Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Anheuser-Busch Resurrects Faust, the 130-Year-Old Beer Named for a St. Louis Legend

Posted By on Wed, Feb 18, 2015 at 7:00 AM

Faust beer, originally brewed in 1884, is only available on tap, and only in St. Louis. | Tom Carlson
  • Faust beer, originally brewed in 1884, is only available on tap, and only in St. Louis. | Tom Carlson

At a long wooden table, Tracy Lauer spreads out a collection of artifacts from a bygone era. An archivist for Anheuser-Busch for the last sixteen years, she's seated in the cavernous brewery beergarden on the southernmost edge of Soulard as dozens of tourists sip their tiny free samples behind her. On the table are a series of beautiful, ornate postcards from between 1900 and 1908, only slightly yellowed, the colors still bright on the thick paper.

One depicts a grand restaurant dining room, awash in a glow from old-fashioned globe lamps. A turn-of-the-century illustration shows a two-story brick building topped with a golden dome; another gives a peek inside at the white tablecloths and lush greenery. In the corners, there's a black-and-white portrait of a square-headed, mustachioed proprietor wearing an inscrutable half smile.

A middle-aged tourist in a bright yellow windbreaker approaches the table, pointing at the postcards. His English is poor, but he knows to ask one thing.

"How much?"

See also: Bottled Wisdom: An Oral History of St. Louis' Craft-Beer Movement

A postcard circa 1900 featuring Tony Faust's Oyster House. | Courtesy Anheuser-Busch
  • A postcard circa 1900 featuring Tony Faust's Oyster House. | Courtesy Anheuser-Busch

Lauer hesitates, surprised by the question. "These actually aren't for sale," she says apologetically. "They're antiques." The man shakes his head, seeming to believe she hadn't understood him.

"How much?" he repeats more forcefully. After several failed attempts to explain, even with assistance from his more fluent daughter, the tourist storms off angrily."There are postcards you can buy in the gift shop over there," Lauer calls after him.

Apparently, even non-St. Louisans are instinctively drawn to the man on the postcard: Anthony (or Tony) Faust, Oyster King. Faust was a restaurateur, not a brewer, but he, the Anheuser-Busch family and the history of St. Louis itself became inextricably linked in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1884, Adolphus Busch himself brewed a beer named Faust Pale Lager after his favorite drinking buddy. For many years, it existed only in the documentation in A-B's massive archives.

Senior St. Louis brewmaster Joel Boisselle, a 26-year veteran of the company in a bright blue Bud Light polo shirt, joins the table, swirling a tall glass of amber beer. He's holding a pint of Faust -- not a 130-year-old Faust, thankfully, but one from a batch brewed just recently, using the old recipes in the archives and the same strain of yeast that has been creating Budweiser lager since its inception. Boisselle also used dry hopping to hit what he calls "the sweet spot."

"It's as close as you can get. Over time, hop varieties change slightly, malt varieties change slightly, and then you've got to scale it up for what we do now," he says. "It's pretty hoppy, with a nice malty sweetness, maybe caramel undertones. It's a real full-bodied beer." Last year A-B debuted Faust, but it was only available to those visiting the brewery or Ballpark Village. This year, it will be on tap at about 100 local bars.

Senior brewer Joel Boisselle, who oversees the St. Louis brewery, says Faust is about as close as you can get to Adolphus Busch's original recipe. | Tom Carlson
  • Senior brewer Joel Boisselle, who oversees the St. Louis brewery, says Faust is about as close as you can get to Adolphus Busch's original recipe. | Tom Carlson

Some might be surprised that A-B, best known for dominating the market with Bud Light and its more recent successes with the sugary pre-mixed margarita line, would be interested in its head brewer fiddling around with a dark ale. The St. Louis brewery produces about 5,000 barrels of Budweiser per day; in contrast, Boisselle has brewed only about 2,000 barrels of Faust so far. Skeptics might be equally surprised to hear Faust is gaining acceptance from St. Louis' beer enthusiast community, some of whom may typically scoff at the idea of drinking an A-B beer.

"Faust is a really nice lager, but it's not what most people would be used to when they think of lager. It's not that real crisp, light beer -- it's definitely more malty. It's what you would've seen 100 years ago, pre-Prohibition with beer," says Mike Sweeney, moderator of the STL Hops site and forum. "It's a really unique kind of beer, because it does give you a taste of what beer would've tasted like 120 years ago."

The beer's revival coincides with St. Louis' 250th anniversary, but there are other, more strategic reasons for Faust's resurrection. Light lager sales have been stagnant, if not declining, in recent years, says Bart Watson, staff economist at the Brewers Association.

"The large brewers are smart companies. They see where the growth is, they see where the demand is: for fuller-flavored products and beers that have that local connection that small brewers can provide," says Watson. "When you look at surveys for why people are buying craft beers, taste and flavor is almost always at the top, but often a close second is some version of, 'I want to buy local products.'"

The re-brewing of Faust hits all the right notes -- not only is it a richer, darker brew with a heftier 5.5 percent ABV, but behind the beer is the man: Tony Faust, a larger than life character whose story is steeped in local history.

"Adolphus Busch and Tony Faust were both these ostentatious Germans, and they lived lavishly and they were snubbed by St. Louis society," says historian Elizabeth Terry, author of Oysters to Angus: Three Generations of the St. Louis Faust Family. "They didn't shy away from being badasses."

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