Bud vs. Microbrew: How Beer is Made
(In GIFs!)

By Jess Jiang & Stephanie Zimmerman

The methods for brewing beer are always pretty similar. You make the wort; add hops; allow the yeast to ferment the sugars; then carbonate and bottle the beer.

But a brewery that makes 15 million barrels a year (like Anheuser-Busch’s St. Louis brewery) looks very different from one that makes a couple thousand barrels (like Perennial Artisan Ales’ microbrewery in south city).

Anheuser-Busch’s St. Louis brewery is one of the largest breweries in the world and makes Budweiser, Bud Light, and about two dozen other brands. Perennial is just three years old, but its barrel-aged imperial stout, Abraxas, has a strong following. Here are just a few ways the breweries make beer differently.


Artisan Ales

Unloading Grain

Both breweries begin by unloading grain. At Anheuser-Busch, grain arrives daily on about a dozen train cars, each holding more than 150,000 lbs. Once a few hoses are connected, the grain is essentially vacuumed out. At Perennial, the brewer has to empty more than a dozen grain sacks one at a time, each weighs about 50 lbs.

Mixing the Mash

One of the first steps is to make the mash by mixing hot water with malted barley and other grains. At Anheuser-Busch, large mash cookers — basically huge mixers that are more than a story tall — automatically whirl around the grain and water. Each vessel holds about 500 barrels, and the brewery has 18 of them. Perennial has just one 8.5-barrel vessel to cook the mash. To mix the grains, the brewer needs a paddle and elbow grease.


Anheuser-Busch has whole buildings devoted to housing its fermenting tanks. The columns supporting the fermenters are more than a story tall. The brewery has 27 primary fermenting tanks that altogether hold more than 100,000 barrels. Perennial has about a dozen fermenters that hold a total of 350 barrels.

Bottling & Packaging

Bottling is labor-intensive at both breweries. At Anheuser-Busch, more than 300 people run about a dozen packaging lines. A line can produce about two thousand 12-oz cans a minute. The line moves so quickly, the red and white Bud cans are a blur. At Perennial, two people run the bottling machine. They rinse, move, and package the bottles by hand for a few hours. In that time, they can package more than a hundred bottles and just shy of a hundred kegs.


Not everything at the St. Louis Anheuser-Busch brewery is highly automated. Before the beer goes into a secondary fermenter, workers must climb into the huge tanks and rake the beechwood chips into an even layer. The chips sit at the bottom of the large tanks and help provide surface area for the yeast to settle on during the fermentation process.

Edited by Shula Neuman • Designed by Brent Jones

Schematic icons from The Noun Project: Fire by Jenny Amer; Hops by The Crew at Fusionary; Barrell by Randall Barriga; others public domain.