyaktuk, but if they do, it’s going to be the same as Budweiser everywhere else.
That creates something of a problem in terms of innovation. If they want to do something new and interesting, it still has to have some of the hallmarks of these two flagship products. The marketing demands it: If your product is the “King of Beers” you can’t discard the elements that make it taste the way it does just for the sake of novelty. A certain percentage of the grist for the beer is always going to be rice. The lagering process is going to involve Beechwood chips. I don’t know that I could pick out either of those things as specific flavours, but I’m assured that they’re there.
The point is that they can’t just up and decide to do something because it seems like a good idea. Not in the way that a much smaller and more flexible brewer might.
In order for Budweiser Crown to come up with a new product, they had to hold a small competition between 12 of their brewmasters in the United States to develop their own versions of Budweiser. These were then evaluated through sampling across the country before they chose a winner and launched the beer. This was known as “Project 12,” which, frankly, is the kind of name that should only be mentioned if you’re going to follow it up with maniacal super villainous laughter.
The result is easily the best thing that Budweiser has done in recent memory. Crown is an Amber Lager that incorporates some very dark caramel malt. It pours a rich copper and the off white head retains its volume nicely. The malt steals the show here as it’s intended to do, creating fairly sweet caramel and toffee flavours with a hint of toasted bread. It manages to stand on its own merit, although some slight additional bitterness would improve the balance. It would almost certainly go well with ribs or incorporated into a barbeque sauce.
Perhaps most importantly, Budweiser has managed to do this the right way. Crown was meticulously market tested to ensure there was a demand for it. It is not pretending to be a craft beer. It expands the Budweiser brand in a new direction without needing a fruit flavour or an expensive metal attached to it.
Jordan St.John writes about beer at saintjohnswort.ca. He’s just as shocked as you are.