Bud vs. Bud: Travel and the Great Beer War of the Last Century

There’s not enough beer in Bohemia to ever help you pronounce Ceske Budejovice, a Czech town located in southern Bohemia, about 100 miles from Prague. But there is at least one reason why you should go there.

Why? Let’s go back to the early 1870s, when soon-to-be major beer magnate Adolphus Busch and his friend/business partner Carl Conrad decided to do a European beer crawl, hitting the great centers of all things beer in Central Europe. Bohemians have long been known for their prowess in brewing (just go to the town of Pilsen, or Plzen in Czech, if you’re in doubt). Busch and Conrad made a special point to go to Ceske Budejovice because the town had a reputation for producing exceptionally good beer and the hops that grew in the fields around the it were (and still are) world renowned. Busch and Conrad sampled the local brew and were duly impressed.

So impressed, in fact, that Conrad bought the trademark for the name of one of the town’s famed beers, which was named after the town. Not Ceske Budejovice, but its German name. Before World War II many towns in Bohemia boasted a sizeable German population and thus, each town had a Czech and German name. Ceske Budejovice’s German name was–wait for it–Budweis.
By now, you can probably see where this is going. But with that trademark for the name of the town’s beer not only was an American beer named Budweiser born, but a century-long legal battle as well. The Czechs argued that they’d been brewing a beer called Budweiser (and, in Czech, Budvar) for centuries. Even though the actual Czech Budweiser/Budvar was founded after the trademark, they argued they had a geographical right to the name. Anheuser-Busch, though, would simply wave the trademark document at the Czechs and say–and I’m summarizing–sorry suckers!

After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Czech breweries were slowly privatized and then bought up by one of the three major multinational brewing corporations. Pilsner Urquell, Radegast, Velkopopovicky Kozel and Gambrinus were sold to SABMiller; Starobrno and Krusovice to Heineken; and the Prague-based Staropramen to InBev (which now owns Anheuser-Busch, by the way), and so on. But the Czech government never privatized Budweiser/Budvar, fearing Anheuser Busch would buy the brewery and dismantle it, paving the way for complete European domination.

But all that came to an end in 2007 when the two companies formed a loose partnership. In an unpredictable turn of events Anheuser-Busch now distributes the Czech Budwieser in the United States. You’ll never find it under that name, though. An earlier ruling stated that Czech Budweiser could never be sold in the United States because of the possible trademark infringement. So the Czechs did something quite brilliant. For the beer sold in the United States, they changed the name from Budvar to Czechvar (not a brilliant name, if you ask me, though).

So while beer drinkers of America can finally sit back and actually drink the original Budweiser, I say make a pilgrimage to the town formerly known as Budweis. Brewery tours, in my opinion, are dull, but nothing beats sitting in a big beer hall like Masne Kramy, located in a former meat shop hall from the 16th century in the center of Ceske Budejovice, a huge chunk of pork in front of you and a mug of golden, fresh-from-the-brewery Budweiser–Czech Budweiser, that is.

Oh, and if anyone asks, it’s pronounced Ches-kay Boo-day-yo-vit-say.