In Jacksonville, Florida, there is a rather larger brewery in town. Its the home of one of many Budweiser Breweries and they invite you to take a free tour with them and share a free beer or two. Who am I to turn down a free drink (even though I would not consider myself a Budweiser fan, not by a long shot)? I thought it would be interested to at least check it out and see what it was all about.
The entrance to the tour and brewery gift shop is clearly marked, with separate parking and a separate entrance from the main brewery. I entered into a small room with a brochure rack and a small desk with a greeter. They told me that a tour had just started and that I was welcome to join in. Up an elevator and down a long hallway overlooking large vats of beer, there is the beginning of the tour. A video on how beer, and Budweiser specifically, is made starts the tour off. There were several rows of seats, holding the tour group of about 12 people.
After the video, our tour guide, John, walked us down what looked to be a long hallway with lots of historic pictures along the way. He began telling us the interesting history of Anheuser-Busch, which began with a wealthy soap maker, Anheuser and a poor immigrant from Germany, Adolphus Busch, the 21st of 22 children and their common interest in the beer industry way back in the 19th century. Moving along in the tour, John explained the many different people in the Anheuser-Busch family (Busch married Anheuser's daughter to make it a true family owned business) to where they are today, with the company still being run by the descendants of Busch.
As well as Budweiser history, more detail on the brewing process was explained. We were shown the vats where the fermentation process begins, using Beachwood chips (which are eventually turned into mulch, used throughout the brewery property and other local areas). I couldn't help but think as we looked onto the rows of vats of the movie, Strangebrew, with Rick Moranis- but I digress. They explained about all the quality control that goes on with their beers, but most of that was behind the scenes, and the majority of the brewing process was not actually shown.
Continuing down the long hallway, John talked about the many years of advertising and how the Anheuser-Busch company grew to have a hand in many different businesses, including a railroad company that they still own and operate today. I had to laugh when looking back at some of the old advertising from the 70's and 80's that I still remember- yikes, I felt a little dated! Nonetheless, we learned about the history of the now famous Clydesdale horses. Apparently, on the day of the repeal of prohibition, the son of Augustus Busch, who was the head of the company at the time, gave him an imported Clydesdale horse. On his death bed, Augustus said that the horse was the best gift he ever received (or was it just that it reminded him of the repeal of Prohibition??). He set aside funds that are still used to this day to care for the Budweiser Clydesdale horses. Apparently, you will never see a dirty Clydesdale owned by Anheuser-Busch.
After the history, marketing, and brew making is discussed on the tour, we moved along to the bottling and packaging area of the brewery. Here, I was quite reminded of the opening sequence of Laverne and Shirley. The bottles are too many to count and it's amazing how much actually goes into making the beer that is sent out to be consumed by Joe, Dick, Harry and my dad. I could have stayed and watched the packaging process all day, but we were moved on to the hospitality room, which wasn't bad as well.
The hospitality room is full of tables, even couches and a fireplace and oh, yeah, you get free beer here too! John left us at this point and we were able to order anything off of the displayed beers. They had your typical selection of Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Busch, Natural Light (for those college boys, I guess) in bottles, as well as beer on tap and some pretty good pale ales and other organic beers. They had some of the Peels wine coolers available for those who want a drink, but don't want beer and Coke products were available for those on the tour under 21. Pretzels were offered as a munchy. Two free drinks are available, but not at once and they will ID you if you even remotely look under 30 (weee, I got carded!), so be prepared to have your ID ready if you are going to partake. While enjoying your drink, you can play a game of foosball or just relax and watch the plasma screen TVs showing all the new Budweiser commercials (in case you missed the Superbowl).
I don't believe they will serve you more than two drinks (even if you want to pay for it) and other tour groups will eventually come in as well. I stayed for a bit, and then left to check out the bottling and packaging area again. Ok fine, I'm a freak, but it really was cool! The gift shop was so-so. If you like NASCAR, there were some interesting items, and if you want a Budweiser label for a bathing suit, you can get it here! If you have no interested in the gift shop, that's pretty much the end of the line for the tour. A ramp leads you back to the main entrance of the tour. There is a large replica of a Budweiser Clydesdale horse that you can take pictures with (but don't sit on him, it's against the rules!).
Everyone was super friendly on the Budweiser Brewery tour and although it seemed like there wasn't a whole lot of opportunity to ask questions, our guide, John really covered everything well, so I didn't have any questions, which was nice. The entire facility was wheelchair accessible and restrooms were available near the Hospitality Room. In all, the tour lasted about 30 minutes (not including the drinking time) and was 100% free- hard to believe, I know. Tours are available every half hour. If you are in Jacksonville and have the time, this is a fun and educational (about beer) tour.
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