Brewing with Secrecy

After reading the Jack Edwards article about growth in Williamsburg I knew I had to check out the Anheuser-Busch Brewery. First of all, I had no idea that a brewery existed in the Williamsburg area. Second, I have been to Busch Gardens three times and I never really connected the beer conglomerate with the family oriented theme park. It may sound naive or super obvious to most people, but for some reason I thought the theme park’s namesake was spelled BUSH Gardens, and it was named so because of the heavy foliage within and around the park. (I grew up going to Kings Dominion and compared to BUSCH Gardens, Kings Dominion sits upon a giant slab of concrete). Finally, I had a romanticized vision about being able to tour the brewery, which would have been a fun way to spend Friday afternoon.

The brewery is located off of Pocahontas Trail that is also Rt. 60, and for a while it is listed on the map as York Street. At first the road to beer ran in between the railroad tracks and Colonial Williamsburg. The area displays a typical outskirts of a town vibe as on the left there isn’t too much development, and on the right there are a few industrial-esque brick buildings. It far and away lacks that neighborhood feel found within the city limits. Sporadically, Colonial Williamsburg appears through the trees on the right, and at one notable point I saw two ginormous bulls contained in that colonial style fencing that makes you wonder how they don’t escape.

After a while the road turns into motel alley as every single hotel or motel one can imagine seems to have sprung up along the trail. Their existence is obviously Colonial Williamsburg tourism related, yet it gives that essence of the “bad part of town” because they are mostly empty and many appear as forgotten buildings of the 1970s. This is definitely not tourist season. After the plethora of motels fades away, on the left, across the train tracks, is what I assume to be the poor and working-class part of town: tiny houses, poorly developed area, yards littered with junk and other belongings, and an African American man riding his bike across the train tracks. It feels very depressed.

Passing under the Humelsine Parkway, I see a heavily wooded area with small businesses and the mark of civilization—a Starbucks. Finally, to the right appears the Kingsmill housing development sign, marking the entrance. Out of curiosity, I turned into the entrance only to discover that the community is gated, which further accentuates the disparity between the classes that reside on the other side of the train tracks. I can only imagine the houses within those gates as a silver Mercedes and a sleek black Land Rover drove out of the entrance. The side trip was cut short by the gate and so I went back to the main road. The brewery materialized among the trees a few hundred feet later.

It is a simple, but substantial red brick building. It’s actually smaller than I would have thought. The entrance has large black, metal gates and the small employee parking lot was sparsely occupied. Immediately I got the sense that I was trespassing; it wasn’t inviting, and right by the employee entrance my hopes of a beer tasting were dashed as a sign professed that there would be no brewery tours. Sadness. I drove around to the visitor parking and finally I was able to smell the brew. It took a while to notice, and that was surprising because my sense of smell is unmatched according to my husband. I smelled what made me think of rice, oatmeal or breakfast. It was a pleasant odor, and the most memorable part of the entire adventure. Because I couldn’t go any further by car, I left before I was told to leave or the cops were called, which I felt might have happened if I hung around too long. I did manage sneak some pictures of the entrance.

The brewery was surprisingly depressing. It didn’t seem like it was very active, and it didn’t appear to employ a large group of people. It felt like the recession had encompassed the building and polluted the area. The Anheuser-Busch Brewery did not seem to be living up to the expectation of prosperity for the area, as was depicted in the Jack Edwards piece. I was surprised by the lack of “busyness”. I’m also surprised that they didn’t offer tours. People come from all over to visit Colonial Williamsburg or Busch Gardens and perhaps tours could further boost, or certainly add to, the tourism for the area. Budweiser is “King of the American Beers”, right? It would fit in well with folks that enjoy American history and Americana…and beer.

There’s an aura secrecy surrounding the whole operation. The only sign of life beside myself consisted of a black SUV leaving the visitor parking area, possibly demonstrating what I should do. As I’m reflecting on the feeling I wonder if there is something else going on inside besides the brewing of beer. I’m specifically thinking of Breaking Bad and the commercial laundry business that hid the high-tech meth lab underneath one of its industrial washing machines. Perhaps there is some sort of illegal activity afoot or better yet there is a connection between Camp Perry and this Anheuser-Busch brewery. That secrecy impression set my imagination afire, but I guess I’ll never really know whether or not the aforementioned exists. The most likely scenario is that they don’t have enough employees to offer a tour right now, maybe they will in the future. Nevertheless, I don’t get a sense of community or openness from this factory. Overall, the exploration of the second coming of Rockefeller (Anheuser-Busch) to Williamsburg left me yearning to return to the Williamsburg City limits. Maybe a spring or summer trip will offer a more pleasant experience.

 


About

The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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