Last spring, Anheuser-Busch went on a mission. They launched Project 12, a challenge (as they say) to their brewmasters around the country to come up with a new, bolder Budweiser beer. Their brewmasters responded, and the resulting beers were offered up for sampling at special events at Anheuser-Busch breweries. Last fall, four were selected from the 12 and sold 3 bottles each in a “Project 12” sampler pack.
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The ultimate goal of Project 12, however, only became clear in early 2013, when one entry from the Project 12 sampler was selected above them all. An all-malt amber lager with a darker hue than your average megabrew, the beer was named Budweiser Black Crown and released to the public in mid-January in six-packs, 22-ounce bottles, and on draft.
Clearly, Anheuser-Busch is addressing the ever-increasing demand for flavorful, quality craft beers with Budweiser Black Crown. That’s not to say that Black Crown is anything like a microbrew: it isn’t. Still, it is a step in that direction for the once-icon of the American brewing industry.
Microbrews and craft beers, along with resurgent regional brewers like Yuengling, have clearly been eating into Anheuser-Busch’s market share. Sales are down drastically on beers like Michelob, almost to the point where it is a non-entity. People are trading up, and drinking better beers like Samuel Adams or locally brewed specialties.
In fact, Budwesier Black Crown isn’t all that new an idea from Anheuser-Busch. Several years ago, the brewing behemoth launched an all-malt Michelob beer that tasted not all that dissimilar to Budweiser Black Crown. And why should it? The two are really only the same old American lagers minus adjuncts and with an extra dash of specialty malt. To be fair, Black Crown is a little higher in alcohol content at 6%.
Budweiser Black Crown pours to a bright golden orange color with a thick creamy head and a slightly biscuity malt nose that also holds a bit of green apple. Sipping, I get a light hint of caramel and toasted malt up front and a bit of creaminess, too. The label touts the smoothness of the beer, and I do get that in the texture as well as the flavor. That makes this a beer with more flavor than classic Bud, yet still a high degree of drinkability.
Towards the finish there is some of that acetaldehyde green apple aroma I picked up in the nose, the hallmark of classic Budweiser. It’s clear Anheuser-Busch wants drinkers to know they’re drinking a Bud. Like classic Bud, Budweiser Black Crown is also Beechwood aged.
So what’s missing? The hops, of course. The beer is still sorely lacking in the hop department, even if it does have a much better malt profile than any Bud beer I’ve ever tasted. That’s by design, of course; the idea is to give Bud drinkers something to step up to without scaring them away at the same time. This certainly isn’t a beer craft beer drinkers will flock to.
Unlike all-malt Michelob, Budweiser Black Crown has the luxury of sporting the Budweiser name. That’s not a guarantee of success, of course; witness Budweiser Select and Budwesier American Ale if you don’t agree. Look for a large marketing campaign to improve the odds here, with a kickoff during this year’s Superbowl. There is a degree of risk here, too. Once Bud drinkers get a taste of Black Crown, what’s to stop them from going to Yuengling or Samuel Adams Boston Lager from there?
All in all, though, I’ll admit that Budweiser Black Crown is a step in the right direction. It’s a better beer than Budweiser, and reasonably priced at $6.99 a six-pack.