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American in a Bottle: Budweiser Copper Lager

This article originally appeared in the September 14 issue of our newsletter, The Raven. Subscribe HERE

It’s the greatest American combo since Donovan and Dempsey. This month, Budweiser drops its latest creation in conjunction with Jim Beam: Budweiser Copper Lager. It’s part of Budweiser’s reserve collection, a series of beers celebrating the 85th anniversary of Prohibition’s repeal in America. Other than goalkeepers not being allowed to pick up backpasses, we’re hard pressed to remember a rule change we like to celebrate more. To discuss the science and story behind Budweiser Copper Lager, and what it symbolises, we caught up with St. Louis’ own, Budweiser innovation brewmaster Rob Naylor.

MiB: Budweiser and Jim Beam have 365 years of collective distilling experience. When you sat down to meet with them, was it like a meeting of two of the five families of alcohol?

RN: And both of the companies survived Prohibition. A lot of history in that room. We went down to Kentucky to meet with their master distillers, learn as much as we could about their product, and try and answer, “How do we get the essence of Beam in beer?” The answer we came up with: their famous Jim Beam barrels. To make Copper Lager, Jim Beam broke down used barrels, removing the metal and the end pieces, and shipped us the really long pieces of wood, which had been in contact with their bourbon as long as it had been aged. We took those and put them in our Lager tanks before filling the tanks with beer. It was a labor intensive process that, in the end, paid dividends.

MiB: How long did you experiment with the brewing process and the staves (the long pieces of wood) before getting a end product with which you were satisfied?

RN: It took a few trials before we figured out what ingredients hit the right flavor connection, specifically the bourbon’s vanilla notes, oak notes, and some of those charred notes. This lager is a celebration of that classic combination of a beer and a shot, but it’s a lot more than just dropping a shot into a beer. We wanted to make sure the ingredients blended out and didn’t overpower each other. Once we got it right, the brewing process took about a month to 45 days. The Jim Beam team were kind of amazed because their process can take three or four years.

MiB: In your role as an innovation brewmaster, you are tasked with creating product that augments the Budweiser experience. The specialty and season brews. When you create something like this and have poured so much into its recipe and the brewing process, how do you feel tasting that first finished batch?

RN: It really starts to hit me when I see the product out in the market and I can show it to my family and taste it with them. Watching them appreciate the beer is what’s really special. 

Rog and Keegan-Michael Key sip sip sippin' on some Copper Lager in the Panic Room.

Rog and Keegan-Michael Key sip sip sippin' on some Copper Lager in the Panic Room.