In some respects, one could consider Michelob Anheuser-Busch’s craft brand (if you’d like to take it that far).
Sure, they pump out millions upon millions of barrels of watery, adjunct-laden fizzy beer like Michelob Golden Draft Light, Michelob Ultra (yikes), and the ill-conceived Michelob Ultra Lime Cactus. But, like most of the larger brewers, they’ve flexed their national marketing clout and stolen a page out of the small craft brewers’ playbook to bring out a number of more flavorful beers, catering to what I’d call a transitional craft consumer…folks that reflexively walk into a liquor store to buy their standard case of [insert macro swill here], and instead walk out with a six pack of something like Shock Top. Are they realistically going to sway the 4% of the market that actively seeks out higher quality offerings from small, independent craft brewers? Unlikely, and it’s clearly not their goal. But the sheer volume of A-B’s captive audience makes the marketing proposition for the rest of the beer drinking public a good one for them.
At GABF, I had the chance to attend a private tasting with Michelob to sample a number of their new and experimental beers, including the recently introduced Michelob Rye Pale Ale, which just hit the Twin Cities market within the past couple weeks. Rye P.A. fits neatly into this oxymoronic category of macro craft, and to my own surprise, I found it to be actually pretty darn good.
According to Adam Goodson, their head brewmaster I spoke with, they brew with caramel and other specialty grains (he left out what I suspect is the main part of the grain bill…corn or rice), and you certainly pick up a very rich, toffee-like malt flavor that’s complemented by the spicyness of the rye. They also use five different hop varieties including Cascade and Columbus that put it on par with a number of more notable pale ales and IPAs on the market at 50 IBUs. However, I hesitate to call this a straight up IPA, as in addition to rye they also add grains of paradise for a nice pepper note in the aroma, and condition on a bed of juniper berries for a very faint acidic note in the finish. Overall, a pretty interesting beer.
In addition to the commercially available Rye P.A., I also sampled a handful of their experimental beers that aren’t on the market (and likely never will be), including a pear ale and a doppelbock. According to Goodson, at any given time Michelob has between ten to fifteen different beers working their way through the development cycle, with possibly one or two ever seeing the light of day. The pear ale was interesting, fairly light with just a hint of the pear in the aroma, but seemed more like some of their other standard offerings that had been gently infused with pear extract. The doppelbock was a winner, in my opinion, with a nice malty backbone and caramelized flavoring. Of any of the developmental beers, I’m hoping this one makes the cut.
While I perused the beers, I also chatted with Florian Kuplent, an incredibly nice and intelligent guy who leads Michelob’s yeast development group, and learned about the company’s ongoing research that includes a library of more than 300 unique strains, including a handful of Brettanomyces. Interestingly, they used one of these Brett strains for their single experimental barrel of Michelob Brett (seriously), one of the better beers I had at the Denver Rare Beer Tasting charity event during GABF (more to come on that).