Budweiser Black Crown: The Poor, Desperate Man's Yuengling
Beer: Budweiser Black Crown
Brewery: Anheuser-Busch, Inc.
Style: Amber lager
ABV: 6 percent
At the bar where I work, the most-requested beer we don't stock isn't Russian River Pliny the Elder. It's also not Three Floyds Dark Lord, or Westvleteren 12, or New Glarus Spotted Cow, or anything from Cigar City. Despite the massive variety of weird, rare, tasty craft beers available in our state, the one consumers can't get here that they seem to want the most isn't weird, or rare, or even that tasty.
While the flagship beer of the oldest brewery in America is so ubiquitous in and around Pennsylvania it basically flows from drinking fountains, not a drop of the amber lager makes it west of the Mississippi. This seems to be a big problem for Phoenicians from back East, of whom there are many. But there is a workaround. What you can get here, now -- and in time for whatever shindig you might be throwing for the Super Bowl! -- is Budweiser Black Crown.
A quick look back: In spring 2012, AB gathered brewmasters at its 12 Budweiser breweries throughout the U.S. and challenged them to brew a beer that would join the Bud ranks. All styles were supposedly on the table, the only caveat being that the brewers must use the yeast strain descended from Adolphus Busch's original batch. The top three recipes went into sampler packs, which consumers could taste before going online to vote for their favorite.
The winning recipe, thunk up by AB-Los Angeles brewmaster Bryan Sullivan, spins caramel malt with four varieties of American-grown hops and is finished on a bed of beechwood chips (this sounds impressive but is really no different from regular Budweiser, which is lagered for a few weeks with beechwood boiled in sodium bicarbonate to remove any woodsy flavor).
It's also an amber lager, the same style as Yuengling, and is actually higher in alcohol content -- a hefty 6 percent ABV compared to Yuengling's tawdry 4.4. This is telling -- some have surmised that Budweiser's forays into high-ABV territory (if we can call 6 percent "high," he chuckled, while sipping on his Dogfish 120) are part of an effort to woo younger drinkers increasingly turning to craft beers with similar alcohol content, which, if true, misses the point by a margin so wide it's actually impressive. But we move on.
Black Crown comes to shelves a year after the launch of Bud Light Platinum, which is appropriate because it tastes essentially like Bud Platinum with a stronger malt backbone. Caramel malt lives up to its name by adding muted caramel-toffee tones to the usual Bud-blend of sourdough bread, alcohol and corn. Champagne-like carbonation adds a little excitement before a smooth, subtly sweet finish.
If the lack of f-bomb-heavy Bud-bashing and general nose-turning in the paragraph above surprises you, don't worry -- it surprised me too. But in the interest of giving credit where it's due, as Budweiser products go, Black Crown is probably the best I've tried. I'm not saying it'll make you forget about your Yuengling-lust, you Pennsylvania vampires, but it's a working substitute. Now stop asking for it.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.