Interview with George Reisch III
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George Reisch III

(Photograph courtesy of George F. Reisch III)

 

Interview with George Reisch III, 4-29-08
By Tony White, at George's home in St. Louis
His wife, Kathy, was present, but she let us do the talking.

T: Anne Reisch told me that her father, Carl, used to call his father (George Reisch I) 
“The Czar”. The only person able to get him to bend at all was his wife, which was unusual, because most German wives are subservient. 

G: I think that was probably later on in life, because when marriages get older that’s when the power of the wife really manifests.

T: I have run into a few Germans and they tend to be very autocratic, “This is the way it is!” 

G: We call them “squareheads”, because squares are exact right angles. It’s a very defined shape like their opinions.

G: My father’s parents were George and Alvina, I think she died a year before him. He died almost a year to the day, after her. 

G: I would guess the picture of the class of 1916 was probably Walt’s class, who was probably born around 1903.

G: I am part of a lineage of five generation of brew masters; Franz, George, George, Dad, and I.

T: Were all of Franz Sales Reisch’s sons brew masters?

G: If you go back and study the times in the family, you were required to have a very good knowledge of how beer was brewed. My dad, when he came back from World War II, he went off to brewing school. 

G: Conrad Greisser, the brew master, worked for Reisch Brewery for over fifty years Dad was really clear on that. He may have been hired by FSR to free up his sons for other brewery and family related work. 

Conrad’s son was not working out as brewmaster. So maybe Conrad came back just to train my dad. When dad took over, he took over the whole thing; hiring, TV commercials, everything, it was all encompassing.

T: Did Ed leave because of the strike or because he had ten kids and they weren’t paying him enough?

G: That’s probably true. But Ed was afraid that if the workers struck the brewery would go under, or if they struck he wouldn’t get paid. He couldn’t take the risk. He had a good job offer. The people he went to brewing school with were up in Milwaukee, and they wanted him to come up there. He had offers and mom was telling him, “You have to think of this family too”. 

G: We were living in a house on the Reisch property, on Rutledge Street, across from Bowman’s Tavern. 

T: Anne Reisch said they had two unions. Union agitators would come and tell them they weren’t getting paid enough, get them all riled up, and get them to go on strike. 

G: I remember when Dad went to Milwaukee and went to work for the Pabst Brewery, which was the best Christmas ever. We had more toys that Christmas. So we knew dad was doing better at Pabst than he did at the brewery. 

G: Dad knew what the [company] books were, and a strike could have put them “under”. 

G: Dad told me they were going great when he came back after the war. I would think they were probably around 90 to 100,000 barrels a year. Dad said, “We couldn’t make enough beer!” Near the end they usually brewed one a day a week. So if you know the size of the brew kettle you could figure it out. 

G: I asked dad the whole formulation of the beer, and I wrote it down. I believe dad said they were using the same strain of yeast that Schaefer Beer was using. He told me how they krausened. 

G: In addition to dad’s brother and sister, he also had an Uncle Bud (who was actually a cousin), who they adopted. I think dad was one of seven kids. At one point they switched houses. When great grandfather George (GRI) was older, he switched houses with his son George (GRII), who moved my Dad and his brother and sisters into the big house.

G: Dad and Mom had ten kids; five girls and five boys. 

T: You only had four kids.

G: That’s still a lot.

T: Kathy, how many kids were in your family?

K: Six. 

T: What did Ed say about Walt?

G: He loved his Uncle Walt. They hung out together and played practical jokes together. They’d go into a grocery store and Walt would say (to a female customer), “Would you please turn around? I’d like to take a leak.” 

Walt would invite people around to his home that didn’t know each other. He’d tell them both separately that the other was hard of hearing. When they came he’d introduced them loudly to each other. 

G: Dad went to Milwaukee in 1964. Dad helped me brew my first batch of home brew in a crock used for making pickles. An open fermenter. 

T: What was your first job as brew master?

