A week ago, at an obscure bar in Hamburg, I saw American Budweiser on the menu for the first time since living here. Filled with nostalgia, I ordered it.
This feeling of affinity is not just mine; surely every American recognizes the Budweiser logo. Through its commercials, the beer has made its way into each one of our hearts. The Clydesdale horses took a bow before the New York cityscape in a 2001 commercial. In another advertisement — where a colt attempts to pull the massive weight of the Budweiser wagon alone — the evocation of the American cowboy mentality and the stick-to-itiveness of the Protestant work ethic make us proud.
From the mighty Clydesdale to the croaking frogs to the annoying telephone-screamers (Wassaaaaaahhhh!), Budweiser has imbedded itself into our collective American understanding. I’m not here to argue that it is America’s best beer. Far from it. But its presence has become so ubiquitous that it would be absurd to watch the Super Bowl without anticipating the Budweiser commercials. It would be absurder still to do so without a nice cold one in hand. Heck, even John McCain has strong ties to the company. There’s no two ways about it: Budweiser is America.
If, however, I were to mention the Budweiser Clydesdale at a bar here in Hamburg, my tablemates would look at me with blank faces. With the exception of a select few German bars, Budweiser and all of its connotations are absent from the country. They do not relate to it as we Americans do. In fact, they tend to make fun of it as another low-grade American beer hardly more flavorful than water.
How can this be if Budweiser is owned by Europeans?
Last July, Budweiser announced that it had been sold to the Belgian-Brazilian brewing conglomerate InBev. It was bought after over a month of negotiations, originally stemming from an unsolicited bid made by InBev in early June. Although Budweiser fought the good American fight, scoffing at the mere $46.3 billion offered last month, they finally gave in when the prize got as high as $52 billion (and after they cut 1,185 American jobs). Though they managed to get two executives on the InBev board and their name in the title (now Anheuser Busch InBev), the company has become European.
Why shouldn’t Budweiser sell itself to Europe? Sure the United States may be the second largest beer consumer in the world (next to China), but why does that mean we should own any of our beers? We haven’t owned most of the traditionally American breweries for some time. Miller has been owned by the South Africans since 1999 and Coors was bought out by the British in 2005. Why should Budweiser be any different? The economy is in the crapper anyway; why not keep selling off our major industries?
This situation is telling of the state of the world. When I moved to Austria in 2005, I was genuinely worried about the response I would get in Europe as an American. This was just a year after Team America: World Police hit theaters and most of the world regarded us with disdain. At that point, America still had a relatively stable economy, the majority of the citizenry still believed in their president (at least that is what the election had proved), and the world generally seemed to see us as the world power we thought we were.
We were the best country in the world, without apologies. We did what we wanted, when we wanted. Budweiser was so strong then that it defeated the Czech Republic in a fight over the legal name Budweiser, despite the fact that the Czechs used the name first, and brewed their beer in the Budweis region of the country.
In 2008, it seems that there are no real reasons to fight America. With the dollar falling at times below the Canadian dollar, I hear stories of excited Germans buying €300 plane tickets to fly to New York with empty suitcases to fill with cheap goods. George Bush is now televised biking through Southern Germany instead of saying “mission accomplished” in his flight suit, and Barack Obama admits American deficiencies in foreign politics to a group of 200,000 Europeans in Berlin.
The America I used to know has grown more docile over the last few years. I noticed it during my last tour back in the U.S. It was a tangible feeling in the air. It seems that the slip in our hegemonic status has forced us to learn new words like “alternative energy” and “international cooperation,” words that we’ve tried to keep out of our vocabulary for some time. We suddenly need to make these undesirable things called “compromises” that those other countries used to make.
Oh, America, where have you gone?
To top it off, Budweiser will now be shipped to Europe, where it will have to give up its name to the Czech brewery. In some nineteen European countries, Budweiser will hide behind the label of Bud or Anheuser-Busch Bud. Disgraceful.
On a positive note, at least we still own 50% of Grupo Modelo, the Mexican brewing conglomerate responsible for Corona.
Read more from The Rambling American.