Champagne’s guardians won’t let anyone take the fizzy drink’s name for nothing, not even an American beer giant.
For years, Miller High Life has used the slogan “Champagne of Beers.” This week, it became clear that for some the name has become impossible to swallow.
At the request of the trade body that defends the interests of northeastern French sparkling wine houses and producers, Belgian customs crushed more than 2,000 cans of Miller High Life advertised as such.
The Champagne Committee requested the destruction of a shipment of 2,352 cans, alleging that the centenary motto used by the American brewer violates the protected designation of origin “Champagne”.
The shipment was intercepted in the Belgian port of Antwerp in early February, a spokesman for the Belgian Customs Administration said on Friday, and was destined for Germany.
Molson Coors Beverage Co, which owns the Miller High Life brand, does not currently export it to the EU, and Belgian customs refused to say who had ordered the beers.
The buyer in Germany “was informed and did not challenge the decision,” the trade organization said in a statement.
Frederick Miller, a German immigrant to the US, founded the Miller Brewing Company in the 1850s. Miller High Life, its oldest brand, launched as its flagship in 1903.
According to the Milwaukee-based brand’s website, the company began using the “Champagne of Bottle Beers” moniker three years later. It was shortened to “The Champagne of Beers” in 1969. The beer has also been available in champagne-style 750ml bottles during festive seasons.
“With its elegant clear glass bottle and fresh taste, Miller High Life has proudly carried the nickname ‘The Champagne of Beers’ for nearly 120 years,” Molson Coors Beverage Co said in a statement to the Associated Press.
No matter how popular the slogan is in the United States, it is inconsistent with European Union rules that make it clear that products that infringe a protected designation of origin can be treated as counterfeit.
The 27-country bloc has a system of protected geographic designations created to guarantee the true origin and quality of craft foods, wines and spirits, and protect them from imitation. That market is worth nearly 75 billion euros ($87 billion) a year, half in wine, according to a 2020 study by the EU’s executive arm.
Charles Goemaere, managing director of the Champagne Committee, said the destruction of the beers “confirms the importance that the European Union attaches to appellations of origin and rewards the determination of champagne producers to protect their appellation.”
Molson Coors Beverage Co said it “respects local restrictions” around the word champagne.
“But we remain proud of Miller High Life, its nickname and its origin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” the company said. “We invite our friends in Europe to the US at any time to toast the good life together.”
Belgian customs said the destruction of the cans was paid for by the Champagne Committee. According to their joint statement, it was carried out “with the utmost respect for environmental concerns by ensuring that the entire batch, both the contents and the container, were recycled in an environmentally responsible manner.”