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The explosion of craft beer over the past decade has expanded beer-drinkers' palates and ignited several high-profile legal cases in the process. How carefully do you have to label your beer? What constitutes a craft beer? And is there a secret war between macro and micro brews?
Here's a look at three recent lager lawsuits and where beer law may be headed:
Beck's Drinkers v. Anheuser-Busch
A class action in a federal court in Florida accused the massive brewer of misleading its customers as to the nationality of one of their beers. Although the production of Beck's moved to St. Louis, U.S.A. in 2012 following a few mergers and acquisitions, the beer's packaging retained phrases like "German Quality" beer and "Originated in Bremen, Germany." The plaintiffs contended, "Beck's consumers in the United States knew that the only way to get German beer of such high quality, as boasted about on Beck's packaging, was to import the beer from Germany."
Alas, Beck's was not imported from Germany, and per a preliminary judgment, drinkers can get 10 cents back for every individual bottle of Beck's they purchased, or 50 cents for a six-pack and $1.75 per 20-pack. So Busch, be honest about where your beer is brewed.
Craft Beer v. Blue Moon
Is Blue Moon a craft beer? Absolutely not. Can you sue Blue Moon for calling itself a craft beer? Absolutely. Will a California court kick your lawsuit to the curb, claiming that no self-respecting beer drinking could ever be fooled into thinking Blue Moon is a craft beer just because it says "craft beer" and "artfully crafted" on the label? It sure will.
The big problem is defining what "craft beer" means in the first place, and whether that definition could apply to that swill Miller Coors (not craft brewers!) are spewing out. Thus far, the courts have decided they don't much care.
U.S. Justice Department v. InBev
According to Reuters, the DOJ is investigating Anheuser-Busch InBev following allegations that the company is snatching up distributors in an effort to curb competition from craft brewers. InBev has already bought up five beer distributors in three states and craft brewers are worried it will be harder to get their beers on store shelves. We'll see if the feds uncover any antitrust violations.
The lesson, as always, is brew your own.