"They've got the best beer there!" she said.

"It's fresh and doesn't taste like the bottled stuff," he echoed.

The clincher: It's free. Pulling up to the historic red-brick complex on the Missis­sippi, skepticism mellows given that the tour is gratis and includes samples and visits with the Clydesdales, the brewer's gorgeous mascots that occupy an ornate 1885 barn with not a hint of horse you-know-what. Next up on the tour is the massive beechwood aging cellar, followed by the pretty 1891 brew house. But it's all prologue to the main event, the tasting, which sends our 90-strong group to the barroom at a trot. We warily order Budweiser from all of the Busch-Michelob low-carb choices. It sparkles with the nose-tickle of ginger ale. And it tastes, well, effervescent.

"This is the best Budweiser I've ever had," declares Dave.

We chase it with a Harp and a little nour­ishment at McGurk's, an atmospheric Irish pub tapping suds and grub from the motherland. In the historic, French-settled quarter known as Soulard, McGurk's does a steady lunch trade and nearly lulls us into an Irish-pipe-and-Harp-induced stupor, averted only by an itch to, well, bowl.

There's no explanation for why the International Bowling Museum is located in St.
Louis. Or why it shares space with the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame. But that it does, in a three-level space across from Busch Stadium. The $7.50 apiece entry stings, but is salved by four free frames on the mu­seum's lanes that are included with admission.

"Bowlers have always been a more or less jovial crew," historian Charles Cotton, who's quoted at the IBMHF, wrote in the 17th century. Proving him spot on, we team up with another of the sport's 90 million fans, the ballgame-bound Kevin from Pittsburgh, who once worked as a pinsetter but who failed to beat Dave's four-frame score of 70.