Watered Down Budweiser? Say It Ain’t So!

A couple of years ago, we here at Abnormal Use interviewed Adam Avery, President and Brewmaster of the Avery Brewing Company, as part of our “Abnormal Interviews” series. When asked how beer can be a catalyst to solving problems, Avery replied:

I think Homer Simpson said it best: “Beer, the cause of all the world’s problems and the solution.” I mean, beer is that thing that almost everybody loves. Most people that say they don’t like beer, they think of beer as Bud, Miller, Coors. They think of something that’s fairly flavorless and just carbonated. So, once we get everybody on board with how much flavor can come out of a craft beer, especially something like Collaboration Not Litigation. Everybody drinks a beer together and it just seems like an easy way to – it definitely helps to solve problems.

At the time, we thought Avery’s comments about the mass-produced American beers were common knowledge. Little did we know, he foresaw a future lawsuit. Last week, consumers filed lawsuits in federal courts in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and New Jersey against Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, for allegedly overstating the alcohol content in Budweiser. The suits allege that the company routinely adds extra water to produce beer with significantly less alcohol content than that displayed on the label. The complaints also allege that the mislabeling extends to Bud Ice, Bud Light Platinum, Michelob, King Cobra, Busch Ice, Black Crown, Bud Light Lime, Hurricane High Gravity Lager, Natural Ice and Michelob Ultra. According to Josh Boxer, the attorney for the plaintiffs in the California action, the allegations are based on information received from former employees of Anheuser-Busch.

The consumers seek damages in excess of $5 million.

This suit is still in its infant stages, so little information is available. Even if the allegations are true, we have to question the purported damages claims. Consuming one beer – whether it contains the stated 5% ABV or the watered down 3-4% ABV – will have little effect on intoxication. Anheuser-Busch products aren’t necessarily the beers many would just drink one or two of for pleasure. It is conceivable that people drinking watered-down beer would require an additional beer or two in order to reach a certain state of impairment. We guess the plaintiffs could have been damaged in having to pay for those extra beers over the years. But $5 million is a lot of “one mores.” (Plus, there must be some public policy argument to thwart a “I couldn’t get as drunk as quickly as I wanted” claim.).

What remains to be seen is whether the plaintiffs will claim that the watered-down product somehow has less taste than a beer with the stated ABV. Considering the beers allegedly effected, such a claim would be downright silly. Many seasoned beer drinkers, like Adam Avery, would suggest that the beer was flavorless regardless of its alcohol content. Even if the beer is not completely devoid of flavor, we doubt the flavor difference would be tangible to even the most sophisticated palates.

If the plaintiffs’ allegations are true, then the situation obviously needs to be corrected. But if the plaintiffs’ damage is drinking a flavorless watered-down beer, then they may have assumed the risk with their beverage choice.

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