Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Which Bud is wiser?

Many readers may be aware of a story concerning the world famous beer brand Budweiser. Most are probably unaware of the detailed, drawn out and sometimes downright bitchy and bullying nature of the feud between the makers of two beers sharing the Budweiser heritage. I don’t fully understand all the ins and outs, but here goes anyway.

First, some history. Budweise is a town in what is now the Czech Republic. Actually, it’s the German name for the town. The Czech name is Ceske Budejovice. Let’s call it Budweise, hey? Budweiser literally means ‘from the town of Budweise’ so it makes sense to assume that a beer calling itself Budweiser would come from Budweise. Certain people in the beer world have shown us however, that terminology is not a science.

Budweiser Budvar is, along with Pilsener Urquell, the Czech Republics’ leading beer. Has been so since the brewery was founded in 1895. Described variously as ‘the most famous of all Czech lagers internationally and perhaps now the classic example of its style’ (Brian Glover, the New Guide to Beer) to ‘this is some seriously good piss’ (Prof. Pilsner, Which Bud is wiser?). It has a subdued malt palate, a natural hop flavour and a good kick in the bitterness. 5% alcohol by volume and 330mls.

Budweiser is made in the United States by Anheuser-Busch of St. Louis. The brewery began in 1860 and its twelve brewing factories account for about 40% the US beer market. Budweiser is its flagship brew. It was launched in 1876 and named after the Czech town previously mentioned. Its reviewers tend to comment upon its virtues thusly: “An incredible amount of effort goes into brewing this beer of underwhelming blandness.” (Willie Simpson, The Beer Bible), “We don’t know why this is in the book, it’s almost not beer.” (Canaider & Duncan Powell, Beer), and “I wouldn’t wash my dog in this thin pissy rice water.” (Prof. Pilsner, ibid) 4.9% ABV and 355mls.

So what is all the feudin’ and a’fussin’ about? AB says it has the right to call its beer Budweiser because it was launched 20 years before Budvar produced a Budweiser beer. Budvar says AB can get stuffed because; a) our brewery began in Budweise in 1795, b) Your beer is made in the US which was not in the Czech Republic last time we looked, c)You’re German and d) You’re beer is shit. They didn’t really use the last bit in court, I added it for emphasis.

The litigation continued on and off since the Budvar Boys tried to export their brand into the US. It has been sold there under the name Crystal. AB has won nearly all the battles in a war celebrating its centenary this year, although it has to sell its beer as Bud in some countries where Budvar got in first.

But it seems that the war may be ending. In a landmark agreement, AB and Budvar have come to an arrangement where AB will distribute Budvar’s Budweiser in the US. Budvar claims a win in that AB needs a drinkable beer to keep its imported premium sales up. AB says because the agreement is to sell the beer under the Czechvar brand that the little guy concedes defeat over the ownership of the Budweiser name.

I think that this fight is not yet over.

A quick disclaimer before I go. Readers who have become familiar with my beer taste and writing style will be aware that in the opening paragraph when I say “famous beer brand Bud”, I refer to the renown of the Bud, the fact that it is the world’s leading beer brand – an achievement worthy of note as it really almost isn’t beer. I am not referring to quality.

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