Staff Columnist

The making of an American love story: Iowa and Busch Light

Iowa fans Scott Green of Fort Lauderdale, FL (from left), Jason Jeffries of La Porte City, and Melanie Lichty of Waterloo shotgun beers as they tailgate for the Orange Bowl outside of LandShark Stadium Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2010 in Miami Gardens, FL. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)
Iowa fans Scott Green of Fort Lauderdale, FL (from left), Jason Jeffries of La Porte City, and Melanie Lichty of Waterloo shotgun beers as they tailgate for the Orange Bowl outside of LandShark Stadium Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2010 in Miami Gardens, FL. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, perhaps the way to an Iowan’s vote is through his liver.

That’s the strategy Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan has adopted.

Ryan was asked in a recent interview what his favorite food from the Iowa State Fair was. He replied that it was Busch Light, as documented by NBC political journalist Ben Kamisar.

How did Iowa and Busch Light become a universally recognized “thing?”

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I’m skeptical about whether Ryan actually enjoys Busch Light, but he has studied Iowa culture closely enough to recognize our affection that sweet nectar of the Gods. It was pure political pandering, and I fully support it.

Politicians have long used beer to project their folksiness, a way to signal that they are just like us.

George W. Bush was sober, but he passed the all-important “Who would you rather have a beer with?” test. Barack Obama presided over the production of White House Honey Ale and hosted the “beer summit” to address police misconduct and racism.

If you are looking for high-minded commentary about the intersection of booze, the Iowa caucuses and Midwestern identity politics, this ain’t it. I am but a simple man who enjoys the simple things. This is nothing more than an essay about the two great loves in my life — Iowa and light beer.

I can tell you from personal experience that Busch has always had a strong following in Iowa. As long as I can remember, the fridge in my grandpa’s Jackson County garage has been stocked with those blue mountain cans.

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Several Iowans told me they developed a taste for Busch Light in the late 90s and early 2000s. They attributed it to the low cost, and the fact that it came in 30-pack blocks when many other domestic beers only had 24.

But how did Iowa and Busch Light become a universally recognized “thing?” Through my research, I have pinpointed April 4, 2014 as the moment when Busch Lattes were linked forever to the Hawkeye State’s cultural identity.

On that day, LiveScience.com published an article about a new book, “The Geography of Beer,” which used geotagged Twitter posts to approximate Americans’ beer preferences by region. The accompanying infographic showed an island of Busch Light fandom covering all of Iowa, along with sizable chunks of eastern Nebraska and South Dakota.

“Busch Light is the light beer of choice in Iowa and a small region stretching past its borders, while the Midwest chooses Miller Lite,” reporter Stephanie Pappas wrote in an article that was syndicated and widely cited across the internet.

It became a self-fulfilling observations as Iowans and the Anheuser-Busch company embraced the meme.

When the Iowa State football team earned a trip to the 2017 Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., fans reportedly depleted local bars’ supply of Busch Light before kickoff. The Cyclones pulled out a narrow victory, but it was hardly a celebration without the right beer.

When the Cyclones went to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, the following year, the company sent its “Busch Guy” spokesman to ensure there were no shortages.

During this year’s Super Bowl, Bud Light, owned by the same company as Busch, ran an infamous commercial that scoffed at competitors Miller Lite and Coors Light for using corn syrup. Iowa corn growers were not pleased.

Days later, the wise capitalists at Anheuser-Busch launched an ad campaign to proclaim Busch is proudly brewed with corn syrup. Within a few weeks, Iowans started seeing corn-shaped Busch Light draft handles at bars.

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Busch Light is certified “awful” with a score of 46 on the beer ratings website Beer Advocate. Beer snobs might not like it, but it has loyal fans.

“God created this one of kind [sic] gem with Iowans on his mind. We here in Iowa love this creation and hope other parts of the country can find it as enjoyable as us,” Beer Advocate user ethankluesner wrote this year.

Busch Light is cheap and it goes down easy.

The association of Iowa and Busch Light beckons the not-totally-inaccurate stereotype of the unsophisticated Midwesterner. While more than a few Iowans look down on cheap domestic beer, I have no qualms in saying I am not fancy.

l Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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