All of us at G&M are very familiar with Anheuser-Busch beer products, but did you know that in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, AB made two test runs at marketing soft drink products. The first product was a carbonated beverage called Chelsea, released sometime in 1978. What was unique about the product is that it contained a slight amount of alcohol (0.5%) and was 100% naturally flavored. It also contained about 1/3 fewer calories than the average soft drink. It was allowed to be sold to minors as the alcohol content was deemed insignificant by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The flavor was much like ginger ale but with a slight beer aftertaste. The ingredients included lemon and lime juice, apple flavor, and ginger. It was marketed as the “not so soft drink.” A big problem was that, besides the alcohol, the product looked like beer and even sported a slight head. This inflamed the anti-alcohol groups that claimed AB was trying to lure young teens into an appetite for beer and alcohol products. AB countered that the alcohol was merely a by- product of the “natural process” and that it was not in any way an alcoholic beverage. Under constant pressure, AB reformulated the product without alcohol, changed the bottle glass color from clear to green, and
de-emphasized the Anheuser-Busch name on the label. However, the damage was done and AB removed all product from the test market area after a short time period. In 1980, AB took a second shot at the soft drink business with a caffeinated root beer called Root 66 in regular and sugar free varieties. It was test marketed in Columbus, Denver, Peoria, Sacramento, and Sioux Falls, Iowa. This time, AB downplayed the Anheuser-Busch name on the label but sales were far from expectations. After less than two years, AB decided to stay in the business they knew best, and Root 66 disappeared from the shelves forever by late 1981. As collectibles, neither of the brand’s cans or bottles are particularly rare, but I would say the Chelsea items are much more available than Root 66 stuff. As for tasting them, I never had Chelsea but do remember drinking a Root 66 in college. I don’t remember it being anything special which is probably why it didn’t make it.
-Brent, General Sales Manager
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