G: I was a union brewery worker at the Schlitz Brewery. I did research and new product development at Miller. However, by far Anheuser-Busch gave me my majority of really good production experience.

[George was working in LA from 1980 to August of 1998. He worked his way up at the management ranks at the LA brewery and then worked for Anheuser-Busch Corporate Brewing. He did Corporate Brewing work for Anheuser-Busch in Japan, Canada, Mexico, and Brazil. He moved back to St. Louis in 1998 and had open-heart surgery at Barnes hospital to repair an Atrial Septal Defect in 2000.] 

T: What is the biggest challenge in making beer?

G: Consistency of taste. When making beer in large quantities you owe it to people to have consistent beer. Wherever I go I’m either amazed by the consistency or try to understand why it’s not. The breweries that I like the most are the ones that are constantly striving for consistency. It’s OK to have diversity between brands but not within a brand because people learn to expect a certain taste. When you said you liked that beer consumed at the Reisch Brewery and you didn’t like it here [in St. Louis] I was analyzing that in my mind while you were talking and I was trying to figure out why. I’m sure with beer consumed in Springfield, it was very fresh and I’m thinking that at the Reisch Brewery towards the end they didn’t have the packaging control and you were probably tasting some oxidation in the beer. Fresh beer is fuller and smoother whereas oxidized beer tastes papery and harsh.

T: Did you do all the beer pairing in the Anheuser-Busch Cookbook? 

G: I was involved. I contributed the sections of the cookbook about how to pour beer, all that stuff, and I worked with our chefs. You have to remember that Anheuser-Busch has had culinary chefs working for our company for at least 60 years. And they were always pairing the Anheuser-Busch beers with food; they were always cooking with the Anheuser-Busch beers. So there’s a huge lineage. For our company it was always very normal, and historically, it is very normal to pair beers with food and the cooking. Just this modern generation thinks it’s new, but it’s thousands of years old. 

T: Do you have many Reisch things, are you looking to buy?

G: I don’t. My dad has actually kind of discouraged it. My brothers would look all the time on eBay. Dad always says, “Don’t look back.” But I have a couple things. I’ll be honest with you; my son Patrick has been buying things. Nothing very expensive because he is just in college. He is buying bottle caps and wax cups. Then he brings them home. A lot of it is in this cabinet over here. I don’t really have as many things; obviously you have a huge collection. I see what dad is saying. I get just as much joy out of going and looking at someone else’s collection than if I had it myself. I would like to go up to Springfield and just see what some folks have; it’s like a little museum there. 

T: I had some duplicates that I traded for a few more things. I bought a few things off eBay but I have been more interested in collecting information. To me it’s like a historical mystery story with my ancestors in the story, and I am trying to figure out what were the people like, what were their relationships to each other, and that sort of thing. I have enough things. 

G: Yeah. My son Patrick seems to be more interested in it than any of my other kids.

T: Why did they call it malting?

G: Malting is basically partially grown grain. When you take a seed and you soak it in water you’re malting the seed. It’s just the term for partially germinating or growing a seed. And then you stop there because you need to create the enzymes that will convert the starch to sugar in brewing. The seed doesn’t have that yet, it’s dormant. You wake it up and it thinks it’s under the ground in a nice warm, moist environment and it starts to grow. That’s why malted wheat is partially grown wheat; malted barely is partially grown barley. The term malting means germination. 

T: From taking a seed to where they roast the germinated seeds, how many days does it take?

G: Typically three or four weeks. Steeping is a few days, germination is a few days, and then you store it. So probably about ten days to actually get it into storage after you are done. And then after that you age it. Once it has been aged then you can roast it. They take the malt and they roast it in a drum at 350 degrees and they make the colors and flavors through that high temperature. Caramel malt is the malt they use to make reddish beers. They take the germinating grain when it’s growing and instead of putting it in a kiln they will take it and put it in a roasting drum to caramelize the sugars that are inside the seeds. The high heat quickly, with the presence of sugars, give you these new caramel malts. All these new pale ales and stuff, they are using a small percentage. The biggest problem, a lot of people say, is “Oh, pale ale is made with 100 percent caramel malts.” That’s not true. There’s minimal enzymes in a caramel malt. It’s mostly pale malt with just enough caramel malt to give it the right color and flavor. 

