In my time in the beer business, it was considered a brewing lesson-learned for the ages: When Schlitz management decided to change their brewing recipe for the beer that made Milwaukee famous--then the second-largest beer in the country (sometime in the 70s, as I recall)--their decision effectively killed the brand. From that point on, the gusto was gone, drinkers defected in droves, and the sales slide was continuous and fairly steep. Schlitz drinkers figured correctly that the reason for the recipe change was cost-reduction, and responded with a near-universal: "Screw that."
Ever since, the industry took this case study to heart, and the "Never acknowledge a change to the brewing recipe" lesson was etched into the copper of Big Beer's brew kettles, figuratively speaking. Pretty much until a year ago.
About this time last year, Anheuser-Busch management publicly announced they would be making some changes on Budweiser to increase profitability (BloombergBusinessweek), including:
"Us(ing) broken rice instead of whole grains in (the) beer...." and
"Cut(ting) purchases of high-quality hops, like those from Germany's Hallertau region, in favor of cheaper hops."
Subsequent assurances from the company included: none of this would change the taste of the beer/they had so great a quantity of the more expensive European hops on hand, they could afford to reduce purchases/they remained absolutely committed to quality.
Or, as Budweiser itself always put it...
So, which is it? Is the old brewing lesson-learned just so much beer biz hokum, or is beer-recipe-changing a bean-counter's bullet-to-the-brand?
Here's a novel idea: Let's do some research!
Q: If I were to tell you, my Budweiser-dinking friend, that today's Budweiser is now being made from cracked rice rather than whole-grain rice, and that the "choicest hops" referred to on the Budweiser label no longer include the more expensive European hops, how would you respond?
Any predictions on the research results?