Customer Sues AB InBev Because Leffe Beer Isn’t Brewed In A Monastery

Image courtesy of Gunnar Grimnes

What does “Abbey Ale” mean? To over-simplify, they’re beers brewed in the style of traditional beers made in European monasteries, which are well-respected and popular. A man in Florida has filed a class action lawsuit against brewing giant AB InBev over its Leffe beer, which he claims is marketed as a monastery-made craft brew when it’s really produced in the Stella Artois mega-brewery in Belgium.

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Leffe beer does date back to 1240, with the recipe created by monks at the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Leffe. The abbey and the brewery were destroyed in the 1790s in the aftermath of the French Revolution, and it wasn’t until the 20th century that any monks moved back in.

The brewery didn’t return with them. Back in the 18th century, making beer was a common household task, since beer was much healthier to drink than potentially-contaminated water. In the 20th century, people delegated that task to breweries, and the monks at Leffe licensed their recipe to a local brewer in exchange for royalties.

Through a series of mergers, that local brewer became part of the AB InBev mega-operation, which now brews it in an automated plant where other European brands like Stella Artois are made. It’s this robo-brewing and mass production that seems to especially upset the lead plaintiff in this case.

“Consumers believe they are buying something that is limited quantity and very high quality. That is not the case,” his lawyer told Reuters.

You might remember last year’s lawsuit against AB InBev over the version of Beck’s sold in the United States, which is brewed in Missouri but a quick glance at the label would make one assume that it’s an import.

The shelves of your favorite craft beer store are full of beers described as abbey ales that aren’t personally made by monks, but the plaintiff points out that the AB InBev version is marketed as a craft brew when it isn’t.

Your main clue about the identity of the owner and importer is the reference to the “Import Brands Alliance, St. Louis, MO” on the back label. That’s only a clue if you remember that Anheuser-Busch headquarters is in St. Louis.

Competitors, the plaintiff notes in his complaint, refer to their beer as an “Abbey style ale” if they aren’t actual monks, and “Abbey ale” when they are. He also requests monetary damages to make up for the beers that customers purchased assuming they were buying a monk-made craft brew.

Anheuser’s Leffe is not Belgian ‘abbey’ beer: U.S. lawsuit [Reuters]
VAZQUEZ et al. v. ANHEUSER-BUSCH COMPANIES, LLC [PDF]

FURTHER READING:
The Plot to Destroy America’s Beer