by Joe Wilhelm Jr.
The buzz at Anheuser-Busch’s Jacksonville brewery isn’t just resonating from the bottling line.
There is a lot more going on at the Busch Drive business than just brewing beer. It is increasing its efforts to get the word out that it is a tourist destination as well as a production facility, and it launched the “Beer Master Tour” program in May to provide a new experience for visitors. Previously, complimentary tours allowed visitors to see the brewing process through windows up above the brewery floor. But the “Beer Master Tour” allows guests to walk up next to the brew kettles and bottling lines to get a closer look at how beer makes the journey from grains to “Great American Lager.”
“While the complimentary tour provides a lot of great information about the history of the company and the product,” said Steve Brewer, director of the Consumer Hospitality Center. “The Beer Master Tour allows guests to get a look at the brewery and the process that isn’t available on the regular tour.”
The Beer Master Tour takes place twice a day at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and is limited to groups of no more than 10 people. Complimentary tours start every 45 minutes between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. After guests complete the tour they receive a souvenir hat, sampling glass and certificate. The fee for the tour for guests 21 and up is $25 and guests 13-20 years old are charged $10.
Anheuser-Busch operates 12 breweries throughout the country, but only five offer tours: Jacksonville, St. Louis, Fairfield, Calif., Fort Collins, Colo. and Merrimack, N.H. The company has also increased its efforts to get the word out about its unique programs by being more involved with Visit Jacksonville, the official travel information resource for the Jacksonville area.
“They are a great tool for driving visits to the brewery,” said Brewer.
Having the brewery in Jacksonville also helps to make the job of attracting visitors to the area a little easier, said Visit Jacksonville President and CEO John Reyes.
“They are a unique product that can offer an experience not found in every city,” said Reyes. “It’s all about the product and we are fortunate to have them. They are an attractive destination for a variety of our visitors, from leisure travelers to motor coach tours to convention and business visitors.”
While the company is trying to increase the visibility of its tour program, another program is aimed at decreasing the company’s affect on the surrounding community.
The company’s environmental program includes recycling of its packaging materials, water conservation, energy and wildlife and habitat conservation.
The recycling program dates back to the 1800s with the reselling of the spent grains from the brewing process to area farms. Once the brewing process is complete, the wheat, barley and hops used to make it are loaded into a tractor trailer and sent to area farmers as feed for livestock, and the brewery averages about one load leaving every hour. The company sells about 155,000-160,000 tons of spent grains a year.
Another part of its recycling program is packaging material. Nearly 100 percent of the discarded material produced through brewing, packaging and shipping beer is recycled. These materials include aluminum, glass, cardboard and plastics. Total recycled materials for 2009 was 158,000 tons as of Monday.
“We are always looking at ways to divert materials from a landfill and save the company money,” said Ken Wilkey, senior resident EHS manager. “Our latest project is recovering spent yeast. It will allow us to land-apply more water to out agriculture properties and the yeast can be used in shampoo and dog food. It’s B-vitamin rich.”
The company operates two agriculture properties in Jacksonville, one near the brewery on Busch Drive, which is 300 acres, and another on Lem Turner Road, 700 acres. Crops include hay, corn and sorghum.
One of its latest programs is the Bio-Energy Recovery Systems (BERS). This process takes wastewater from the brewing process and allows for the recapture of bio-gas from the nutrient-rich water. The methane produced from the process helps supply 20 percent of the company’s fuel needs for its boilers.