Budweiser's darker, more flavorful twin

A small Czech brewery has made its own version of Budweiser for centuries. Anheuser-Busch InBev is not happy about sharing the name, however.

By Jason Notte Dec 18, 2012 2:25PM

Image: Beer (Corbis)For more than 100 years, what the world's beer drinkers recognized as Budweiser depended largely on where they were standing. That won't change anytime soon now that talks over exclusive use of the name have collapsed.

Global megabrewer Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) wants the world to know Budweiser as the U.S. does: A pale, Clydesdale-pulled, multi-packaged light lager that permeates every aspect of adult culture and is nearly inescapable if you're attempting to buy a beer. The Budejovicky Budvar brewery in Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic, wants to keep its Budweiser name associated with its town, its brewery and its darker, more flavorful lager. The former wants the name for brand consistency, the latter says the name is the primary reason it exists.

Before exclusivity talks broke down, the courts have been siding with the relatively little Czech brewery. Though Budejovicky Budvar produced 279 million pints of Budweiser last year to A-B's 73.9 billion and brought in revenue of $101 million in 2011 compared to InBev's $39 billion, Budvar has won 88 of 124 lawsuits against Anheuser-Busch over the past 11 years. Though A-B InBev has the rights to the Budweiser name in roughly 80 countries, Budvar still has exclusive rights to Budweiser in 68 countries, mostly in Europe, including beer-loving Germany.

So how did we get here? Much as the U.S. embraced baseball when the rest of the world took up soccer, history's disparate paths on each side of the Atlantic made Budweiser mean many things to many people. Budweiser was born in 1795 at the Budweiser Burgerbrau brewery in Ceske Budejovice and hit U.S. shores as an export in the early 1870s. The founders of Anheuser-Busch liked the style so much that they built their own beer around it and began selling it as Budweiser in the U.S. in 1876.

That became a bit of a problem in 1895, when Budweiser Burgerbrau became a house brewery for German royals and Budejovice's citzens founded Budejovicky Budvar to keep the Budweiser name in town. International legal wrangling between the three brewers began in 1906, but came to a settlements in 1907 and 1939 that allowed Anheuser-Busch to use the Budweiser name in North and Central America.

A-B has never been happy about this, but has been thwarted in various attempts at using the Budweiser name exclusively. In 2000, Britain allowed both A-B and Budvar to use the Budweiser trademark om the United Kingdom, stating that drinkers could see the clear difference between the two. That decision was upheld this summer as an appeals court refused to overturn Budvar's trademark.

Anheuser-Busch briefly tried to market Budvar's Budweiser in the U.S. as Czechvar in the mid-2000s to curry favor with the Czech brewer, but to no avail. The European Union took this line of thinking a step further in 2009, when it rejected A-B's application for a Europe-wide trademark on Budweiser. Today, the trademark dispute is the subject of 61 lawsuits in 11 countries.

The stakes are high on both sides. While Budvar's hold on Budweiser in beer-swilling European markets is somewhat disconcerting to A-B InBev, the big brewer can work around it with its huge portfolio of other brands including Stella Artois and Becks. That's a bit tougher in growing beer markets like Japan, Korea and China, where Budvar owns rights to A-B's best-known brand. A-B wants to unleash Budweiser everywhere, but that's a tough proposition when you can't even control what's on the label.

Budvar, meanwhile, has reason to fear what may happen if its native Bohemia loses exclusive rights to Budweiser. Fellow big Czech brewer Staropramen fell into InBev's hands in 2000, was sold to a private equity firm in 2009 and was just picked up by MolsonCoors (TAP) in April. With Budvar's international growth already stifled thanks to its Bud battle with A-B InBev, its Budweiser exclusivity may be the only thing preventing it from becoming just the latest small brewery snatched up by the big brewing conglomerates.

