How to Brew a Reconstruction of the Original Michelob Beer


By Jack Horzempa

Why brew an old-time beer?

I wrote an article discussing the benefits of homebrewing vs. buying beer:


One of the reasons within that article was we get to homebrew beers that are not commonly produced. And obviously a beer that was made in a bygone day would be one of those. I regularly homebrew a beer that I name 1896 Michelob since Michelob was first brewed in 1896. It is a reconstruction of how Anheuser-Busch would have brewed that beer in the timeframe from about the end of the 1800’s and the early 1900’s.

History of Anheuser-Busch wanting to brew a beer like Michelob

But first there was Budweiser
The Anheuser-Busch brewery in the 1800’s produced a number of beer brands but the beer that made them famous was Budweiser. Budweiser was first brewed in 1876. The brewery’s business name then was E. Anheuser Company's Brewing Association. Not too many people know this but the original Budweiser was a contract brewed beer; Adolphus Busch brewed this beer for his friend Carl Conrad. Below is a photo of a Budweiser label of 1876. A couple things worth highlighting:
  • It clearly states this beer is from “C. Conrad & Co”.
  • It details the beer is brewed using Saaz hops (“Sazzer Hopfen” on the main bottle label)
Also, of interest is what was not listed on this particular label: rice (which would be “reis” in German). Rice would later be added to the label.
1876 Budweiser Label
Anheuser-Busch Brewing would acquire the rights to the Budweiser brand in 1883.
Adolphus Busch travels to Bohemia
The history of Europe in the latter 1800’s and early 1900’s was very dynamic and fluid with changing names of countries and border changes over those decades. What we now call the Czech Republic was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and was comprised of various regions one of which is called Bohemia. In the latter 1800’s Adolphus Busch traveled to Bohemia to enjoy the Pale Lagers brewed there, what we would term Bohemian/Czech Pilsners (or Czech Pale Lagers like the Czechs). One brewery renowned for their beer was in the town of Michelob. That brewery was owned by Anton Dreher who was the son of the famous brewer of the same name, Anton Dreher Sr., known for developing Vienna Lager in 1841. Adolphus Busch loved the high quality all malt Pale Lagers and after his visit decided to brew a beer like this and even ‘borrowed’ the town’s name Michelob for this new product. This all-malt beer would be a super-premium product for Anheuser-Busch although the actual classification of “super- premium” was likely not used by breweries of that time. Another distinguishing feature of Michelob is that it was a draft only product which would not be bottled until the 1960’s. Beers brewed with adjuncts (rice in the case of Budweiser) were considered to have improved beer stability in the latter 1800’s and early 1900’s and likely this was a consideration to not bottle Michelob at that time.

old Michelob logo


Ingredients used to brew beer in America circa 1900


I already made mention that Michelob was an all-malt beer vs. an adjunct lager like Budweiser. One of the challenging aspects for brewers of the 1800’s was the predominant barley grown in the US was six-row barley. It is called six-row barley since there are six rows of barley seeds that grow on the stalk. Six-row barley was well suited for the growing climate of much of the US (e.g., the mid-west) but produced a hazy beer (chill haze) due to the high protein content. It turns out that the protein content of the wort/beer can be diluted by using adjuncts (e.g., rice, corn) as part of the grain bill. Using rice in a beer such as Budweiser resulted in a beer that did not suffer from chill haze and improved beer stability, providing a longer shelf life when bottled. The most popular pale lagers in America in the latter 1800’s and beyond were adjunct lagers.
To produce an all-malt pale beer which did not suffer from chill haze, a two-row barley which is lower in proteins would be needed.
One option would have been imported two-row barley (malt) from Europe. Below is a statement of the protein content of barley from the book Beer From the Experts Viewpoint (1937):
“…Wahl proved in 1903 – 1905…six-rowed barleys with a relatively high protein content (12-13%)…European two-rowed barleys with a low protein content (9- 10%).”
The other option was two-row barley that was grown in the US, most often grown in western states. The Anheuser-Busch brewing logbooks from circa 1900 were lost so no specifics on the malt used is known.

