The brand was purchased by Amsterdam-based Heineken in 2010.

By Jelisa Castrodale
November 30, 2020
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It's been 10 years since the Heineken Group acquired the beer operations of Mexico's Fomento Económico Mexicano (FEMSA) in a multi-billion dollar deal that gave the Dutch company control of FEMSA's massive Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma brewer, and turned FEMSA into one of the biggest shareholders of Heineken N.V. It also put Heineken in charge of some of FEMSA's Mexican beer brands, including Dos Equis, Sol, and Tecate.

"The acquisition strengthens considerably our position within the global beer market," Jean-François van Boxmeer, Heineken's then-chairman and CEO said at the time. "[It] expands our portfolio of leading international brands and enhances our leading position in the U.S. import market."

Although Heineken has had control of Tecate for a decade, that news must've been slow to reach New York City, where a man has filed a lawsuit alleging that Heineken has misled customers into thinking that the beer isn't really Mexican.

Credit: Getty Images

In his legal filing, Miguel Schelmetty wrote that Tecate presents itself as a Mexican beer through its name, its "traditional Meso-American typeface," its Aztec Eagle logo, and the word 'cerveza' on its label—but cases of the beer bear an even smaller font that reads "Product of Holland" and "Brewed and canned by HBBV Amsterdam, Holland [...] Imported by Cervezas Mexicanas, White Plains, NY."

Schelmetty also says that Tecate is sold for "a premium"—$11.99 for a 12-pack—and that he wouldn't have been willing to pay that roughly $1 per can if he'd known the beer was made in Holland. “Defendant sold more of the Product and at higher prices than it would have in the absence of this misconduct, resulting in additional profits at the expense of consumers,” the court documents say, according to the New York Post.

According to Tecate's website, the beer has been brewed in the city of Tecate, Mexico for more than 60 years. (The website also says that the beer is imported into the United States by Cervezas Mexicanas, White Plains, NY). 

Although Schelmetty's lawsuit is the first to call out Tecate, it's far from the first to go after Big Beer for misguided origin stories. Five years ago, Red Stripe was sued for failing to properly disclose that its Jamaican-style lager was brewed in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, which followed similar (and mildly successful) lawsuits against Anheuser-Busch for its not-totally-German Beck's beer, and its not-really-Japanese Kirin brews. 

Earlier this year, Mexico temporarily suspended beer production, deeming it a "non-essential" industry during that stage of its coronavirus-related shutdown, and Heineken was among the breweries who petitioned the government to reconsider their decision. Less than a week later, the authorities changed their minds, and allowed production to resume. 

It is possible that, anticipating another nationwide shutdown, Heineken temporarily moved production of Tecate to Holland, but that wasn't indicated or confirmed when Food & Wine has reached out to both Heineken and Tecate for comment.

"We are aware of a lawsuit that has been filed and we are confident in the merits of our case. Because litigation is pending, we are unable to provide any further comment at this time," a Heineken USA spokesperson told us via email.

But the Tecate brewery in Tecate, Mexico is a very real thing—it employs more than 2,200 people—and it continues to make very real Tecate beer. Whether or not that's what Cervezas Mexicanas is currently importing is another question.