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Do Budweiser's new Project 12 brews hold up to craft beer?


Batch 91406 from Budweiser's Project 12.

It’s easy to feel like you’re supporting real people when you drink craft beer.

You can email the brewery and get a response from the owner, or take a brewery tour and meet them face-to-face.

The same can’t be said for the big brewers like Budweiser; it’s hard to muster warm and fuzzy feelings about a multinational corporation that uses stylized robots and (very superstitious) football fans to sell their products.

Project 12 represents an attempt by the brewing giant to inject a little humanity into their brand by telling a story about Budweiser’s regional breweries and the people who work there. 

Project 12 started with a dozen beers, each dreamed up at Budweiser’s 12 regional breweries by that facility’s brewmaster. These 12 beers, each named after the zip code of their origin (we’re local!), were voted on by the public (we’re listening!), and the three winning brews have just been released in the Project 12 limited edition 12 pack (we’re special!). The label of each beer proudly displays the signature of the brewmaster who led its creation (we’re real people!).

As a beer geek, it's easy to see Budweiser as the enemy – they’ve done their best to push craft beers off the shelf, confuse consumers by creating their own craft beer lookalike brands, and they’ve purchased beloved craft breweries like Goose Island outright, replacing the folks who built the place with their own mass-market veterans.

But the difference between being a beer geek (good) and being a beer snob (bad) is keeping an open mind and judging a beer – every beer – on its merits.  At the end of the day if the beer is good, it’s all good. 

So are the three Project 12 beers any good?

To find out, let’s start at the beginning with a standard Bud, the inspiration for the beers in the Project 12 variety pack, all of which share the same yeast strain and many of the same production techniques as the King of Beers. 


It’s been forever since I’ve had a Budweiser, and I’ll admit that it smells nice enough, with a sweet hint of malts on the nose. The flavor follows, with a light and sweet thread of grain followed by a dry, clean finish. Mostly it tastes like college, which isn’t a bad thing, I guess. Now, let’s move on to Project 12.

Batch No. 63118
This is a 6.0 percent ABV Pilsner brewed with Hallertau and Tettnang hops. It was created by St. Louis brewmaster Jim Bicklein with a little help from Katie Rippel from Bud’s Fort Collins, Colo. facility. 

63118 pours a deep golden yellow, and has a bit more hop aroma on the nose than a typical Bud (which has none). The beer tastes much like a regular Bud, but with just a touch more hop bitterness and a creamier mouthfeel. They should call it “Bud Hop.”

63118 is based on the Budweiser of the 19th century, and one wonders why they abandoned that recipe – unlike the Bud of today, this beer has some presence and flavor, showing what a Budweiser might taste like if the brewery would simply try a little harder to make good beer.

Batch No. 91406
This 6.0 percent ABV lager is brewed with two-row and caramel malts and aged on beechwood chips, just like the regular Bud. This beer was created by Bryan Sullivan, the brewmaster of Anheuser-Busch’s Los Angeles facility. 

It pours a golden amber, with just a hint of red creeping into the color. 91406 smells like a standard Bud, but with amplified malt sweetness. This carries through to the flavor, which offers a simple blurb of sweet grain flavor, followed by a dry finish with just the slightest hint of cinnamon and orange peel in the finish.  All told, this should be called “Bud Plus,” because it mostly tastes like a modern-day Budweiser turned up to 11.

Batch No. 23185
A 5.5 percent ABV lager created by brewmaster Daniel Westmoreland in Williamsburg, Va.  This beer is aged two weeks on Bourbon barrel staves and vanilla beans, but you wouldn’t know it if someone didn’t tell you. Instead, you might guess that this beer has spent time aging with roasted corn, as 23185 has a mild vegetative vibe and a tiny touch of smokiness about it, but it’s almost imperceptible if you don’t sample it back-to-back with a regular Budweiser. This one should be called “Bud Roast.”

Even the most basic craft beers offer more flavor than these “special” beers from Budweiser, so they can’t expect to compete on that front. And diehard Budweiser fans probably aren’t looking for variety when it comes to beer, or they’d have wandered into the ranks of craft beers long ago.

These beers are likely a way to promote the enduring success of the Budweiser brand while showing that they’re not so mired in their own legacy that they’re afraid to try new things

If you’re a beer geek, drinking a Project 12 beer is sort of like watching your dad try to freestyle rap with a flat brimmed baseball cap turned sideways on his balding head. The effort comes off as forced, stilted and more than a little bit cringe-inducing. 

Jim Galligan is co-founder of the Beer and Whiskey Brothers blog, where he and his brother Don cover the ever-evolving world of craft beer and distilled spirits. Follow him on Twitter.  

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