Have Budweiser drinkers been getting less buzzed? Former employees at Anheuser-Busch breweries say that they routinely watered down popular beers such as Budweiser, Michelob, Natural Ice, and Bud Light Platinum. Class-action lawsuits have been filed in three states accusing the brewery giant of selling beers that overstated the amount of alcohol they contained.
This week, lawyers filed suits in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and California on the behalf of drinkers who may have purchased beers that packed less punch, alcohol-wise, than their labels led consumers to believe. Each of the three suits is seeking damages of more than $5 million, and more lawsuits are expected to be filed against Anheuser-Busch, specifically in Ohio and Colorado. Lawyers say that the watering down of beers can result in beers that contain 3% to 8% less alcohol than their labels indicate.
“There are no impediments — economic, practical or legal — to (A-B) accurately labeling its products to reflect their true alcohol content,” the lead suit, filed in California, claims, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Nevertheless, (A-B) uniformly misrepresents and overstates that content.”
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The claims are apparently based on statements from former brewery workers around the country, who say that the breweries routinely added extra water just before bottling to 11 beers, including Bud Ice, Bud Light Platinum, Bud Light Lime, Hurricane High Gravity Lager, Michelob, Michelob Ultra, regular old Budweiser, and even the new brew, Black Crown. What’s especially noteworthy is that Black Crown and Bud Light Platinum are new products that have been marketed specifically as richer, higher-alcohol beers—6% by volume, compared to 4.2% for Bud Light.
“AB’s customers are overcharged for watered-down beer and AB is unjustly enriched by the additional volume it can sell,” lawyers stated in a Philadelphia court, per Bloomberg News.
In San Francisco, lead attorney Josh Boxer, said, “Consumers are paying good money for beer that they think has a certain quality and characteristic that it doesn’t have.”
The suit alleges that Anheuser-Busch increasingly watered down its beers after the company merged with InBev in 2008, creating the world’s largest beer company. “Following the merger, AB vigorously accelerated the deceptive practices,” the suit states, “sacrificing the quality products once produced by Anheuser-Busch in order to reduce costs.”
Budweiser is still the third most popular beer in the U.S., but sales have been slumping for more than two decades, due at least partly to the rise of richer, tastier, higher-alcohol craft beers. Things have gotten to the point that the 2011 decrease of “just” 4.4% in Bud sales was considered a success for the company.
While the statements of former brewery employees make Anheuser-Busch look bad, the plaintiffs haven’t had the beverages independently tested for alcohol content to see how watered-down the beers truly were—if at all. Anheuser-Busch will surely point out this lack of proof when the time comes. The company also released a strongly worded statement, from vice president of brewing and supply Peter Kraemer:
“The claims against Anheuser-Busch are completely false, and these lawsuits are groundless … Our beers are in full compliance with all alcohol labeling laws.”