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Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer Paperback – January 7, 2014

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: HarperBusiness (January 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062009273
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062009272
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 5.2 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (306 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Bitter Brew deftly chronicles the contentious succession of kings in a uniquely American dynasty. You’ll never crack open a six again without thinking of this book.” (John Sayles, Director of "Eight Men Out" and author of A Moment in the Sun)

“As the Busch family goes, so goes America. Bill Knoedelseder has taken their multi-generational saga and boiled it down into a heartfelt, hilarious ode to beer, baseball and business.” (Michael London, Academy Award-nominated producer of "Sideways")

“A great American story told as well and it could be told. I’ll never drink a Bud the same way again.” (Larry Leamer, bestselling author of the Kennedy family trilogy, The Kennedy Women, The Kennedy Men and Sons of Camelot)

“An engrossing behind-the-scenes look at one of America’s most successful and familiar brands.” (Kirkus)

“[A] thoroughly researched and thoughtfully written book.” (Publishers Weekly)

“…well-written, and thoroughly documented company history…VERDICT A real-life family saga, this book is full of domestic and company details, some of which are sordid, others commendable. Recommended for readers interested in the backstory behind the King of Beers.” (Library Journal)

“An engrossing saga of the Busch family, one of the wealthiest, longest-lasting, and most colorful family dynasties in the history of American commerce.” (USA Today)

“[I]ntoxicating reading... This is a lurid, fascinating tale, which narrowly escapes the charge of being sensationalist thanks to its factual grounding and the significance of its subject-a family business that managed to dominate an industry but could not get its own dysfunction under control.” (Wall Street Journal)

“[An] engaging narrative.” (Daily Beast)

From the Back Cover

Stretching across three centuries, from the start of the Civil War through Prohibition to today, Bitter Brew is the engrossing, often scandalous saga of one of the wealth- iest and most colorful dynasties in American commerce: the Busch family of St. Louis, Missouri, the founders of the legendary Anheuser-Busch company. The critically acclaimed journalist William Knoedelseder tells the story of how the Busch patriarchs turned a small brewery into a multibillion dollar international corporation and trans- formed their product, Budweiser, into the iconic "King of Beers." He paints a fascinating portrait of immense wealth and power accompanied by scandal, heartbreak, tragedy, and untimely death. A cautionary tale of prosperity, hubris, and loss, Bitter Brew is also a revealing chronicle of American progress and decline over the past 150 years.

More About the Author

William Knoedelseder is a veteran journalist and best-selling author who honed his investigative and narrative skills during 12 years as a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times, where his ground breaking coverage of the entertainment industry produced a long string of exposes. His two-year investigation of payola and other corrupt practices in the record business sparked five federal grand jury investigations across the country, led to the arrest and conviction of a score of organized figures and formed the basis of his first best-selling book, Stiffed: A True Story of MCA, the Music Business and the Mafia (Harper Collins 1993). Stiffed was named Best Non-Fiction work of 1993 by Entertainment Weekly, which called it "the scariest book of the year...and the funniest." The two of the principal mob figures depicted in Stiffed--New Jersey crime boss Gaetano "Corky" Vastola and Roulette Records founder Morris Levy--subsequently served as the models for HBO's Tony Soprano and his music business mentor Herman "Hesh" Rabkin.
Since 2000, Knoedelseder has written three other books.
In Eddie's Name (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) chronicles the brutal murder of a Philadelphia teenager that made national headlines when Knoedelseder, as executive producer of the Knight Ridder news program Inquirer News Tonight, pressed the city to make public the content of 911 tapes recorded the night of the killing, which ultimately revealed a complete breakdown of Philadelphia's emergency response system;
I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Standup Comedy's Golden Era (Public Affairs/Perseus) recounts Knoedelseder's time as cub reporter covering the L.A. comedy club scene when David Letterman, Jay Leno, Robin Williams and Andy Kaufman were young and undiscovered. It has been optioned for film by actor Jim Carrey.
Knoedelseder's latest, Bitter Brew: the Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer, tells the riveting story of one of our nation's most colorful and longest lasting business dynasties. Called "intoxicating reading," by The Wall Street Journal, the book became a New York Times best seller and has been optioned by Lionsgate Television in association with Michael London, the Oscar-nominated producer of Sideways.
Knoedelseder is currently at work on his third book for Harper Collins, Fins, about the life and times of Harley Earl, the visionary car designer who helped engineer the phenomenal rise of General Motors.

