This post first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: July 31, 2008 - Lou Dersch, 83, is looking for his first book contract. This isn't an idle pursuit, though, as his memoir of life in the brewing industry -- "Beer, Bubbles & Bucks" -- is already printed up, with 200 copies coming off the plates and distributed around town to friends, family and associates from his near-two-decade run as a top ad man at Anheuser-Busch.
The remainder of those first editions, well, he's shipping them around, hopeful that a publisher will take a flyer on the work, which chronicles the corporate culture of A-B from the mid-'60s to his departure from the company at the dawn of the 1980s. (Dersch worked with East Coast brewers before joining A-B and the Michelob label in 1964, which he touches on in early chapters.) In writing on the topic, he also, naturally, adds a personal history of living in St. Louis during those decades.
Though he couldn't have timed matters in this way, his energetic and colorful accounts of life inside the brewing giant on Pestalozzi come at an obviously interesting time to veteran watchers of Anheuser-Busch. With the company about to undertake the painstaking process of folding into InBev, Dersch's book serves as a valuable reminder of life in A-B during the recent past, a time when executives and worker bees alike seldom did their jobs without a sip of the company product.
In fact, Dersch's tales consistently remind the reader of America's mid-century corporate realities. Distributors and ad men drank and smoked, at will. They had their own Girl Fridays. They played an overt, sophisticated form of personnel chess, while seeking or maintaining the good graces of the Busch family. This fascinating stuff dovetails nicely into the larger A-B story, that of a national player in the brewing biz turning into a world player, with A-B's marketing and promotional approaches at the forefront of the American ad game during that era.
Dersch gives a colorful accounting of the good old days, when beer reps spent their afternoons and evenings (and often their mornings) drinking with their customers, occasionally even engaging in a barroom dust-up. Dersch, himself, was not above the fray, once wrapping one of his charges on the nose, after the distributor left Dersch (literally) holding a massive sign for 45-minutes, while high-up on a ladder. While that's more dramatic touch than many, Dersch writes jingles, watches companions get fired and zings brewery notables like Denny Long, all with an amusing, folksy touch.
Dersch maintains a light touch, until later in the book. Then, his arrows aimed at some co-workers take on a bit more sharpness.
"A friend of mine read it and said, 'it's not severe,'" Dersch says. "I didn't write this book like an expose. It's not a tell-all, gotcha-type of book. I've read that thing a dozen times, and other people say there's nothing that would make anyone upset. It's simply my memories of being in the beer business. They gave me a wonderful life, a great career and a very lucrative one, at times. These are my memories, from the 1950s in Baltimore to when I left in 1980. A lot of years pass by in there.
"I had a wonderful job, most of my time spent working as Director of Sales and Promotion," he adds. "If there was a promotional trip, we went on the trip. It was an exciting and creative job that I loved very much. It was a hard job, but fun."
Dersch could almost say the same about his process of turning memories into a cohesive, start-to-finish narrative. He says that "Beer, Bubbles & Bucks" was a labor, at times, with family members helping him push the work into reality.
"Oh, gosh, I'd been doing it off-and-on for quite a few years," he says. "Until my daughters got involved, I didn't do much with it. But everyone I'd show it to thought it was interesting."
In fact, he jokes that the feedback was too positive. "It was all very good," he jokes. "I tell my daughter Maryanne that your friends and family will lie to you, anyway."
While not as keyed into the industry as he was a few decades ago, Dersch did follow the recent acquisition of A-B by InBev, saying, "I knew it was going to go through. No question about it. When the price appeared in the paper of an offer of $65 a share, I knew they'd go to $70. I think it was time.
"I think the younger Busch (August Busch IV) didn't have as much interest in the beer business. I think the rest of the family didn't have the same passion. August III took after his father. He'd work 20 hours a day, easily. There are many stories about him. He was persistent and worked harder than any employee. If he asked you a question and you didn't know, you'd better not make up something, because he'd know the answer. He was very intelligent, very smart."
Whether those kind of anecdotes - drawn out in longer form in "Beer, Bubbles & Bucks" - get a wider telling ... well, Dersch is willing to wait for just the right fit to come along. For a man who once sold millions of copies of his products, he's now content to look for just one contract, for just one book.
Thomas Crone is a St. Louis freelance journalist.