Belgium discarded 2,350 American beer cans when the French complained over the Champagne word.
Belgium discarded 2,350 American beer cans when the French complained over the Champagne word.© Images AGN

No one, not even a huge U.S. beer company, will be able to use the name of the bubbly drink without permission.

Miller High Life used the phrase “Champagne of beers” for many years. This week, it became hard to accept that theft.

At the request of the group that looks out for the interests of houses and growers of northern French sparkling wine, Belgian customs officials crushed more than 2,000 cans of Miller High Life that were labeled as such.

The Comité Champagne asked that a shipment of 2,352 cans be destroyed because the American brewery’s motto, which has been used for a century, violates the protected mark of origin “Champagne.”

A spokesman for the Belgian Customs Administration said on Friday that the shipment was stopped in the Belgian port of Antwerp in early February. It was supposed to go to Germany. Belgian customs officials wouldn’t say who ordered the beers.

The buyer in Germany was told about the choice, and the trade group said in a statement that the buyer did not disagree.

In the 1850s, Frederick Miller, who was born in Germany and moved to the US, started the Miller Brewing Company. Miller High Life, the company’s oldest brand, was its first big hit when it came out in 1903.

According to the website for the Milwaukee-based brand, the “Champagne of beers” name didn’t start to be used until three years later. At one time, the beer was also sold in bottles that looked like champagne glasses.

No matter how famous the slogan is in the U.S., it doesn’t fit with the rules of the European Union, which say that goods that break a protected designation of origin can be considered fake.

The 27-nation bloc has a system of protected regional designations to make sure that artisanal food, wine, and spirits come from the right place and are of good quality. This system also protects them from being copied. According to a 2020 study by the EU’s executive arm, that market is worth nearly 75 billion euros ($87 billion) each year, and half of that is in wines.

The managing director of the Comité Champagne, Charles Goemaere, said that the destruction of the beers “confirms the importance that the European Union gives to designations of origin and rewards the Champagne producers’ determination to protect their designation.”

Belgian customs said that the Comité Champagne paid for the cans to be broken up. According to their joint statement, it was done “with the utmost respect for environmental concerns” by making sure that the whole batch, including the contents and the container, was recycled in a way that was good for the environment.

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