T: I have not seen, in the malting process, exactly what goes on. I noticed when I went on the tour that they didn’t explain anything. Where would I go?

G: Go to www.herestobeer.com. They have a free program called the beer connoisseur program that actually walks you through the malting and brewing processes. You can actually take a test after each section. It’s all on the internet. It will take you about three and a half hours to go through the whole thing. It goes through beer and food pairing. You can’t jump ahead. 

T: After you get finished with the malting and you brew it, how long did Reisch beer take to go from the brewery to the bottling? 

G: It probably took a long time because in general it takes about a day to brew, it takes about five days to ferment, and then you go to the lagering and krausening. At that time they lagered it at very cold temperatures. When you think about the yeast it does not work quickly at cold temperatures. So they probably needed maybe eight weeks to finish it off, where as nowadays we can lager at warmer temperatures because we have better control of microbiology and we don’t see micro infections. So they lagered at a colder temperatures. So my guess is it probably took eight to ten weeks to make Reisch Beer. Then as you know, until they invented artificial refrigeration, they could only brew Reisch from October to March. April saw the last brewing. And then they were done all summer. That’s why lager beers were hard to find and ales were not.

T: I have heard and seen, from the old advertisements by Reisch, “Preferred customers will get preference, after this particular point in time,” encouraging people to be regular purchasers so that they would get some when the beer ran out. How many different Anheuser-Busch beers are there today?

G: Counting all the partnerships and stuff there about 145 brands That counts all the investments and partnerships with other brewers and microbrewers. When I started with the company we had five; Busch, Michelob, Natural Light, and Michelob Light. That’s all we brewed. So there has been a real [revolution], when you think about it. Between Bud and Bud Light, that’s 70 percent of our brands. People love those two brands and those two together are most of our volume. 

T: Anheuser-Busch has been a phenomenal success story over time. It took Reisch eight to ten weeks to go from brewing to bottling, and I found out on the tour it takes a month. 

G: Right. That’s because we are warm lagering. If they were to warm lager back in those days they would have had a real mess. Because if you keep it real cold the yeast will ferment partially and finish the beer off, but the bacteria will not reproduce, even though they might have been present. So in really cold lagering temperatures, it took several weeks for the yeast to finish the beer. Nowadays we are using about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about 20 degrees warmer, and we can get done in a month. And the beer is finished more now than it was back then. But the thing is you have to have really clean breweries to take that warmer lagering temperature. A lot of breweries, even nowadays, around the world cannot survive. You know, when you go in those cold cellars, its freezing. You can see your breath. In our breweries it’s not that way anymore because we have really done a great job of keeping ourselves very microbiologically clean and aware of the needs of the yeast. 

T: I’m trying to think where I heard this, but I heard that some breweries, when they make light beer, they brew it at full strength or even more. Then they ferment it, and age it, and then add water before they bottle it.

G: Well, almost all breweries now, no matter what brand you are making, they will add water at the end. That increases your capacity. But light beers, specifically low calorie beers, have to be brewed differently in the brew house because your balance between fermentable and non-fermentable sugars is totally different than a full-bodied beer. If you see a beer with a 4.2 % Alcohol by volume and around a hundred calories, that beer was brewed differently in the brew house. On the other hand some of the imports that are coming in, if they are light beers, the alcohol is really low. That means that they possibly could just be adding more water. 

T: So how many beers are brewed at what percentage and then watered down?

