Henry King dies

Industry leader served brewing giants, microbreweries with equal zeal

Apr 27, 2005 - Henry King, known for years of service to both the largest and smallest players in the beer industry, this week lost his long fight with cancer.


King served as president of the United States Brewers Association for 22 years, leaving in 1983 a few years prior to its dissolution. He returned to the industry in 1992 as executive director of the Brewers Association of America, retiring in 1998.

"There is no one that I have known in my business life for whom I have more respect," Anchor Brewing president Fritz Maytag said a few years ago. "The brewing industry should get together and award Henry a 'Brewer's Gold Star' to go with his Silver Star. There is no question he was in combat for the brewers. We won most of the battles, always coming out with more honor and respectability than we had gone in with, due overwhelmingly to Henry King."

King is credited with playing a key role making the small brewers tax differential a law. There were fewer than 100 operating when the differential became law in 1976, and now there are more than 1,400.

H.R. 3605 reduced the federal excise tax on beer from $9 to $7 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels produced. The small brewer's tax remained at $7 per barrel in 1990 when the federal government doubled the regular excise tax. The BAA had been lobbying for they break for nearly 30 years before King took charge of the political effort.

King began a new career in 1983, teaching business and law at Georgia Court College. He'd already reared 15 children with his first wife, Ottilie, who died in 1979, when he married his second wife, Patricia. They wanted to adopt, but because King was 63 they had to go to Honduras. The couple soon went back to adopt the boy's brother, and began annual pilgrimages to the island, taking a volunteer team of doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists and high school student aids to provide free care to the poor in the region of Urraco, Sulaco and Olancho.

They built three orphanages and a rural medical clinic that provides emergency medical care for 25,000 people annually, primarily poor farmers.

King won a Silver Star, a Purple Heart and 14 combat decorations during World War II, and later served in several executive posts in grocery and related businesses. He took the job as USBA president in 1962 and is best known for decisive action in steering the industry clear of potential disaster in 1976. The deaths of 16 men where linked to cobalt salts that Quebec's Dow brewery put in its beer to promote foam stability. That caused liver damage among frequent drinkers, the brewery's best customers, and Dow ended up closing.

After King learned the deaths were related to cobalt, he spent 72 hours locked in his office, always on the phone, talking to every brewer in the United States.

"In retrospect, for what I did, I probably could have been sued," he said. "We gave the brewing industry 72 hours to discontinue the use of cobalt in their products. We never asked a brewer whether he used it or not. We just made him give us an affidavit to give to the government that said on a given date 72 hours later, he was not using cobalt."

King didn't play favorites, treating giants Anheuser-Busch and Pabst alike in the 1970s, and speaking frankly to microbrewery owners in the 1990s. King said the nicest compliment he ever received was from August Busch III.

"Henry has been a valuable asset to the brewing industry for many years and continues to be do this day," Busch said in 2000. "As my father once said, 'Henry walked the fine line between competitive brewers as though it were a four-lane highway.'"