Back before the rise of craft beer made it possible to divide an average beer list into actually informative categories like pilsner, stout or IPA, most of those lists used two categories: domestic (cheap) and imported (expensive). With some exceptions a beer's place of origin doesn’t tell you much about its quality. But the logic seemed to be that imported beers deserved a higher price point because they traveled farther to get to your liver.
But as giant international beer conglomerates consolidated dozens of brands over the last decade or so, lines between domestic and import got fuzzy and many of these “imported” beers were no longer even brewed in the country they supposedly came from.
But thanks to the classic notion that “imported” equals more valuable, the new beer conglomerates had a very real interest in convincing customers that certain brews crossed oceans to get to them through labels and advertising. Consumer advocates, on the other hand, believed some of these advertising tactics bordered on being unlawful. Now, for the second time this year, Anheuser-Busch has agreed to settle with those consumer advocates for allegedly misleading consumers into thinking that Beck’s brewed its beer in Germany when it’s actually produced right here in the USA and has been since 2012.
The suit alleged that after moving production of Beck’s from Germany to St. Louis in 2012, the brewery moved from a recipe that included all German ingredients to one that used local water, barley and some domestic hops. “The problem with this case was Beck’s beer was a genuine German beer produced in Germany with all German ingredients,” Tucker Ronzetti, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told us. “When it was shifted it over to United States production, they used mostly American ingredients, made it here in the United States, but their packaging and labeling didn’t clearly reveal to the consumer that it was being made here in the United states, and the product was still commanding a premium price for that.”
If the current preliminary approval is finalized in October, anyone who purchased Beck’s since May 2011 is eligible for a refund – up to $50 for those with proofs of purchase and up to $12 for those far less anal types that haven’t been saving their beer receipts for the past four years. Anheuser-Busch also agreed to clearly mark Beck’s bottles, cans, packaging and its website as “Brewed in the USA” or “Product of USA” for at least the next five years.
Anheuser-Busch came to a similar agreement over their “Japanese” brand Kirin earlier this year, a case also argued by the same legal team. Ronzetti said that they’re hoping that going after a market leader like A-B will encourage other breweries to adhere to better standards moving forward. Though as WSJ points out, many other “foreign” brands actually made in the US like Red Stripe and Fosters already use the “made in the USA” label to cover their asses.