Swansea native Paul Castro has taken his rightful place on the throne as Budweiser’s lord and ruler, winning the beer maker’s “King of Bud” contest — along with a king’s ransom $50,000 cash reward and bragging rights as the king of the King of Beers.
The contest, which ran last fall, asked Bud drinkers to share photos on social media showing their love for Budweiser.
Castro doesn’t just love Budweiser — he lives it. He posted photos of himself decked in an astonishing hand-crafted royal costume made from hundreds of glittering red bottlecaps and a chain-mail shirt of can-tabs, standing before a colossal castle built of Bud cases. It was enough to catch the attention of the Bud big-wigs.
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To gaze upon Castro’s royal person is to be amazed by the level of attention he paid to his King of Beers costume — and the commitment it took to create it.
“I just wanted to make something cool that I enjoyed doing," Castro says. “It just kind of took off on its own.”
It’s not the kind of project you throw together in an afternoon to win a single contest. Castro started creating this outfit in 2012.
“There’s over 1,000 caps in the coat,” Castro says. “I’d been saving bottlecaps, and thought, ‘I want to make something out of these.' I don’t like to waste stuff.”
Friends suggested he build a table with them — but that was thinking too small. Kings don’t think small.
"I’m like, everybody makes a table. It’d be cool if I made a coat or something," he says. “So I started brainstorming.”
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He started with a cloak, made of red Bud bottlecaps, each painstakingly hand-punched with an awl four times and threaded with 60-pound test fishing line to form a draping of sometimes sharp metal. Running your hand over it, it feels both heavy and incredibly delicate. Folding it back emits a gentle, rasping sort of rattle.
A few years later, Castro got the idea to add a shirt of chain-mail to the ensemble — and his project took on a medieval flavor.
The chain-mail shirt is made of hundreds of shiny beer-can tabs. Castro snips each one and threads them together by hand, weaving them into metal mesh fabric. On the chest is the pattern of a Budweiser logo in red, using special red can tabs. It’s an incredibly time-consuming process, demanding on his fingers.
“The red ones are a little more difficult," he says. “They’ve got the crown stamped in them. So I’d actually have to bend back every one of those tabs in there, bend it and snip it.”
Over the years, Castro has added pieces to the costume, like a crown bejeweled with bottlecaps and a scepter made of flattened Bud cans capable of holding — and pouring — a beer. And since every king must be prepared to defend his kingdom, Castro recently built himself a sword, with a Bud tap handle as the grip.
“This year, a buddy had gotten me a Budweiser tap," he says. “I’d wanted to make a sword. I had a friend weld some steel together.”
The sword is heavy, easily three feet long, with a shiny red grip — a noble blade.
“It’s not sharp,” he says. “I thought just in case I wanted to attempt to bring this out in public.”
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Castro had worn the costume before for fun, but when he saw Budweiser was promoting its King of Bud photo contest, he felt like this was his moment — his chance to rise to power.
He'd been saving empty Bud cases for a while, and with his brother took four trips ferrying them from his home in Warren, Rhode Island, to his mom’s house in Swansea. There, in her driveway, he and his dad constructed a castle fit for a king, stacking Budweiser cases 14 boxes high, complete with battlements and torches built of Bud bottles. His sister helped him compose "An Ode to Bud," a poem he included with his Instagram post.
“I took the photo shoot the day before the contest ended, just in case anybody would see it and come up with an idea. There was some strategy,” Castro says. “Construction took about four hours. The consumption took a lot longer — about seven years.”
The work he put into that photo shoot was a decade in the making.
“Ten years and 10,000 beers," he said.
After the contest had closed to entries, there was an agonizing period where he wasn’t sure what would come next. But in the back of his mind, he felt he’d had the contest won.
“I almost feel like I manifested it, in a way,” he says. "Everybody was like, 'Oh, you’re gonna win, you’re gonna win.' I kind of felt like I was going to win — I felt like I should win, because I knew the time and effort I put into it. But I didn't want to get my hopes up.”
Budweiser contacted him privately just before New Year’s to tell him he’d won, that he was the King of Bud. The spoils of his victory: $50,000 and the “Keys to the Kingdom” — a getaway for him and a guest to St. Louis, Missouri, home of the Anheuser-Busch brewery. He’ll get a VIP brewery tour and experience with the Budweiser Clydesdale horses, a photo shoot, travel expenses and a $500 gift card to the brewery gift shop. He’ll also be featured on a plaque in the St. Louis brewery for a year.
Just before Budweiser made his ascent to the throne officially public on Facebook, they prepared him to expect a royal announcement.
"I was starting to get all excited," he said. “I go to Yankee Spirits in Swansea to get some beer. Right as they’re about to announce it, I look at my phone and see that they posted it. I’m skipping and jumping, I’m dancing through the store. I’ve got my headphones on and I’m listening to a podcast, and in the background they play music — and the music, as I’m grabbing the case of beer, I swear to God, it says 'I was meant to be king' in the song. It was serendipity. I got chills. I get chills just telling you about it.”
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When not ruling over the Bud empire, Castro still continues to add to his royal garb, having a blast recycling his empties into art. In his Warren apartment, working alongside his cat Buddy (short for Budweiser, naturally), Castro has a room devoted to his artwork. His garment hangs carefully on a mannequin in a corner, and a cardboard box filled with dividers has hundreds of bottlecaps organized by color. Boxes and buckets contain more spare parts. All these raw materials weren’t just generated by him, of course — friends share his love of Bud and have contributed plenty over the years.
On a workbench, surrounded by tools and discarded snips of fishing line, is a kilt he’s in the middle of creating, built from bottlecaps. Castro points out that some of the caps are aluminum and taller than others, and it soon becomes clear they’re in the pattern of the Budweiser crown logo. Again, gazing at it rewards you with more clever detail.
In his living room stands a bobblehead — of himself, in his King of Beers outfit. It was a Christmas gift from his mom, Libby.
“She was recording me as I opened it," he says. “I see the crown and I just started crying. I couldn’t help it. I just started laughing and crying — so happy. My mom’s great. I couldn’t have done it without her.”
He's thrilled to have won the contest and the prize money, and excited to represent Budweiser as part of it.
“I don’t know what this will hold, but I’ve got a lot of ideas for commercials and a lot of marketing ideas that I hope I get an opportunity to share," he says.
But building the outfit was part of a greater project than any one contest can measure, one that’s given him, his friends, and everyone he meets a great deal of fun. Castro smiles and laughs easily — when you meet him, you're an instant friend. He wears the costume a couple of times a year, sometimes at ComicCons, and every time the suit spreads smiles to others. People rush over, bow to him and ask for selfies. Sometimes they take a knee before him, and he knights them with his scepter.
“When I wear this out in public, I can’t walk 10 feet without people swarming. ‘Can I take your picture?'” he says. “And I’m happy to. I have a good time. I love meeting people — I’m a king of the people. I like the praise. It brings joy to other people, and I appreciate that too.”
Dan Medeiros can be reached at email@example.com. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today.