History will note that the Busch beer barons were always at home in St. Louis, and now the next generation, William K. Busch, is trying to make some history of his own. His William K. Busch Brewing Company rolled out its signature brands last fall with Kräftig Lager (pronounced Krehf-tig) and Kräftig Light. From everything I’ve heard—and tasted, I might add—Kräftig (the German word for ‘powerful’) is on its way to being a huge success.
While it is being marketed initially in the St. Louis region, Busch intends to push his new brand nationally to compete with the big boys, even Budweiser. Ironically, it was the extremely profitable sale of Busch’s Anheuser-Busch stock to InBev that helped to give him the financial boost to create Kräftig. In addition, he’s working to build a state-of-the-art brewery in downtown St. Louis.
I met Busch, better known as ‘Billy,’ one afternoon at Schneithorst’s in Ladue. The place breathes of Bavarian tradition, with its stone walls, massive fireplace and Mr. Schneithorst’s treasured collection of ancient German beer steins. Billy Busch is right at home here, too, but with his genial nature, flannel shirt and khakis, he would be just as comfortable at places like O’Connell’s on the Southside or Hammerstone’s in Soulard. As we sit down for lunch, one of the Inn’s regulars shouts out from a nearby table, Hey Billy, what’s the name of your new beer? “Kräftig!” he answers back. “Let me buy you gentleman a round!” He’s anxious to hear what they think. “If you can get feedback from guys like that, and they think it’s a good beer, then you know it’s a good beer.” Just like that, Billy Busch made some new friends—that’s something his family has always been pretty good at.
His father was August Anheuser Busch Jr. (most of us remember him as ‘Gussie’). “Making friends is our business—that was a slogan of his,” Billy says. “I grew up having an understanding of how important that is.” Billy was born and raised on the family estate at Grant’s Farm, but he insists it was never an isolated childhood. Growing up, much of his time away from school was spent working on the farm, enjoying the company of the people who worked there, as well as a few hundred or so exotic animals that he helped take care of. “Dad made sure we were out there with the workers during the summer, after school and on weekends,” he remembers. “We learned a pretty strong work ethic by growing up there.”
And while he realized that his dad seemed largerthan- life to most everyone else, he saw Gussie as “just a regular guy”—a regular guy who just happened to own the world’s largest brewery, as well as the Clydesdales, a handful of some of America’s most popular theme parks, and oh yeah, the St. Louis Cardinals. “I don’t think we felt like we were greatly impressed by what he did because he didn’t make us feel that way. We knew he was doing great things, but he was still just a great guy who loved the business and the people and Grant’s Farm and his family.”
Billy takes special care to make sure he tells me the most important thing he learned from his father: Never take shortcuts. Almost 150 years ago, another one of Billy’s forefathers laid down the path that he’s now following.
In 1864, his great-grandfather, Adolphus Busch I, partnered with his father-in-law, Eberhard Anheuser, to create what grew to become a brewing empire and an iconic American company. I asked Billy to imagine what Adolphus I would think about his new venture. “I’m sure he would think it was a natural extension that his greatgrandson would be getting in to the beer business. If it was in his blood, it would be in my blood, too.”