We all know that mainstream American beers do not have the best reputation for quality and taste in the world.  The same can be said of the UK mainstream lagers such as Fosters, Carlsberg and Carling as well, but at least they are officially weak and tasteless.  Revelations came out a few weeks ago regarding “watering down” of 10 Anheuser-Busch brands, the most well known of which in this country are Budweiser “Bud” and Michelob.   The alleged tampering practices involves the weakening of key ingredients within the beer recipe and emerged when former brewery workers made statements to that effect.  The practice was said to be in place before the company merged with InBev in 2008, but was used much more often after the merger to reduce costs.

Of the brands affected, less than a handful are sold in the UK, these being Bud, Bud Light, Michelob and Michelob Ultra with some of these not in general distribution in many pubs.  In the US and elsewhere in the world, Budweiser market over 10 variations of the Budweiser brand, ranging from Bud Light at 4.2% to the 6% Black Crown brand and control 39% of the US beer market.   Class actions have been launched in 3 states, those being New Jersey, Pennsylvania and California, on behalf of drinkers who didn’t get the beer that they thought they were buying.  More class actions are expected in Ohio and Colorado.  The lawyers state that overall alcohol levels were reduced by 3% to 8% from the stated ABV on the packaging.

How they are allegedly pulling this off is that they normally prepare each batch of malt beverage to be slightly stronger than the required alcohol percentage specifications, then reduce the ABV to the stated level using water and Carbon Dioxide at the bottling stage.   They use extremely accurate in-line measuring devices called Anton Parr meters that can measure the alcohol strength of the malt beverage to within 1/100 of a percent.  AB InBev are accused of using the technology to shave the malt alcohol percentage instead of using it to maintain consistency.  The consequence of this is when the “recipe” water and carbon dioxide is added to the weakened malt beverage it comes out weak when bottled.  Watering down is an inaccurate description of the fraud, but one which the public understand, if you used the term “weakened malt beverage scandal”, 99% of the population would not have a clue what you were referring to.

This is a distraction for the AB InBev (Anheuser-Busch InBev) group who are trying to get approval to purchase the biggest brewer in Mexico, Grupo Modelo outright, a company which they currently own 50% of.  The Modelo group are the sixth biggest brewer in the world, and hold a 63% market share of Mexican beer sales overall.  Their main brands which would be recognised in the UK are Corona and Modelo Especial.  The Department of Justice are attempting to stop the deal filing an antitrust case on the basis that it would limit free competition within the sector as the 7% of the American beer market that the Mexican company holds added to the existing 39% that AB InBev already hold would give them control of a dangerously large share of US beer sales.

AB InBev are disputing the watering down allegations vigorously as expected, but it what is does show is the difference between the US and UK when it comes to raising litigation against companies apparent wrongdoing.   The three lawsuits raised in the US so far are asking for £15 million in combined damages plus remedial advertising by the company.  The basic accusation is effectively mis-labeling, the same accusation that the ready meal providers and sellers are facing in relation to the horse meat in beef products scandal.

There are far more grounds for collective legal action regarding the horse meat issue and the moral objections that many people have to eating the equine animal than drinkers getting a 3.9% beer instead of the stated 4.2% strength.   However a rash of lawsuits against Tesco, Asda, Aldi and the other stores selling “tainted” products has not happened.  If this had been in the US, stores and producers would have faced dozens of such class actions.  Let’s be thankful of this, as this is one of the aspects of American society that I want to stay 3000 miles away from us.  We are getting a taste for it with “no win, no fee” lawyers, but I’d rather avoid this drive for litigation growing any further, we have gone far enough already with this insidious parasite.