Czechs win the Battle of Budweiser to flourish in UK

The quality of Budvar has been vindicated, but it has challenges ahead. David Bowen reports

It Has a label out of the 1950s, it is produced by a state-owned company in eastern Europe, it spends a pittance on advertising - yet it has just made it into Checkout magazine's ranking of the top 100 alcoholic drinks in Britain.

It is Budweiser Budvar, the lager from Cesce Budejovice (formerly Budweis) in the southern Czech Republic. In the last 10 years, it has moved from specialist beer shops and restaurants to the shelves of every supermarket chain in Britain, and 10 days ago it scored another victory. The American giant Anheuser-Busch, which makes the other Budweiser, said it was giving up its attempts to buy its Czech brewer, Budejovicky Budvar. It also implied that it was giving up its 85-year-old legal battle with the company over the trade name. That means the US drink cannot be called Budweiser in Germany and the Czech Republic: there it is just Bud.

The US group's decision means Budejovicky Budvar is likely to stay in state ownership. Czech ardour for privatisation has cooled, and the industry believes that the government is content to keep the brewery running as before.

The UK is one of the few markets where the name Budweiser is used for both beers. The US version outsells the Czech one massively - hardly surprising given an advertising spend last year of pounds 5.5m for the bottled beer alone. BB Supplies, which has been importing Budvar for the last 20 years, spent about pounds 125,000 last year on brief poster campaigns on the London Underground. Yet growth has been phenomenal: in 1984, it sold 10,000 cases, last year it sold 1 million. Sales have been growing at 20-25 per cent for the last five years.

The Campaign for Real Ale says Budvar has been doing well because it is one of the best lagers in the world. It uses the famous Zatec (Saaz) hops, and is "lagered" for much longer than most rivals. The company started to convert to modern fermenting vessels, as used by the German breweries, before changing its mind and sticking to at least some traditional containers.

But another reason for the growth is less positive - and could spell trouble for the brewers from Ceske Budejovice. The fastest-growing sector of the British beer market is "premium bottled lagers", and among young bottle-swiggers Czech labels are favourite. Young men and women who a few years ago were drinking Mexican Sol are now - to the horror of beer aficionados - drinking Budvar straight from the bottle. That Sol tastes of little and Budvar tastes of a lot is barely relevant, which means that this particular market will inevitably be swept away.

Budvar, though the best-selling Czech beer in the UK, is also under pressure from a plethora of compatriots. Under communism only it and Pilsner Urquell could be exported, even though every town had its own brewery. Urquell is more expensive and, beer experts say, spoiled by a shift to modern brewing equipment. Now the big supermarket chains each have their own Czech brands that undercut Budvar. More worrying for BB, Bass has this year started promoting its own Staropramen brand heavily.

Staropramen has the advantage of being an excellent product. Bass has preserved the old fermenting baths in the Prague brewery, which means it is even more "real" than Budvar. The British group owns six breweries in the Czech Republic, making it the country's third biggest brewer.

Despite the inferiority of the US product, the rights and wrongs of the naming case are far from clear-cut. Budvar is produced in Budweis, but the Americans bagged the name first. Adolphus Busch, a US immigrant from Germany, registered "Budweiser" in 1876. The first Budweis-based brewer registered it in 1882, with the current Budvar company appearing a little later. Arguments between the sides arose early in the century, with an apparent settlement in 1911 the first of many.

Premium lagers: bang for advertising buck

Off sales pounds m (1) Advertising spend pounds m (2)

Stella Artois 86.8 5.0

Budweiser (US) 50.2 7.9

Beck's 35.6 1.0

Holsten Pils 34.0 4.7

Kronenbourg 1664 21.9 6.5

Foster's Ice Beer 19.2 2.0

Grolsch 18.3 1.4

Carlsberg Pilsner 14.2 1.4

Labatt Ice Beer 8.5 2.6

Budweiser Budvar 8.5 0.1

Figures are for UK in 1995; include bottle and can versions.

(1) Source: Checkout, July 1996. Does not include pub sales

(2) Source: Campaign

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

Laura Norton: Project Accountant

£50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?