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Review: 'Bitter Brew' goes down smoothly

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 13, 2012 - The latest to tell the story of the rise and fall of Anheuser-Busch is William Knoedelseder, who will be at Left Bank Books tonight to talk about and sign "Bitter Brew."

The St. Louis native, who lives in southern California, did not get interviews with August Busch III or IV, but other family members and former brewery employees did open up.

What is the take-away message? The kings of beer all had their mistresses but the one -- the only one -- that counted lived on Pestalozzi Street. Until August IV, the Busches at the brewery's helm put the beer first. And perhaps that single-minded focus on keeping Budweiser No. 1 at the expense of family finally led to the family losing control.

And August IV? Knoedelseder recounts the well-known problems, including the drug overdose death of Adrienne Martin in the armed Huntleigh fortress. He also tells of the last beer baron being seen at a Sam's Club this spring dressed in baggy jeans, white T-shirt and Crocs. The book makes clear that drug problems were long standing, but Knoedelseder can only ask and offer psychological theories as to why August III, who was so precise and so controlling of his brewery was unable to see that his son was not up to taking control.

The book does make it clear that August IV had a dysfunctional relation with his father that paralleled the relationship August III had with Gussie. And it indicates that no one might have been able to stop the Brazilians from taking over A-B.

The well-written "Bitter Brew" moves quickly. (One nit: A St. Louisan could have been a proofreader.) If it's the only book you read about the history of the Busch family and the brewery you will have a good sense of what has gone on.

I have to say, however, that more detail, especially about the early years of Anheuser-Busch, is provided in "Under the Influence" by Terry Ganey and Peter Hernon, which has recently be updated and rereleased.

Donna Korando started work in journalism at SIU’s Daily Egyptian in 1968. In between Carbondale and St. Louis Public Radio, she taught high school in Manitowoc, Wis., and worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the copy editor and letters editor for the editorial page from 1973-77. As an editorial writer from 1977-87, she covered Illinois and city politics, education, agriculture, family issues and sub-Saharan Africa. When she was editor of the Commentary Page from 1987-2003, the page won several awards from the Association of Opinion Page Editors. From 2003-07, she headed the features copy desk.

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