The Evolution of America’s Most Famous Beer Label
"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." -- Benjamin Franklin
We take our beer seriously here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Not only is our society a melting pot of cultures from every corner of the Earth, we're a melting pot of beers, too. Those aforementioned cultures brought their beer-making expertise and technology to the New World, and bequeathed it to their posterity. The British and Irish, the French and Spaniards, the German and Austrians, the Belgian and Dutch, the Asians and Africans -- they all contributed to the variety that is American beer today. We've even stolen a few ideas from the ancient Sumerians.
For those of us who prefer our grain liquefied, fermented, and hopped, there's very little about the subject that that isn't interesting -- especially after we've downed a few. You can be sure that everything about it, from how it’s made to who invented it first, has been somberly discussed in the hallowed halls of beerademia, also known as the local bars and backyard barbecues across America. Even packaging has come under the eagle eye of scrutiny -- especially the kind you find attached to glass bottles.
While canned beer is of course acceptable, especially in a pinch, it's the bottled kind that really provides one with the full beer-drinking experience -- particular the bottled kind that comes in the 12-ounce longneck. Not only do you get to enjoy the taste and aroma of a full-bodied ale, there's also the opportunity to examine, pick at, and experiment with the label. Yeah, we've all done it. Let he who is without sin cast the first bottle, right?
Some people even make a habit of collecting beer bottles and their labels. In the spirit of the public interest, then, we thought it was a good idea to provide a generalized history of the evolution of the beer bottle label, from the perspective of a popular beer that is precisely one hundred years younger than our great nation. With no further ado, we give you: the evolution of the Budweiser beer bottle label, complete with graphics.
Bud's First Label -- and Custer's Last Stand
Here we have the original Budweiser Beer label, dating from 1876 -- the year of Custer's ill-fated Last Stand against the Sioux at Little Big Horn. As you can see, the main portion of the label is in German, indicating the beer's Germanic origins. The name itself derives from the city of Budweis in Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic); the beer is brewed in that city's traditional style, although rice was later added to the American version to produce a clearer, lighter finish. "Budweiser" means, simply, "from Budweis."
This label set the standard for all those to come, the major difference being that, in the original, the coat of arms and banner at the top are separate from the main label. Later, they were included together in a one-piece label, all set against a red background. The original pledge on the top banner read, "We guarantee that this beer is brewed especially for our own trade according to the Budweiser process of the best Saazer hops and Bohemian barley and warranted to keep in any climate. Take notice that all the corks are burned with our trade mark."
The Label Comes Together, As Tombstone Falls Apart
The Budweiser label introduced in the early 1880s (around the time the Earps and Clantons were fighting it out at the OK Corral) was the first one-piece label, and while a modern Bud drinker would find it a bit archaic, it's nonetheless instantly recognizable. The red background appears for the first time, as does the eagle motif (though it would evolve substantially over time). Also new is the large print on either side of the white portion of the label, which initially read "ORIGINAL AS DECREED BY THE COURTS" on the left side and "ONLY GENUINE AS DECREED BY THE COURTS" on the right.
Both Lady Liberty and Bud Unveil a New Pledge
By 1886 (the year the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York Harbor), the last sentence of the pledge had been changed to read "…branded with our trade mark" rather than "…burned with our trade mark." The print to either side of the main label had come to read "GENUINE AS DECREED BY THE COURTS." Also, the label now declared that it was brewed by the "Anheuser-Busch Brewing Ass'n," rather than Mainz-Gesenheim, the company’s original name.
Big Changes in the Big Apple, Little Tweaks on the Bud Label
Around the same time the New York Subway opened, Budweiser introduced a new label -- although only the most perspicacious Bud drinker would have noticed the difference between it and the previous one. The pledge now read, "We guarantee that this beer is brewed especially for our own trade according to the Budweiser process of choicest Saazer hops, best barley and rice. This beer is brewed in St. Louis and warranted to keep in any climate. Take notice that all corkage bears our trade mark."
The Ford Model T is Introduced, as Bud Speaks the Mother Tongue
By the time Henry Ford's Model T was that latest word in automotive technology (1908), Anheuser-Busch had finally come to realize that very few of its drinkers were fluent in written German, so for the first time the main portion of the label was printed in English. Otherwise, it remained very much the same as before, except that the alcohol content and volume now appeared above the name, a requirement of new federal laws. The last line of the pledge now read, "Take notice that all crowns bear our trade mark," indicating that bottle tops, rather than corks, were now used for closure.