The Brits have a point, however. If you're a beer drinker in St. Louis used to light, refreshing, canned fare, you'd never reach for the darker, more complex Budvar or Czechvar. Meanwhile, beer pilgrims in Prague would be loathe to pick a yellow, fizzy American Bud over a big glass of the browner brew sitting before them at a beer hall. Unfortunately, brewmasters and beer companies seldom see it the same way, which is why drinkers will still want to check your passport stamp before ordering a Bud when far from home.

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Dec 18, 2012 4:47PM
Budweiser (Ours) is the McDonalds of beer.
Dec 18, 2012 2:52PM
Have enjoyed the Budvar brand in the Czech Republic many times and it is far superior to the US version. Less preservatives, more taste and you can drink all you want without a huge reminder the next morning!
Dec 18, 2012 7:32PM
Budvar makes the American Budweiser taste like waste water, I will take quality over quantity anytime.
Dec 18, 2012 6:46PM
Likewise Anheuser-Busch sued Yuengling for exclusive rights to the eagle logo. Bud lost that one, too. The Judge is alledged to have told Bud's attorneys that they were "risking all", since it was proven that Yuengling had used the logo for decades before Bud "borrowed" it.
Dec 18, 2012 7:26PM

All these mega brands are making millions and millions of dollars....they  must be charging way to much for their products. We  need to support smaller independent manufactures....time to spread the capitalism and stop the monopolization.

Dec 18, 2012 7:59PM

They stole the name from the Czechs and they stole the eagle from Yuengling.  Who did they steal the bad beer from?????


Dec 18, 2012 4:58PM
The real question is why the Czech Budweiser would want to share a name with the worst American beer on earth.
Dec 18, 2012 7:17PM
bud-------never could drink that dish water
Dec 18, 2012 5:14PM
So they basically stole the name and now they want all rights to it. This sounds like it could be a great movie/documentary.
Dec 18, 2012 5:19PM
Why would any quality beer maker associate themselves with BudWater?
Dec 18, 2012 6:36PM
The Czech beer wouldn't have to be very good at all to be better than "American" Budweiser.  Of course, that's not saying much.  Stagnant pond water would be better too.
Dec 19, 2012 10:20AM
Seems to me that the Czech Budweiser was there first, so AB should get over it and come up with a new name - I like the idea of marketing Bud.  However, after all is said and done, the Brits have the best solution, let both companies sell Budweiser and let the people decide which one they want to buy.
Dec 19, 2012 7:02AM
American Budweiser is terrible beer; it is like an outhouse near a stream (pissing close to water).
Dec 18, 2012 4:51PM
Silly question..............How does one find Budvar in the U.S.. I'm a die hard bud drinker and NEVER knew it originated in europe   :(
Dec 18, 2012 7:23PM
This sounds like such a great marketing and distribution opportunity for In-Bev.  If they could work out an agreement with Budvar to allow InBev to market and distribute their beer as "Budweiser Dark" in the U.S., it could compensate for the loss of marketshare of the U.S. Budweiser market and provide a tastier European alternative that would appeal to those turning to microbrews.

Of course In-Bev is too big to consider this, and Budvar is probably too proud to be associated with In-Bev, especially after all of the lawsuits.  
Dec 18, 2012 8:40PM
Why not just market Budweiser as Bud in other parts of the world, since that's what most American's call Budweiser.
Dec 19, 2012 9:26AM
American Crudweiser is crap and shouldn't even be classified as beer. There are so many better beers in the US and don't understand why people will buy this watered down stuff. Talk about a waste of money.
Dec 18, 2012 8:31PM

American Bud is huge because of years of successful marketing efforts from way back when (who doesn't like Ed McMahon and Clydesdales?)  I don't know if it's the "beechwood" aging but I find it has a bizarre cidery taste that makes me want to puke.  Budvar (Czechvar in the U.S.) is really good but I'd take Pilsner Urquell, Lion or a bunch of German beers instead.

Dec 18, 2012 6:04PM
If ya cant put a flame to it after twisting, Its wrong kind of BUDZ to Enjoy !
Dec 19, 2012 10:34AM
It's just beer people.  Get a grip.
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