There were good things and bad things about it. They went by primogeniture — in a way the first-born child was sacrificed to the company. And each had to report to a very powerful figure who was turning over the company to him but not really wanting to let it go.

You describe this great scene in the book after August III orchestrates a palace coup in 1975 to seize control of the A-B board from Gussie. There's so much animosity toward August III that Gussie's male children from his third marriage can't even be in the same room with him. They arrange to meet and air their grievances at a fence separating August III's property from his father's estate. That animosity between the two factions pretty much continues to this day, no?

I don't really think so. It is a very big family. There are a lot of people. August III is a lot older than the Grant's Farm family. He didn't grow up there. He didn't live there. He didn't live with his father much after he was a little kid. So he was never close. He was almost like an uncle. So I don't know if I'd call it animosity. There are perhaps some resentments.

August Busch III (right) enjoys some of his product with Lou Rawls and Frank Sinatra circa 1982.
Zuma Wire
August Busch III (right) enjoys some of his product with Lou Rawls and Frank Sinatra circa 1982.
August Busch Jr., known as "Gussie," guided the brewery from 1946 to 1975.
August Busch Jr., known as "Gussie," guided the brewery from 1946 to 1975.


Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer will be released this month by HarperCollins Publishers. Author William Knoedelseder reads from the book at Left Bank Books' Central West End store (399 North Euclid Avenue; 314-367-6731) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 13.

I think it's too simple to say there are just two sides to the family. There are many sides and a lot of different opinions. The six surviving Grant's Farm children [Adolphus IV, Beatrice, Peter, Gertrude, Billy, Andrew], for example, don't necessarily agree with what will happen with the farm. It's worth a lot of money, so there's disagreement.

Everyone wants to know the inside story of how InBev was able to acquire Anheuser-Busch and why the family couldn't block the sale. You present numerous reasons in the book. For starters, the Busch family only owned about 4 percent of the stock. Most St. Louisans probably lay the blame on August IV, who was in charge at the time of the merger and characterized as aloof and inexperienced. But you suggest August III is the one who made the company vulnerable.

Conventional wisdom is August III made a mistake in not expanding more aggressively internationally. He had his reasons for doing that. He had done a big diversification effort earlier in his career that didn't go well, and he wasn't confident about letting go of control. You can't control everything if you have all these partners all over the world. I think he probably wondered: What happens to the product quality and the tradition? He was really caught up in the tradition. He would pull out letters from his grandfather and read them for insight.

But to say it's any one person's fault for the acquisition is probably not correct. Had August IV been a stronger president — keep in mind, he was in there four or five years before becoming CEO — it may have been different. He was given a job that was beyond him, but it may have been beyond anyone to keep the company independent at that point. And he clearly took it really personally. He was devastated and felt he was going to be blamed: He was the one who had to turn over the keys.

Despite all the warning signs about August IV that you outline — the womanizing, the partying, the drug use — why did August III endorse his son's purported business and marketing acumen, setting the course for his succession to CEO? Why did the company perpetuate the myth that it was "The Fourth" who came up with Budweiser's famous frog commercials, even though an advertising agency dreamed up the concept?

I think it has a lot to do with history and the history of the family. This is nickel psychology on my part, but August III deposed his own father, Gussie. At the time, Gussie was the most powerful man in town. It took serious balls to do that. And as much of a problem as that caused the family, years later they all agreed it was the right thing to do. Gussie was having a breakdown. He had just lost his youngest daughter, Christina, in a car wreck. He was drinking. He was erratic.

August deposed him because he wanted the company to succeed. But do you think he didn't carry that throughout his life? So when it came time to judge whether his son was good enough, he kept doubling down on the bloodline. It's in the history of Busch men. Every one of them had a history of sowing their oats and being the playboy. But prior to August IV, they all — sometimes by dictate — eventually settled down and ran the living shit out of the company. I think he kept thinking August would pull it together. He had faith in him. But it didn't happen. Then I think he was faced with the decision: Do I do to my son what I did to my dad? What a tough decision to make. I cut him some slack for that.

The book includes an interview with Ron Benson, the sheriff's deputy who investigated the late-night, single-car accident in which Michele Frederick was ejected from the passenger's seat of August IV's Corvette while he was attending the University of Arizona. Was Benson surprised when another young woman — Adrienne Martin — died under mysterious circumstances in August IV's presence a quarter-century later?

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