The Great War is Over, and Bud Decides One Head is Better Than Two
As World War I drew to a close, the Budweiser label underwent another minor change that, frankly, only the most eagle-eyed beerologists would have noticed. Suddenly, instead of reading "…brewed from the finest Saazer Hops…" the pledge now read, "…brewed from the Choicest Hops…". Oh, and now the eagle symbols on other side of the label mirrored each other, and were clearly American eagles. Formerly, the one on the right was styled after the doubled-headed Germanic heraldic eagle. It's easy to guess why they changed that one. Note, too, that the crowns on the banner are gone.
Rebooting the Label as Prohibition Comes to an End
In 1920, to the horror of American beer drinkers everywhere, Congress enacted legislation banning the manufacture of alcoholic beverages. The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave rise to Prohibition, an especially dry spell that lasted until 1933. Budweiser survived by manufacturing non-alcoholic cereal bears that tasted beerish but didn't have that kick we all know and love. They got back into gear immediately after the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th (hallelujah!). A new beer era deserved a new label, and the above one was the one we got for Budweiser. With minor exceptions, it's very much like today's label. The Label now read "Budweiser: Brewed by the original Budweiser process from the Choicest Hops, Rice, and Best Barley Malt, Anheuser-Busch, Inc., St. Louis, Mo USA." The text to either side of the label has been streamlined to read, simply, "GENUINE." The second line of the pledge has been amended to read, "…to the Budweiser process of Choicest Hops, Rice, and Best Barley malt."
As America Enters World War II, Major Label Renovations Occur
About the time America got involved in World War II, the Budweiser people changed their label again, putting the "Lager Beer" back into the name. The Label now read, "Budweiser Lager Beer, Brewed by our original process from the Choicest Hops, Rice and Best Barley Malt, BREWED AND BOTTLED BY Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, Mo USA." The alcoholic content and volume declarations had switched sides, and the pledge now read, "This is the famous Budweiser beer brewed in St. Louis especially for our own trade, according to our own original process of Choicest Hops, Rice, and Best Barley malt. It will keep in any climate and is backed by our reputation. Take notice that all crowns bear our trade mark."
A New Eagle has Landed as the Cuban Missile Crisis Erupts
It was 20 years before the Bud label underwent another significant change. By the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the classic Anheuser-Busch eagle superimposed over a large letter "A" had appeared. The main label hand changed, too. Not only was the alcoholic content declaration gone, the last two lines of the label now read, "BREWED AND BOTTLED AT ST. LOUIS, MO., USA BY Anheuser-Busch, Inc." The names of other cities where the beer was brewed, including Newark, Tampa, Los Angeles, and Miami, appeared underneath in smaller capital letters.
First Man on the Moon, New Pledge on the Label
By the time Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, the pledge had become, "This is the famous Budweiser beer. We know of no brand produced by any other brewer which costs so much to brew and age. Our exclusive Beechwood Ageing produces a taste, a smoothness, and a drinkability you will find in no other beer at any price." The rest of the label had evolved just a tad, so that the bottom of the main label now read, "BREWED AND BOTTLED BY Anheuser-Busch, Inc. OF ST. LOUIS, MO AT TAMPA, FLA. ALSO NEWARK, LOS ANGELES, HOUSTON."
Bud is Crowned King, and President Clinton is Re-Elected
The next significant change occurred in the mid 1990s, when the main label was recast entirely in italics and rewritten to read, "Budweiser, King of Beers, Brewed by our original process from the Choicest Hops, Rice, and Best Barley Malt, Anheuser-Busch, Inc., St. Louis, Mo." This represented the first time the sobriquet "The King of Beers" had appeared on the label.
A New Label for the New Millennium
The most recent Budweiser label was introduced in the year 2000. It looks very much like the previous one to the casual glance, but there are a few noticeable differences. First off, note that the eagle symbols have been changed back to the versions used before the early 1960s. The banner is a bit compressed, and now the seal is printed partially with gold lettering; the same is true of the leaves on the banner. Golden barley sprigs and hops leaves have been added between the seal and main label. The "GENUINE" logo to either side of the main label is now in italics, and the text on the label itself is mostly written in cursive, as it was before World War II. In a sense, the label has incorporated the best elements of all previous labels. The pledge has not changed, but the main label now reads simply, "Budweiser, KING OF BEERS, Brewed by our original all natural process using the Choicest Hops, Rice, and Best Barley Malt. Beer • Bier • Cerveza • Birra • Biere"
There's no telling where the Bud label's likely to go after this, but two things are for sure: beerologists the world over will be keeping an eye on it, and we'll definitely let you know what transpires.