We were visiting Vienna and happened to notice an unusual beer on the menu, Budweiser-Budvar. We asked the waiter and he explained the beer was not the American Budweiser but instead was from the Czech Republic. The direct predecessor of the Budweiser Budvar brewery as a national enterprise was the Czech Share Brewery. It was founded in 1895 and its activity directly related to the historical tradition of brewing of beer in České Budějovice (Budweis in German) which dates back to the 13th century when the town was founded and chartered for brewing rights. From the long-term perspective, Budweiser Budvar, National Corporation has proved to be one of the most successful food-processing companies in the Czech Republic. Almost a half of its production is exported into more than 50 countries on all continents. In 2009, Budweiser Budvar’s sales reached 1.28 million hectolitres of beer.
The history of brewing in České Budějovice (Budweis, Kingdom of Bohemia) dates back to the 13th century, when the city received it’s original brewing rights. The original Budweiser Bier or Budweiser Bürgerbräu, was founded here in 1785. The company began exporting to the United States in 1871. In the U.S., Anheuser-Busch started using the Budweiser brand in 1876 and registered it two years later in the United States.
The settlement of Budweis was one of the new towns created by the King of Bohemia King, Otakar ll in 1265, the year in which the first Parliament was called in England. Those inhabitants of the new settlement who could pay their Council Tax, or its medieval equivalent, got brewing rights with the royal deal and that’s how brewing began here. There is of course nothing special about this. It was just that a regular supply of beer offered the average citizen a chance to get beyond age 30 which the tainted drinking water certainly didn’t, and governments then as now knew a good business when they saw one. What was different about the Budweis situation was that, for whatever reason, the inhabitants brewed a particularly good beer that early on stimulated its commercial production. This meant specialization occurred relatively quickly, by the early 15th century there are specialist maltsters for instance and at the end of the century the first commercial brewery was opened. As part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Czech inhabitants were excluded from the beer brewery business during the 18th and 19th century leaving the business to the German Burghers running the town. Finally in 1895, the Czechs opened their own brewery and that is where the beer comes from today.
Pilsner, the style of beer Budweiser attempts to replicate, is originally a Czech style of beer. Originating in the Czech town of Pilsen, Pilsner is a German word which means “from Pilsen.” The first clue that the Great American Lager actually isn’t all that great or American comes from its name. “Budweiser” is also a German word, meaning “from Budweis,” which is a town in the Czech Republic. When German-American immigrant Adolphus Busch started selling Budweiser in 1876, he decided to name it after the town he got the recipe from, Budweis. This wasn’t something the people of Budweis were too pleased about of course, considering they’d been brewing their own Budweiser beer since the 14th century.
The situation heated up when the Czech Republic opened up after the fall of communism and the people of Budweis wanted to export their beer to the United States. Similarly, when In-Bev bought Anheuser-Busch 2008, they wanted to market American Budweiser in Europe. As a result Anheuser-Busch and Budejovicky Budvar, the brewery in Budweis which sells the original Budweiser, have been locked in copyright disputes ever since. Currently they’ve reached an awkward truce which allows Anheiser-Busch to sell its beer in the US under the name “Budweiser” while in most of Europe it must be sold as simply ‘Bud’ and in Germany it’s sold under the awkward name “Anheuser-Busch B”. Budejovicky Budvar for its part is allowed to sell their beer under Budweiser in Europe while having to go by “Budweiser Budvar” in the States. The situation became even more complicated when Budweiser-Budvar decided to make a beer called “Bud”.
Anheuser Busch actually bought the licensing rights to the name Budweiser years ago. When someone from the brewing company in České Budějovice (Budweis) actually tasted the American beer they sued over the poor quality tarnishing the name. Most European courts have ruled that Budweiser is a geographic indication of source, like champagne, which cannot be licensed and that the American beer cannot be called a Budweiser because it’s not brewed in Budweis. The U.S., on the other hand, along with other countries have ruled that the original sale of the license applies and the name Budweiser belongs to Anheuser Busch.
The recipe for Budweiser and Budweiser-Budvar is different but follows the same basic process as the chart shown above. Of course the malt and hops are grown locally for Budweiser Budvar and the water comes from an artesian well, which might explain why they believe their beer is better. As for the taste, we found the Budweiser Budvar had an slight turpentine aftertaste that we didn’t care for. Apart from that the two brands taste roughly the same. If you happen to visit the Czech Republic, you can get a tour of the brewery. They actually make several different varieties of beer although we only tasted the light lager. So if you order a Budweiser in Europe, you may end up with the original Budweiser Budvar.
Budweiser-Bud Website: http://www.budejovickybudvar.cz/en/index.html
UK Budweiser-Bud Website: http://www.budweiserbudvar.co.uk/
Legal Review for Budweiser Name: http://www1.american.edu/TED/budweis.htm