Hops & hopping schedule

The dominant hop grown in the US circa 1900 would have been Cluster hops. The heritage of Cluster hops is not completely known. From the book For the Love of Hops (2012):
“Cluster contains genes from both American and European stock and obviously resulted from the natural pollination of hop plants imported from Europe and American wild stock. Where and when that took place likely will never be known for certain, but in a sense selection was much like the landrace varieties on the Continent and in England.”
The American hop industry in the latter 1800’s was quite prolific and the hop farmers produced more hops than were required by the US brewing industry so they also exported their hops overseas. For example, English brewers would brew using Cluster hops but principally only used them for the first kettle addition (i.e., bittering).
Since Michelob was a super-premium beer it is possible that only imported hops were used and in the Michelob logo above (unknown date) it lists “All Imported Hops”. But which exact hop variety (or varieties) were used? Since the motivation for brewing the Michelob beer was to ‘replicate’ the Pale Lagers of Bohemia it is likely that Czech Saaz hops were used. This is also consistent with the ingredient label of Budweiser. Were Saaz hops also used for the bittering addition or would the brewers at Anheuser-Busch brew like English brewers and use Cluster for bittering? In the absence of the brewing logbooks there is no way to know for certain.
For completeness, I have read AB advertising which only lists Saaz hops as being used: e.g., “It contains absolutely nothing but the very best imported Saazer (Bohemia) hops”. But as can be easily discerned in the above Budweiser label, rice is notably absent so perhaps advertising is advertising?
As regards a hopping schedule the book The American Handy-Book of the Brewing, Malting, and Auxiliary Trades (1902) discusses the typical hopping schedule for American lagers of the early 1900s with a three-step schedule:
  • 2/5 “fair quality” hops for the bittering addition (a total of 60 minutes of boiling time)
  • 2/5 “better quality” hops for the flavor addition (a total of 20 minutes of boiling time)
  • 1/5 “finest quality” hops for the aroma addition (end of boil)
Yeast used by American brewers in the mid to latter 1800’s was likely a mixture. Today we have lots of pure (single strain) yeast to select from but in the middle part of the 1800’s this was not the case. A pioneer in the selection/isolation of single strain yeast was Dr. Emil Hansen working at the Carlsberg Brewery laboratory in Denmark. Dr. Robert Wahl visited the laboratory in 1886 and he brought back pure yeast. He set up an improved yeast apparatus based on a Hansen design but with improvements at a Chicago brewery. For the first time pure yeast was available for American breweries.
In 1905 Dr. Robert Wahl obtained a yeast culture from the brewery in Michelob, Bohemia. From the book Beer From the Experts Viewpoint (1937):
“In 1905 I (Robert Wahl) decided to make a tour of European cities…I proceeded to Michelob, Bohemia.”
“A sample of the yeast…was taken to Chicago, there propagated according to the Hansen’s methods and introduced to the Schoenhofen Brewery. From here a gallon of it was taken to St. Louis and given by me in person to Captain Adolphus Busch together with my personal supervision of its introduction in the production of Michelob beer…three months later Michelob beer from the Anheuser Busch Brewery made its appearance in America with all of the fine qualities of its prototype.”
Well, at least we know one ingredient that was used to brew Michelob beer in 1905: yeast from the brewery in Michelob, Bohemia.
Brewing Water
I have no details about how Anheuser-Busch managed their brewing water. Did they just obtain local water and brew with the water as is without treatment? Kai Troester on his blog/website provides a water profile that he recommends for German and American pilsners:

My reconstruction of a recipe for a turn of the century Michelob beer

As already mentioned, the brewing logbooks for Michelob beer circa 1900 were lost so specific details of brewing this beer are missing. We do know that Michelob was intended to be a replication of the Pale Lagers of Bohemia so it is in essence a Bohemian (Czech) Pilsner, that is the beer style to shoot for as regards original gravity, ABV, etc. At a general level, some ingredients can readily be selected which makes sense for the Bohemian (Czech) Pilsner:
  • Malt should be a Pilsner Malt
  • Hops should feature Czech Saaz hops (or equivalent)

Other ingredients may differ from a specific Bohemian (Czech) Pilsner:

  • Yeast selection might be a bit different since this is an American version of a Bohemian (Czech) Pilsner (e.g., the AB house lager yeast strain)
  • Brewing water will be more akin to the water of St. Louis vs. the very soft water common in Bohemia
I have been homebrewing a beer I brand as “1896 Michelob” since 2015 on an annual basis and I have evolved the brewing of that beer over the years. Some of the ingredient choices were based upon using up some ingredients (e.g., malt) that I had on hand and other changes were based on whims to try some new things. The basic stats of the beer remained constant:
  • Target OG: 1.050
  • Target FG: 1.010
  • ABV: 5.25%
  • IBUs: 40+
  • SRM: 3
  • Batch size: 5.5 gallons of beer

Below is my list of ingredients for my most recent batch of 1896 Michelob:

  • 10 lbs. of Weyermann Pilsner Malt (Note: assumes a 75% brewhouse efficiency)
  • 2 ounces of Sterling hops (7.5% AA)
  • 4 ounces of Lubelski (Polish grown Saaz) hops (3.1% AA)
  • Wyeast 2007 (reportedly the AB lager yeast strain)

Additional items:

