April, 2001 By Bobby Bush

A new front has opened in a decades-old international beer war. The battle, still far from over, between Anheuser-Busch and Budesjovicky Budvar makes Chinese-American diplomacy look simple in comparison. For years, AB has fought to secure the trade name Budweiser in Europe, only to be stymied by the state-own Czech Republic brewery that calls Ceske Budejovice home. Until the beginning of the 20th-century, Ceske Budejovice was known as Budweis. Budweiser means “Budweis brew.”

A pleasant, refreshing pilsner lager, Budweiser Budvar has been unavailable in the United States since 1939. That's when an agreement was reached prohibiting the Czech Republic’s use of the Budvar name in North America. Various other agreements and court rulings limit AB's use of the Budweiser moniker in some European markets. At one point, the St. Louis-based rival sought to preempt the skirmishes by acquisition. In a stand of stubbornness and state pride, the Czech Republic refused to sell the beleaguered company.

A St. Louis restaurant began using the Budweiser name in 1876 and registered the trademark two years later. The name was reassigned to A-B in 1883. The Czech Republic claims they've brewed beer in Ceske Budejovice for over 700 years, though the Budesjovicky Budvar brewery has only been in business since 1895. Anheuser-Busch, who has spent millions and millions on advertising promoting the Budweiser name, retaliates by asserting that the Czech brewery did not prominently display Budweiser on its labels until the 1960s. Why can't we all just get along?

Late last year, Budvar arrived in America with little fanfare. A beer by any other name is still that beer. And so it is with Czechvar, a.k.a. Budvar in disguise. "Our goal [is] to sell our beer (in the US) in a non-confrontational manner," Budvar's general director Jiri Bocek explained at a press conference. This change of course does not mean that the Budvar name will be discontinued. It’ll be Czechvar here and the traditional name wherever it is legal.

California importer Kip Bruzzone is using the slogan "It is what you think it is" in promotional literature for Czechvar. He further explains, "We're going to sell it based on the beer in the bottle, not the name." Get the picture? Another distributor proclaims: “Only the name has been changed to protect the beer.” No doubt the puns will be flying.

Czechvar is a combination of the words "Czech" and "pivovar," which means brewery. Introduced last year in test market sites, US consumer acceptance exceeded expectations. To date, this lilting lager, packaged in 12 ounce, six-pack bottles and in 16.9 ounces singles, has been placed on sale in seven states: California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Georgia and North Carolina. Alcohol percentage is 5% abv.

Politics and lawyers aside, Czechvar is a light, refreshing lager made from Czech-grown Saaz hops, Moravian malt and soft well water drawn from artesian wells. Czech has no adjuncts, such as the rice extract used in many A-B beers. Premium priced Czechvar will probably not sway too many US Budweiser drinkers away from their tall boys, though the conversion, if desired, will not be that difficult. The transitional shock - in culture and taste - is overcome quickly. The flavorful, traditional European pilsner makes the mega-brewed beers (all of them) tastes as bland as water. Once you go Czech, you may never go back.

This on-going conflict is not quite as historic as David and Goliath, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Budvar's production last year totaled 1.35 million hectoliters, just over one percent of Anheuser-Busch's annual output.

After I alerted them of its new name and availability, Proctor Wholesale Company, a Hickory wholesaler associated with Coors, has decided to distribute the beer locally. Look for it wherever fine beers are sold.

For more information follow the links at news-001477.html.

Beer History Brewed in Prague, Czech Republic, Pilsner Urquel literally means “original pilsner.” The light though crisply hopped lager is the shining example that other pilsners are compared too, even those claiming “true pilsner” status.

St. Brigid, patroness of Ireland, performed many miracles, including transforming bath water into beer for the thirsty Irish clergy.

According to a 10th-century B.C. Chinese imperial edict, entrance to heaven requires the use of alcohol in moderation.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush


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