A Brief Yet Triumphant History of Drinking, Budweiser, and Beer Itself
Let’s face it— Beer
Since the dawn of humanity, humans have yearned to blot away the weary sorrows of their tormented existence. Trying many things: flogging themselves with stones, fists, marriage— consuming meats, herbs, plants, vegetables, berries, grapes. Inventing fire, boats, and God… But somewhere along the line, it all got old— and through those many failed attempts, the fermentation of alcohol became came into existence, refined, and a cornerstone of our prosperous economy. This vast technological and spiritual breakthrough stimulated the powers of the soul and brain and soon became legion and common practice in navigating our potential to higher ground to save ourselves from the teetotalers of the sober hour. Humanity regaled in its glory— and it was good.
Today— humanity is no less enthralled by beer and its magical, effervescent, warm embrace that resonates victory in certain souls, and a fledgling defeat in those who cannot harness its greatness. It’s even crazier to learn that Budweiser, self-crowned “King of Beers” has been in a branding war with a Czechoslovakian company for almost 200 years. Even more odd is that the beer was literally re-branded as “America’s Beer”. But its historical and primal origins are as over the pond as perhaps are our own. Quick! Step into my Technicolor Nightmare Carriage (TNC) and let us travel back in time!
During the 13th Century, Bohemian King Ottokar II (today the Czech Republic), gave their exclusive brewing right to the city of Böhmisch Budweis, with their local brewery workers named it Budweiser. It was consumed in mass and things were smooth for a time. Skip ahead to the 19th century in St. Louis—A German immigrant named Adolphus Busch married the daughter of the local Anheuser brewery. Once wed, the competitive couple promptly designed a strange new brew all together. Filing a trademark in lieu of his homeland fondness for the beer of his country, Bush now sat atop the legal name of the Budweiser empire— but this time, having traveled to the land of freedom, in America.
Upon hearing this news, the original Budweiser Budvar Brewery back in Czechoslovakia were immediately horrified. They sued. Anheuser-Busch appealed and essentially won as proof of their company today. But there have been 100+ lawsuits and counter-suits back and forth filed—many which are still pending thanks the ever evolving and de-evolving tenuousness geopolitical landscapes coalescing through WWII, The collapse of the USSR, The European Union, and Brexit—bringing us up to speed of current day beerpolitics ™.
So that’s the nutshell history for all you short attention span TV kids of Anheuser Busch (impressed you made it this far!) Stolen, derivative, and like the beer itself: watered down— yet; better than nothing. But oh boy has their marketing kept up with the times. According to his own words and that of Budweiser Budvar’s website, Busch himself admitted in an exhausting 1894 court battle that “the idea was simple—to produce a beer of the same quality, colour, and taste as the 1895 beer produced in Budweis, or Bohemia.” Would their forefathers agree if they time traveled with us ? Bully or Harrumph? YOU DECIDE
To this day, neither company has exclusive rights to it in the UK. Budvar has the rights in Italy, so Anheuser Busch (InBev) opted to simply re-brand its product as “Bud”. If there was ever a clearer cut case of corporate borrowing, this might be it—unless you count McDonald’s Founder’s story. Litigation is designed to obscure, obstruct, and be anything but simple or easy— or at best, these matters might be so subjective that it’s hard to decipher between clear ownership of branding qualities. But who cares— it’s just beer, right? WRONG
Maybe that’s the point. Budweiser is essentially a very old kid wearing a backwards hat caught in the middle of two old bickering, aggressive, extremely litigious divorced parents who want to have him/her on the same holidays and uneasily share custody. In the US, Anheuser Busch has the exclusive rights to the full name, where Budvar sells its beverage under the name “Czechvar”—which although subjective, I think we can all agree is far less catchy as a brand or appeal: “Pass me a Czechvar!” at least in the US.
The points of this article?: This schism has resulted in the Herculean Anheuser Busch (InBev) owning 20% of the entire beer market today with 200 brands of beer of various qualities, content, and tiers to vertically integrate into every strata of American beer drinker. They employ 150,000 people as opposed to Budweiser Budvar who employs 600 and own only a small fraction comparatively at 7 brands of beer worldwide.
This lesson unsurprisingly has not been woven into the fabric of Anheuser-Busch’s marketing campaigns over the decades, instead opting for lush green fields with majestic Clydesdales running their rebranded American product in between our favorite past time: Football, baseball, basketball, hell anything with a ball or puck that plays on in the big screen of America’s throbbing congress. But with a glass of the good, the bad, and the uncertain to wash it all down!
If one were into silver linings at the end of the day, it is inspiring to say the least that the little guy could stand their ground in court and retain any rights at all against such a corporate behemoth. Perhaps there is justice for all; or at least some. Go underdogs—that’s what ‘Merica is all about, right? WRONG. It’s about winning. Despite what you may think or not think about their beer— Budweiser has shown prowess that they withstand the test of time, crush their enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the fermentation of their beers.
So next time you catch yourself staring at the moon all alone, naked and drunk; or gathered ‘round the fire with your old friends and chilled brews, drunkenly ask yourself “*hik* What’s the deal with this beer anyhow?” The answer may be “Who cares!” But one night you just might just end up creatively making up your own brand’s history— and it’s yours to tell it how you like. Chances are your band won’t have to go to court over your copyright (unless you’re Black Flag or The Misfits), but your group probably has some pretty amazing origins to share. It’s mostly how you tell it. Your band is your brand and it’s your personal history. Tell it like it is— without watering it down.