G: If you are making a typical Bud Light brew you start off with 100 percent starch from the grain. Then you mash in. Very quickly all the starches convert to sugar. But most of the sugars are too large for the yeast to ferment. So just think about the balance. You’ve got all these huge sugars, and very little small sugars, and as you hold it at specific temperatures during mashing the big sugars are broken down into the small sugars, which the yeast can then ferment into alcohol, leaving very little carbs. The time it takes to break all of those down to make Bud Light is 210 minutes. To make a Michelob is 20 minutes. So it’s phenomenally longer to get those sugars broken down. A lot of brewers don’t want to waste the time to do that. So they would possibly just dilute their full strength beer down. So you might even have the same calories or even less, but the alcohol level is like 2.5. They are really low. 

T: The individual pieces, as you explain them, make sense, but I don’t have quite enough background to hold on to it and so I’m…

G: It’s not a good generalization to say, in this country especially. Light beers are not watered down regular beers. They are brewed separately. They have to be because people are looking at carbs and calories and they also want a fairly normal alcohol level so you have to break down almost all the starch to fermentable sugars. 

T: Light beers have nearly the same percentage of alcohol?

G: About 20 percent less than a regular beer but the carbs are way down too. So if it’s a 4.2 percent compared to a five, which is standard. But the calories are down around 100 calories so there’s almost no carbs left. Almost all the calories in light beers are coming from the alcohol. 

T: That’s interesting all of these ….

G: If you say, “What’s the alcohol?” and they say, “4.2” and you say “What’s the calories?”, if they say “100”, then you know they have mashed it a long time. If you say “what’s the alcohol?” and they say, “2.5,” and you say, “What’s the calories?” and they are about the same, then you know that they didn’t use a long mashing. 

G: Dad hung around with Walt, like on the weekends, they’d go off. I remember one time… he was the best prankster.

Dad would always tell stories about Uncle Walt. I told you about the store, and about when he invited the two people over that didn’t know each other, and said they were hard of hearing. He said he had to go out into the kitchen and laugh because they were screaming at each other and he would start to lose it, so he’d go out there. He would close the door and he could hear them the whole time he was out there just screaming at each other. When one guy tried to talk loud the other one would talk louder, and he let that go on all night. I don’t know how someone even thinks of doing that. 

T: Well, he was so quick [witted]. My dad, Walt, and Henry [Franz] used to play pinochle and gin rummy at the family gatherings during the holidays. One night they were playing cards and it was getting dark, so Helen was going around pulling down all the window shades. She pulled one down and let go of it wrong and it went wap, wap, wap! Walt just instantly turned and said, “Oh, the shades of night are falling.” Walt was very quick at puns, other jokes. 

G: When you think about all those years out in Nebraska, it was probably pretty boring. And he probably just sat there and had to entertain himself. So he probably just thought of funny things. He was so happy to be back [in Springfield]. Reading those letters [to home] he kept asking, “When are you gonna start the brewery? I want to come back.”

T: On the other hand, Carl Reisch, according to his daughter Ann, was a very quiet reserved person, who wouldn’t talk unless you talked to him. And then he tended to make short answers. 

G: There was a good balance. Yeah, Carl was like the president. He was the one that we saw with most of the responsibilities. Around the time my dad got to work there, probably it was a little bit too hard for them to try and get everything going again. 

T: Carl was trained and practiced as a lawyer.

G: Really? I didn’t know that. 

T: Yeah, and when it came time to get the brewery started again, I guess papa said “I’m getting up in years. I can get this started, I can get the bankers to give us money, but I want you to run it.” The general impression that I get is that George, being the first born son, felt like maybe he had it made, and didn’t work quite as hard. Carl was the studious hard-working type. I’m guessing that may be why Carl was the president and George was vice president. But I could be off-base on this.

G: I don’t know. That would be a good question to ask Dad too. The first thing he’ll say is “I don’t know” and then he’ll probably think about it a little bit.

T: Looking back, my Uncle Henry had all of the tax reports. When I finally thought about asking his company if they still had any they had been thrown out ten or fifteen years before. So now, other than peoples’ memories, I have no way of determining how many barrels they brewed a year. 

