Drinking beer is a great pastime. But recently, beer lovers have taken to a new hobby: Suing beer brands over their labeling. Who knew bar flies had time to be so litigious?
At this point, we could use an Untappd-style app to keep track of all the beers that have been sued for deceptive advertising: In the past couple years, Kirin, Beck’s, Fosters and Guinness have all been sued for not being brewed in the countries they purport to be from. And even domestic drinks have felt the legal wrath: Blue Moon was sued for not being as “craft” as it claims; Coors Light was sued for not always being from the Rockies. Not all of these cases have been won (and some are still pending), but at least a couple prominent wins have kept the spate of lawsuits flowing.
The most recent: An American beer drinker (and optometrist) from Florida has filed a proposed class action lawsuit in Miami federal court alleging that the deceptive packaging on Leffe beer led him to pay an additional premium for an ale he believed came from a Belgian abbey. In fact, Leffe – which is owned by the world’s biggest beer brand, Anheuser-Busch InBev – is produced in a brewing plant in Leuven, Belgium, with a capacity of about 238 million gallons a year that’s also used to spit out other big brands like Stella Artois.
Leffe’s label prominently features an image of the Abbaye de Leffe, which hasn’t produced beer in a long time, primarily because it was destroyed in 1794 during the French Revolution. Obviously, an image doesn’t necessarily imply that that’s where the beer is made (for instance, I don’t think a lawsuit claiming that Pipeworks Ninja vs. Unicorn DIPA isn’t actually made by a ninja and a unicorn would hold much water), but the lawsuit suggests that that abbey image coupled with language such as “brewed and perfected by Belgian monks” and “750 years of Belgian tradition” all adds up to deceptive packaging.
“Their marketing quite clearly shows Leffe to be a specialty craft beer,” Natalie Rico, one of the case’s lawyers, told Reuters. “Consumers believe they are buying something that is limited quantity and very high quality. That is not the case.”
Sure, brewers should be required to have accurate packaging, though at the rate we’re going, all beer’s going to have to be put in those white cans that just say “BEER” on them. Not to say that those cans don’t look cool, but it would get kind of confusing.