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 19, 2012 5:58PM
I did not drink beer until I was 22.  Could not stand the taste.  Got over to Germany in 77 when I was in the military and got hold of a Stuttgarter Hofbrau and that was that.  I will drink some Sam Adams and Shiner from time to time but it's mostly German Beers, preferably of the Dopplebock variety!
Dec 19, 2012 5:49PM
I have had Budvar while in Germany and Czechvar here in the US and it is definitely what you would call BEER, not this BUDPISS we have here.
Dec 19, 2012 4:54PM

american budweiser is made of old sweatsock drippings,goat urine,and water directly from a louisiana bayou


at least thats what it tastes like.....so bad....its popularity is such a sad sign of the corporate brainwashing of america


ill stick to newcastle,st peters organic,and various belgian brews

Dec 19, 2012 4:22PM
A-B should use potatoes rather than corn as their adjuvant, and rename it "Spudwieser".
Dec 19, 2012 3:14PM
Dec 19, 2012 2:30PM
if everyone hates bud so much, why is it the top selling beer in the u.s. ?
Dec 19, 2012 1:24PM
Why can't I get the Czech one in the US?  It actually sounds like it might really be beer...instead of a mixture of of water and yellow dye
Dec 19, 2012 12:36PM
you don't need to compare the 2.  One is actual beer, and the other is beerwater.  I'll admit that a really cold can of beerwater can be refreshing on a hot day, and I'll accept that some people even grew to like the taste, but any true beer drinker would never think of the 2 as comparable in any way.

Dec 19, 2012 12:13PM
After living in Germany and France for a number of years, I found the American versions of beer, coffee, and bread to be grossly inferior to the European counterparts. I have pretty well focused on Warsteiner since returning to the States because Bud and the rest of America's offerings are really thin, tasteless, chemically brewed garbage.
Dec 19, 2012 12:08PM
I was in Prague a few years ago and enjoyed the "other" Budweiser.  It is much, much better than the drek we get here! 
Dec 19, 2012 12:02PM
After reading the Bud bashers comments, just think......there's a Bud Lite too.
Dec 19, 2012 12:01PM
They could just cal it all  horse urine. Or p!ss. what a flavor!!
Dec 19, 2012 11:59AM
But wiper is clydesdale piss. Worst tasting beer on the planet. Must be the rice!
Dec 19, 2012 11:35AM
i've tasted both lagers and there is no comparison, the czech bud blows the inbev bud out of the universe. also, the czechs used the name before the americans . if you enjoy hangovers, drink the american bud.
Dec 19, 2012 11:30AM
Budweiser is cheap, bland beer.  The American beer drinker has been trained, over the years,  to expect cheap, bland beer, but the sheep have revolted and are moving to better beers. 
Dec 19, 2012 10:34AM
It's just beer people.  Get a grip.
Dec 19, 2012 10:24AM

While all you wannabe beer drinkers can stand/sit around sipping your microbrews in your speedos and dresses, the rest of us will continue to reward Budweiser, Miller, and Coors for sponsoring almost every sport available to mankind.  I can't nor want to imagine a world without these "big boys"; without them, it would be very boring listening to you wannabes sewing dresses or knitting mittens for your husbands!


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.
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