G: You should ask dad how many brews they made. It’s pretty easy for him to calculate it out. If you know how many times you are brewing a week, and you know how big your brew size is, then it’s really easy to calculate the volume. There was no high gravity brewing back then so it’s whatever your volume was minus losses. So he’ll be able to say, because he knew the brew size and everything, when I was talking to him about that.

T: Did Stan ever get his article written? [Stan Hieronymus interviewed George’s father, Ed Reisch, in 2007. Stan is the editor of www.realbeer.com, a professional journalist for 40 years, and an amateur brewer for 15. He is the author of four beer books, including Brew Like A Monk.]

G: He is working on it. I just saw him last week out at the Craft Brewers Conference. He and I had lunch together. He is such a nice guy. He is taking off for Alaska in a motor home. He takes a year off, they home-school the kids, and just travel all over the place. So when he’s gone I think he might do some writing and stuff like that. He is an amazing guy. He’s a free spirit but very dependable. He travels to Europe and to Belgium. He wrote that book “Brew like a Monk”. It’s about all the monastery breweries in Belgium. It’s a fabulous book. 

T: I never did look up what he had written.

G: Oh, he does a lot of writing for brewing magazines. And then recently, in the new Eyewitness Companion book called “Beer”, he wrote all the taste descriptions of the American beers. 

T: There was one other story in the last couple of minutes that sparked in my memory, but it’s gone again. It will come back. You know, different bits and pieces that you wind up hearing over the years. But I think I’ve asked enough questions. I don’t have anymore that I can think of right off hand. At some point or other, when I get around to transcribing the tape and my notes, I will probably need to ask a few follow-up questions for clarification. I thought the interview that Stan did was sort of like a four-way conversation sometimes. 

G: Yeah, and he only gave you that little clip. He wants to do more. He sent me the whole thing. I should let you just take that with you. 

T: Oh, what I got was not the full thing?

G: No, that was just a little clip; he did like, three hours. 


Biography of 

George F. Reisch
Anheuser-Busch Brewmaster

George F. Reisch, a fifth generation brewmaster by trade, is a Corporate Brewing Staff Brewmaster at Anheuser-Busch, Inc. 

With his family brewery, Reisch Brewing Co., of Springfield, Ill. in operation from 1849 to 1966, Reisch fell in love with the art and skill of brewing at an early age. Always an avid home brewer, Reisch attended the University of Wisconsin to gain his Bachelor of Science in Food Chemistry while working at Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co., as a brewery worker, and at Miller Brewing Co. as research assistant during the summer months. 

Upon graduation in 1979, Reisch was placed in the Anheuser-Busch Corporate Management Training Program before being promoted to Brewing Supervisor at the company’s Los Angeles Brewery in 1980. There, Reisch also held Brewing Technical Coordinator, Assistant Brewmaster, and Staff Brewmaster positions before being transferred to Corporate Brewing at Anheuser-Busch headquarters.

During his tenure at Anheuser-Busch, Reisch has traveled to Mexico, Brazil, and Japan on a variety of brewing-related projects and has also assisted with “New Beer Brand” development. He has also hosted hundreds of “Brewmaster Dinners” in the United States and has taught hundreds of brewing schools. Most recently, Reisch has overseen Budweiser production at the five Budweiser-producing Labatt breweries located throughout Canada. 

Reisch is a tasting judge at both the World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festival and serves on the Executive Committee of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas as 1st Vice President (MBAA). He will be sworn in as President of the MBAA in October of 2009. He also serves on the MBAA/ASBC Liaison Committee and is a member of the Board of Advisors for the North American Brewers Association (NABA). Reisch was also a past president of MBAA District Southern California and was named “Large Company Brewmaster of the Year” at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver in 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003. 

Reisch has appeared on several TV and radio programs. He and is wife Kathy have four grown children and reside in Wildwood, Missouri. 

Copyright 2008 Tony White