  • 1.5 grams gypsum (added to mash water)
  • 1/4 tsp. Brewtan-B (added to mash water)
  • 2.5 ml lactic acid (same amount added to mash and sparge water)
  • 1/4 tsp. Brewtan-B (added last 16 minutes of boil)
  • 1 tsp. rehydrated Irish Moss (added last 15 minutes of boil)
  • 1/2 tsp. Wyeast yeast nutrient (last 10 minutes of boil)
Some further explanation for some of the above ingredient selection:
Sterling hops are American hops but they are related to Saaz hops (a daughter of Saaz). Sterling has a high(er) AA% and I can use a lesser amount (e.g., 2 ounces in this case) for bittering.
In previous batches I have featured Czech Saaz hops for flavor/aroma but last year I decided on a whim to try Polish grown Saaz hops (i.e., Lubelski hops) and the aroma/flavor profile was markedly different and I really liked it. Lubelski hops provide a very floral aroma/flavor to my palate while in contrast Czech Saaz is herbal/spicy.
I have used a variety of American lager yeast strains to brew this beer. I have used Wyeast 2007 the most but I have also used WLP840 (American Lager) and WLP1983 (Charlie’s Fist Bump) to good effect. I wanted to use WLP1983 again for this year’s batch but it was unavailable so I purchased Wyeast 2007.
As regards my brewing water I use carbon block filtered tap water which I also treat with a gypsum addition (to increase the sulfate amount) for the mash and lactic acid additions for both the mash and sparge. Below is my water profile based upon the addition of gypsum to my municipal water:
Calcium (Ca ppm) Magnesium (Mg ppm) Sodium (Na ppm) Chloride (Cl ppm Sulfate (SO4 ppm) Alkalinity, total (ppm)
115 34 47 130 110 216
I choose to add Brewtan-B to enhance beer stability: “Brewtan-B (formerly named Tanal B) is an all natural tannic acid that extends shelf life and enhances flavor and colloidal stability.”
The measured mash pH for this recent batch was 5.3 (I target a pH between 5.2 – 5.4).
Below is a description of the brewing process. More details are provided in the photo essay which follows.
Add 1.5 grams gypsum and ¼ tsp. Brewtan-B to the mash water.
Mash at a water-to-grist ratio of 1.5 qts/lb. Adjust brewing water to be consistent with the minerals of the above water profile (lower the chloride value if building the brewing water) and add lactic acid to achieve a mash pH of 5.2 – 5.4. Mash at 153 °F for 60 minutes. Sparge until approximately 7 gallons of wort is achieved (tailor amount based upon your boil off rate to obtain 5.5 gallons of wort post boil).
Boil vigorously for 75 minutes in an uncovered brew kettle adding the 2 ounces of Sterling hops for 60 minutes of the boil. Add 1 ounce of Lubelski (or Czech Saaz) hops for the last 20 minutes for a flavor addition. Add rehydrated ¼ tsp. of Brewtan-B for the last 16 minutes of boil. Add 1 tsp. of rehydrated Irish Moss for the last 15 minutes of boil. Add ½ tsp. of rehydrated Wyeast yeast nutrient for the last 10 minutes of boil. At the end of boil add 1.5 ounces of Lubelski (or Czech Saaz) hops and conduct a 20 minute whirlpool/hop-stand.
Ferment cool (I ferment in the lower 50’s F) until final gravity is achieved; conduct a diacetyl rest towards the end of fermentation if you prefer. Transfer to a lagering vessel (e.g., carboy, keg) and lager cold (e.g., 35 °F) for about five weeks. Package when lagering is complete. I added 1.5 ounces of Lubelski hops to the lagering vessel for dry hopping, this step is optional.
Photo essay of brewing my recent batch of 1896 Michelob
Ingedients for a 5 gallon batch (and prices):
  • Weyermann Pilsner Malt, 10 lbs. - $25.00
  • Sterling hops, 2 ounces - $4.89
  • Lubelski hops (Saaz hops grown in Poland), 4 ounces - $9.00
  • Wyeast 2007 (Pilsen) - $10.99
  • Miscellaneous ingredients: Wyeast Yeast Nutrient (1/2 tsp.), Irish Moss (1 tsp.), Brewtan-B (1/4 tsp.), Lactic Acid (2.5 ml for mash & sparge), Gypsum (1.5 grams added to mash water) <- Gypsum & Lactic Acid not included in the photo
  • Total batch cost approximately $50.00
2 liter yeast starter of Wyeast 2007 (Note: taken after an intermittent shake/swirl):
Mash water adjustment: Gypsum (1.5 grams) & Brewtan-B (1/4 tsp.):
Mash (and sparge) lactic acid (2.5 ml):
Mash: 10 lbs. Weyermann Pilsner malt within a grain bag in a brew kettle:
Mashing in brew kettle placed in oven, maintained at 150 °F for 1 hour:
Mashed Malt in Lauter Tun – conducting a vorlauf (recirculate wort):
Fly sparging using 170 °F water (with 2.5 ml lactic acid added):
Kettle additions: hops, rehydrated Irish Moss flakes (1 tsp.) and Brewtan-B (1/4 tsp.):
Stovetop boil: 5 gallon brew kettle, 2 gallon pot & 3 quart pot for 75 minutes:
Cooling the wort: 5 gallon brew kettle in utility basin/sink (ice water bath):
Cooling the wort: 2 gallon pot in kitchen sink (ice water bath):
Cooled down and aerated wort in 7.9 gallon fermenter:
Pitching 2 liter yeast starter:
Measured Original Gravity: approximately 1.050:
Fermenting in cool basement:
Below is a photo of a my 1896 Michelob:

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