Not all Buds are equal (except in the UK)

Plucky local St Louis, Missouri, brewer Anheuser-Busch suffered a legal setback in the UK this week, when the House of Lords refused to remove the ownership of the "Bud" and "Budweiser" trademarks in Britain from the Czech state-owned conglomerate Budejovicky Budvar.

Without giving a reason for their decision, the three law lords have effectively put a stop, in the UK at least, to a 20-year long intellectual property row between the two companies. Anheuser-Busch will not be able to appeal this decision, or launch further legal actions under UK law.

The decision also means that the UK market is currently the only market where both companies are in active competition selling different products, both with the Budweiser name.

Suits between the two rivals have been played out, or are ongoing in around 60 countries and markets, with both sides claiming significant victories in various territories. To date, Anheuser-Busch holds the upper hand in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Italy, New Zealand and Spain, although the UK decision will no doubt be seen as a heavy blow. The UK is Anheuser-Busch's second largest market, behind domestic sales, for Budweiser beer. The Czech brewer, meanwhile, exports to over 50 countries, is allowed to use the Budweiser name in over 40 of them, and can also claim ownership of the Bud trademark in a number of markets.

Bud v Bud: King of Beers v Beer of Kings

In olden times, both Anheuser-Busch and Budejovicky Budvar contentedly brewed their beers, both using the Budweiser name, the name deriving from the town of Budweis in former Czechosolovakia. The Czechs chose the name because they lived there, and were brewing according to a centuries-old formula, while the American company used the name because its founders, Eberhard Anheuser and Adolphus Busch, were German emigrants who brewed dark Bavarian-style beers, before switching to versions of pale Czech Pilsner and Budweiser, according to the same methods. Somewhat cheekily, they even pilfered the Czech beer's nickname, Beer of Kings, albeit with a cunning first and last word switch.

The Anheuser-Busch case, at least their soundbite press statement case, rests largely on the 'we did it before you' argument, having brewed Budweiser beer since 1876. However, Budejovicky Budvar claims to have exported its Budweiser beer as early as 1872, and the brewing method is probably a few hundred years older than yet.

Despite agreements signed between the two companies, in 1911 and 1939, the dispute will most likely only be resolved when every global market and legal jurisdiction has made a ruling one way or the other. That is, assuming the Czech government can privatise its crown beer jewels but manage to keep Budejovicky Budvar out of the clutches of foreign buyers, or can keep enough capital in the company to expand further.

For the record

Anheuser-Busch is in fact the world's largest brewer. Net income last year was $269 million, up 13.7% on 2001. As well as brewing a wide range of beers, Anheuser-Busch owns theme parks, such as Grant's Farm (20 million visitors and counting), and recycles stuff. It's big.

Budejovicky Budvar is owned by the Czech government, and is much smaller. However, it does have access to a domestic market unrivaled by any other. Annual Czech beer consumption is the highest, per capita, in the world, at 160 litres.



The "King of Beers"

"...the true American lager..."

I suppose that sooner or later it had to happen. I've been living in California for most of six years now, and despite drinking possibly hundreds of brews, had never tried two classic American favourites - Budweiser and malt liquor. Well that's not strictly correct. Let me say that I have not tried them over here. I do recall having a Bud in one pub back in England that (if memory serves me well) sold nothing but lager, and a friend once gave me a Colt 45. I did not have great memories of either.

Still, that was in the past, in a different life altogether, and as people frequently remind me "you're in America now". It was also before I had read an article shared with me by one of our current houseguests, in which the author waxes both polemic and lyrical in support of this, the "King of Beers". Sometime when you have ten or so minutes, have a read of it.

This same houseguest decided that I needed to sample the delights of Budwesier, and I will give you that story in a short while. Meantime, I will give you a precis of the writer's arguments before proceeding with my taste test. His major arguments run thus:

  • Budweiser has been around a long time - longer than most British breweries, beginning in 1876 (before the Budvar brewery), and has been using the same recipe ever since. It's brewed with all-natural ingredients, barley, hops, yeast and rice ( with beech chips for conditioning). It is then filtered and pasteurised (common to many other beers). "Adolphus Busch in 1876 was a German master brewer of exactly the sort that beer nuts go gooey over, he was trying to make a high quality beer (as proved by Budweiser’s use of expensive Saaz hops), and he decided that the best way to brew a lager was to use rice." I quote, because I can think of no better way of putting it.
  • It neither tastes like piss, nor it it a cissy beer. Apparently it has a lower pH than urine, hence is "definitely more acidic than piss".
  • He argues that the modern microbreweries are a product of the Industrial Revolution, and their beers are not "artisanal" in the sense that they are under industrial quality control, just as Bud is, presumably.
  • Budvar does not have a right to call itself the original, Busch neither stole the brand nor sought to copy (given that they were brewing before Budvar, who began in 1895). The original Budweiser Bürgerbräu was, according to Wikipedia, founded 1785, and imported to the US in 1871.

Let the Judging Begin!

First up, Peter (the instigator of this whole enterprise) bought a rather large can of the true American lager which were dutifully poured into glasses. It was crystal clear, a pale straw colour, exactly as I'd expected. As is my wont, I then stuck my schnoz in to get a good hooterful (the "nose" of a beer, as a wine, is an important part of the enjoyment to me, as regular readers will know). My first reaction was that there was a little yeastiness in the nose, but it was momentary. This was replaced by a slight musky aroma, but again, just for a moment. I took another snootful. There was something there, a little sweet malt, and sipping it didn't do much for me.

Peter, bless his heart, agreed with my analysis despite his bluster that it would be a good drink. We tossed the undrunk portion in the sink and poured a snobbier brew for ourselves.

Is it refreshing? Well, yes - but then pretty much anything served at close to freezing point is going to provide that. Is it disappointing as a stand-alone beer? Well, frankly it is. But then I'm not about to be a snob about this - Budweiser is not a beer to drink and enjoy as a beer, it's a beer to quaff on a hot day, after a hard day's work, in front of the television, or indeed, all three. If I were grilling on a 100° day and you offered me a Bud I would raise dust to get to it.

It's not for nothing that Anheiser-Busch sells a lot of this to a mass audience, one that their marketeers knows well. The pitch is clear - simple beer, a standard and reliable recipe that never changes. Maybe the beer snobs should just suck it up and allow the drinking masses to enjoy it.

In Praise of Budweiser

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.