Although the name of Billy Busch’s line of light, sessionable lagers might sound like the beers belong on store shelves next to craft offerings like Saint Arnold, he’s not marketing them that way.
Busch — yes, that Busch, the great-grandson of the man who turned Anheuser-Busch into a mighty brewing empire starting in the 19th century — is offering Kräftig beers as a more flavorful but still affordable alternative to the mainstream beers of Budweiser and MillerCoors. The pair of beers made by the William K Busch Brewing Co. are now in Texas after Busch found success launching them in Missouri, where the Busch family (including his father, brother and nephew) used to run their business before the InBev takeover in 2008.
“We saw an opportunity in the mainstream segment (of the beer industry) because a lot of consumers are looking for more flavor in those beers,” he said, adding that the Kräftig Lager and the Kräftig Light, both available in 6-pack bottles and 12-pack cans as well as on draft, are low in price and in alcohol (at 5 percent and 4.2 percent ABV, respectively).
They’ve also got something else crucial going for them. Busch Brewing brewmaster Marc Gottfried — who built up 16 years of brewing experience at a St. Louis craft brewery before Busch hired him — makes the Kräftig suds following an ancient German purity law that dictates beers can only be made with four ingredients: water, barley, yeast and hops. That means no adjuncts like corn that the macro breweries are said to use in their beers.
“While we aren’t craft beer, people are looking at our brand and saying, you know what, ‘This is OK for me to drink,'” Gottfried said. “It doesn’t have rice, it doesn’t have corn, it doesn’t have preservatives. It’s a gateway beer that bridges the two categories.”
Because there’s nothing else out there like Kräftig, Busch said, he’s found “a sweet spot in the marketplace” that appeals to both craft beer drinkers and mainstream drinkers alike. (Kräftig is the German word for “strength,” an appropriate name for the beer, Busch said, because it’s got so much flavor.)
In Missouri, “a lot of craft beer drinkers are switching to our beer,” he said. “They can get flavor but drink more of it. And on the other side of the spectrum, the mainstream drinkers are switching to our beer to have more flavor. It’s a unique sweet spot that no one else is hitting.”
He’s hoping they catch on in Texas in much the same way they have in his native state, where his hometown of St. Louis remains largely loyal to AB InBev beers and still houses one of the Budweiser breweries. Although Texas doesn’t have as much of a connection to the Busch name as Missouri does, it’s a big state with a similarly big thirst for the sort of macro lagers that Kräftig is going up against, Busch said.
Plus, gaining a following here would be crucial for launching the next step of his company: a brewery. Currently, Gottfried makes the Kräftig suds out of City Brewery in La Crosse, Wis., but Busch is looking to change that by securing a space of their very own.
In the meantime, they’re both in Texas hoping to secure fans of Kräftig. They’re stopping through Austin today to help introduce the brand and the beers to the new market and will be at Crown and Anchor Pub from 1:30 to 3 p.m. You can also find the beers, which are being distributed locally through Brown Distributing, at downtown bars like Little Woodrow’s and Fado Irish Pub.