Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Anheuser-Busch to Import Budvar Budweiser

By William Brand
Monday, January 8th, 2007 at 2:48 pm in Uncategorized.

In the beer biz…
Anheuser-Busch announced Monday it has signed a deal with Budejovicky Budvar, the maker of the Czech Republic’s Budweiser to import Budvar Budweiser – sold here as `Czechvaræ into the U.S., settling a brand name lawsuit that has gone to court in many countries.
Well, I guess they’ve settled the U.S. portion of the dispute at least.

Anheuser-Busch maintains that it registered the trademark: Budweiser in 1878 and the present Budvar brewery was established in 1895. However, Budvar says it is the latest manisfestation of a brewery on the site that began as a town brewery in the Middle Ages and the beer has long been called Budweiser.

Anyway, in about half of Europe, American Budweiser must be sold as Bud, not Budweiser. In the other half, the American Budweiser prevails. One of the most telling decisions, in my opinion, is in England, where courts have ruled that both Budweisers can be sold.

The English judges may be the wisest, since the two beers are at opposite extremes of the lager world. American Bud* is a light, frothy beer made with a lot of rice and a “kiss” of hops. Czech Bud*** is full-bodied, all barley malt, mouth-filling with a wonderful, long, hoppy follow. Drinking Czech Bud rather than America Bud is a no-brainer for those of us who love full-flavored beer.

Anyway there’s a local angle to this dispute. But it ends badly, a big fish eats little fish and gets eaten by a great big fish.

Kip Buzzone, of Lafayette, CA., a wine importer, fell in love with Budvar Budweiser when he was an exchange student in Europe in the early 1980s and traveled to Prague in what was then Czechoslovakia. He found Czech Budweiser and was blown away. “The beer was fantastic,” he said in an interview a few years ago. “The more I studied the brewery and the more I learned about the problems, the interested I got,” he said.

After graduating from the University of Santa Clara, he went into the wine import business as World of Wine Lt., but – import license in hand – he also tried valiantly to convince Budvar to let him bring their Budweiser to the U.S..

It was a state-owned brewery under Czechoslovakia’s Communist government, so he had no luck. Then, the Soviet system was overturned and a new company director was appointed, a man who formerly was the brewmaster and who had become friends with Kip Bruzzone.

Finally, in 2000, the company signed on with Bruzzone and in 2001 he began importing Budvar Budweiser to the U.S. under the name “Czechvar.” Sales boomed, the Buvar brewery went public and in 2004 the brewery dumped Bruzzone in favor of a much larger importer, with a nationwide network, Distinguished Brands, which also imports Fuller’s beers among many others.

Now Anheuerser-Busch has offed Distinguished, swallowed its pride and will sell Czech Bud in the U.S. It will still be sold as Czechvar, but the deal means A-B’s nationwide distributor network will now have access to Czechvar. That, at least, is good news for beer drinkers. Of course, it gets Anheuser-Busch’s tentacles into Budvar. But who knows, the way the beer market in the U.S. is going, maybe the day is coming when the two Budweisers will be the same: all barley malt, lots of hops.

I’ll drink to that day.

Anybody Watching Redhook’s Stock…

Seattle-based Redhook Ale Company’s long-depressed stock has been moving upward as Anheuser-Busch revealed in an SEC filing that Redhook is in negotiations with Widmer Brothers Brewing Co., Portland, OR. . Anheuser Busch owns 34 percent of Redhook and 40 percent of privately held Widmer.

Redhook (HOOK) was up 6 cents to $5.57 a share Monday, a two-year high for the stock, which traded at $3.11 a year ago. Surviving company, A-B says, would be Redhook.

Do you like Redhook’s beers? I find them fairly uninspiring. But sales are up and the company is one of the 10 largest craft brewers in America.

And Then There’s Thomas Kemper Soda…

Pyramid Breweries sold its money-making soda business last week to a new company, The Kemper Co., Portland, OR., for $3.1 million. Money will help fund Pyramid’s ale-house busines into Texas and the south, CEO Scott Barnum told The Real Beer Page.

Thomas Kemper Brewing Co., Kalama, Wash, founded in 1984, was bought by Pyramid in 1992 and the Thomas Kemper sodas came along. Pyramid will continue to make the sodas for the new company, mostly at its Berkeley, CA. plant.

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