The Budweiser War is a trademark dispute between the Czech brewery Budweiser Budvar and the multinational giant Anheuser-Busch over the use of the name Budweiser.
While Anheuser-Busch is the world’s largest brewer, with operations in over 150 countries, Budvar remains in the hands of the Czech government, even three decades after the fall of Communism. “We are owned by the nation. We can play a role in promoting Czech beer culture and championing the Czech nation.” - says Budvar CEO Petr Dvořák. The most renowned beer from České Budějovice serves as an emblem of Czech culture.
Credits: Budweiser Budvar
The dispute has been going on for over a century, and there is no end in sight. Not only is the war not subsiding, but in the last few years, it has intensified more than ever.
Budweiser, brewed by Anheuser-Busch InBev, sells an estimated 500 million hectoliters of beer per year worldwide. Budweiser Budvar, brewed by the Czech Brewery Budvar, sells an estimated 1.2 million hectoliters of beer per year worldwide.
This means that Budweiser sells 4166 times more beer than Budweiser Budvar.
Who is right? The story is more complicated than it seems.
The seeds of the Budweiser dispute were sown in the 19th century, a conflict entwining two brewers: Anheuser-Busch from the United States and Budweiser Budvar from the Czech Republic. At the heart of this clash is the name “Budweiser,” a title deeply rooted in brewing heritage.
The town of České Budějovice, known in German as “Budweis,” located in what is now the Czech Republic, had been producing beers since the 13th century. It was from this town’s name that Adolphus Busch, co-founder of Anheuser-Busch, drew inspiration, christening his American brew “Budweiser” in 1876. So, the American Budweiser was the first Budweiser named Budweiser.
Credits: Budweiser Budvar
As Anheuser-Busch began expanding its reach internationally in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so did their legal skirmishes with Budvar. The Czech brewery had been producing its own Budweiser since 1895, and the similarities in the name led to inevitable clashes. Over the years, both companies have sought legal rulings in numerous countries to determine who has the right to use the Budweiser name.
Credits: Budweiser Anheuser-Busch
In recent years, the dispute has intensified. In 2017, Anheuser-Busch bought a small struggling Czech brewery called Samson, giving the maker of the American Budweiser a foothold in the very town of Budweis itself. This move was seen as a way for Anheuser-Busch to strengthen its claim to the name Budweiser.
Czech media reports that AB InBev has been injecting substantial funds into Samson, totaling almost $17 million since 2014. Budweiser Budvar responded by filing a lawsuit against Anheuser-Busch, arguing that the purchase of Samson was an attempt to confuse consumers. The case is still pending.
The Budweiser War is a complex and costly dispute. It is a David vs. Goliath story, with the small Czech brewery fighting against the giant American corporation. It is also a battle over the identity of a famous beer.
It is unclear how the Budweiser War will end. Some experts believe that it will eventually be resolved through a settlement. Others believe that the dispute could drag on for many years to come.
Global name game
The intricacies of naming rights play out uniquely in various parts of the world. For example, in North America, Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser enjoys the exclusive right to the name. In contrast, most of Europe recognizes only the Czech Budweiser Budvar with that privilege. To further complicate matters, in places like the UK, both brands can sell under the name “Budweiser,” leading to potential confusion but also heightened competition.
There are also regions where both parties have had to adapt: in certain European countries, Anheuser-Busch uses the name “Bud” to avoid infringement, while in the U.S., Budvar sells its beer under the name “Czechvar.”
Which one is the “real” Budweiser?
The Czech brewery, located in České Budějovice, argues that they are the original since their location and beer are genuinely from the Budweis region. They’ve been producing beer since 1895, using the name “Budweiser” as it denotes a product from the city. Conversely, Anheuser-Busch has used the Budweiser name since 1876. While they borrowed the name, they have become more globally recognized, especially in the U.S., due to their extensive marketing and longer-standing international presence.
Budweiser Anheuser-Busch commercial "Puppy love" for Super Bowl XLVIII Credits: Budweiser Anheuser-Busch
Which one is better?
Both Budweisers have their loyalists, but among critics and connoisseurs, there’s little doubt about which beer is of higher quality.
According to several global beer ratings and competitions, the Czech Budweiser frequently scores higher due to its traditional brewing methods and fuller taste.
However, sales figures and market presence demonstrate the immense popularity of the American Budweiser, which undoubtedly has a broader international reach. The “better” beer is, of course, subjective and varies based on individual palates. While purists might lean towards the Czech brew, others prefer the lightness of the American lager.
Credits: Budweiser Anheuser-Busch
• Untappd: American Budweiser has an average rating of 3.7 out of 5 stars, while Czech Budweiser has an average rating of 4.1 out of 5 stars.
• Beer Advocate: American Budweiser has a rating of 2.7 out of 5 stars, while Czech Budweiser has a rating of 3.5 out of 5 stars.
• RateBeer: American Budweiser has a rating of 2.5 out of 5 stars, while Czech Budweiser has a rating of 3.2 out of 5 stars.
Here are some additional comments from critics about the two beers:
• American Budweiser: “A light, refreshing lager with a crisp, clean finish. Not much in the way of flavor, but it’s easy to drink.” - Beer Advocate
• Czech Budweiser: “A more flavorful and complex lager than its American counterpart. Notes of malt, hops, and bread crust. A good choice for those who prefer a more traditional beer.” - RateBeer
The ongoing debate
It is difficult to say who is winning the name war overall. Anheuser-Busch InBev has the larger market share, but Budweiser Budvar has won more court cases. It is possible that the two companies will eventually reach a settlement that allows them to both use the name Budweiser in different markets.
The future of the Budweiser name war is uncertain. It is possible that the conflict could continue for many years to come. However, it is also possible that the two companies will eventually reach an agreement that allows them to both use the name Budweiser. Only time will tell how the dispute will be resolved.
Here are some additional thoughts on the future of the Budweiser name war:
• The increasing globalization of the beer market could make it more difficult for Anheuser-Busch InBev to maintain its exclusive rights to the name Budweiser in North America.
• The rise of craft beer could also hurt Anheuser-Busch InBev, as consumers become more interested in trying new and different beers.
• Budweiser Budvar is a well-respected brand in Europe, and it could continue to gain market share in the years to come.
Overall, the Budweiser name war is a complex and evolving situation. It is too early to say who will ultimately win, but the future of the conflict is likely to be shaped by the changing global beer market.