Customer Reviews

I found this book to be very interesting and well written.
Amazon Customer
The writer tells the Busch story well, from arrival in America, and St. Louis, to how the family lived.
This was one of those books that you do not want to put down until it is finished.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Sean MacMillan on December 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wow - I never thought I would say a book about Anheuser-Busch brewing history would be a page turner but I'm happily wrong. The story hits on all cylinders in my opinion. Yes, it's a story filled with scandal about a really colorful family. But it's more than that. It talks to what I think is wrong with today's corporate culture as well. How businesses in this country started out good but have become corrupted over the years. Through the good and bad, the Busch family played a major part in the American business landscape. It was great to see the whole story unfold and tough to see the kingdom come down in the end. Bill does a great job of setting the table and keeping your interest throughout the book. I'm not kidding when I say you won't want to put this down.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Susan K. Schnirring on November 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I live in the metropolitan St. Louis area and the Busch family is part of the culture and history here. I found this book to be intriguing and a bit sad as well. Money really cannot buy you happiness and this book tells the family's tragic story. Well written and engrossing. I literally could not put it down.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Eric San Juan VINE VOICE on November 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover
More a biography of the Busch family than it is a book about their beer empire, it was compelling nonetheless, with sons conspiring against fathers, orgies, and the final, tragic and sad collapse of the empire when their drug-addict CEO, after having pushed his dad out of the way, let the company fall out of Busch hands for the first time in 150 years.

As a longtime beer geek I enjoyed this more than I expected. I should have disliked it, largely because I expected to be reading about the beer industry and instead ended up reading about a quirky, unusual family. Didn't matter, though, because their story was so compelling I didn't CARE that my expectations were thrown off.

If you want a book on the beer industry, this one is fairly light (though there is some worthwhile material here), but if you want a book on the rise and fall of American royalty, this is it.
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful By groucho33 on March 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I looked forward to reading this book and it is in fact an enjoyable read. But...

You may know that Anheuser-Busch owned the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team for over 40 years. There are of course many references to the team in the book -- how its purchase came about, the players, the successes, the flops. And as a baseball historian, I'm fairly familiar with much of this part of the story.

So it bothers me as I read the book (halfway through) to find errors among the most simple things. The author calls outfielder Curt Flood a Hall of Famer. Curt Flood is NOT a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The author also spells Dal Maxvill's last name "Maxville" and calls him a second baseman (both in the same sentence). Maxvill played only 185 games at second base, 1,207 at shortstop.

These are simple things, easily researchable and verifiable. And you may think I'm nitpicking. But when I find errors about the things I KNOW about, I start to wonder what errors are in the other 95 percent of the book in regard to subjects I'm not as familiar with. How many mistakes are there in the references to the running of the brewery, and people's private lives?

I find this more and more in non-fiction books these days. The author doesn't do his or her homework and the editors don't do their jobs.

As a point of reference, the copy I'm reading is a first edition and you can find the errors referred to above on pages 81 and 111.
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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Howard Park on November 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is really good. I just wanted more and hope it's not the last word about the rise and fall of the Anhauser-Busch and the extended Busch family, the royal family of St. Louis and their castle on Grant's Farm. It is the best post-WWII chronicle to date of the company and to a lesser extent of St. Louis itself. Every page is replete with larger than life characters and urban legends that have been whispered about in St. Louis for decades.

If August A. Busch III ever tells his story it would be fascinating but given the sad, sad story of his son "The Fourth" I can understand if he remains silent. Telling the truth might amount to kicking a man while he is down. Hopefully, there will be a book some day about the comeback, personally and professionally, of August A. Busch IV.

"Bitter Brew" largely glosses over the early years of the brewery and the culture that produced one of the world's most recognizable brands. It also just touches upon the descent of the company since the InBev takeover as necessary cost cutting has replaced tradition and what built Budweiser in the first place. One can make a case that InBev saved the company from itself and at least there is no evidence that they have compromised on quality. I would have also liked it to address issues such as the battles over the original Budvar brewery in the Czech Republic and Gussie Busch's role as a civic leader who helped St. Louis avoid racial riots in the 1960's. A full scale biography of Gussie would be at the top of my Christmas wish list. In the meantime "Bitter Brew" will leave the reader, especially anyone interested in the beer business or family dynasties thirsty for more, just like a guy who wants more than one Budweiser after a hard days work. I could not put this book down.
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