Some people pop bottles to celebrate big occasions, and most often, it’s a bottle of champagne. Others might stick to a golden, bubbly drink that’s significantly cheaper: Miller High Life, the Champagne of Beers. But the keepers of the “champagne” title would likely rip that can from your hand and crush it before allowing you to make that comparison—and if you think that sounds dramatic, that’s basically what just happened in Belgium.
The Associated Press reports that a shipment of more than 2,000 cans of Miller High Life beer were crushed last week by Belgian customs officials at the request of the Comité Champagne, the trade body that protects the interests of those who make the sparkling wine known as champagne. The 2,352 cans were on their way to Germany when they were intercepted in the Belgian port of Antwerp in early February.
Why did the protectors of bubbly come after Miller High Life? The beer, whose parent company is Molson Coors Beverage Co., has long used the tagline “The Champagne of Beers,” a nod to the brew’s high carbonation levels. The Comité argued that the American beer brand’s motto infringes the protected designation of origin “Champagne.” Although the beer has carried this slogan for years, European Union rules state that goods infringing a protected designation of origin can be treated as counterfeit. Quite strictly and for many years the standard has been held that only sparkling wine originating from the Champagne region of France can be called champagne.
“With its elegant, clear-glass bottle and crisp taste, Miller High Life has proudly worn the nickname ‘The Champagne of Beers’ for almost 120 years,” Molson Coors Beverage Co. said in a statement to The Associated Press, perhaps implying that there’s been no dispute in the twelve previous decades and there shouldn’t be one now. In addition to being available in cans, Miller High Life is also sold in glass bottles during special seasons, and if anyone’s looking to nitpick, those bottles admittedly resemble champagne bottles.
Charles Goemaere, the managing director of the Comité Champagne, said he was firmly supportive of the destruction of the product, noting that it demonstrated the importance of designations of origin and lauding the determination of the champagne producers to protect it.
In response, Molson Coors Beverage Co. said it “respects local restrictions,” but went on to add, “we remain proud of Miller High Life, its nickname and its Milwaukee, Wisconsin provenance… We invite our friends in Europe to the U.S. any time to toast the High Life together.”
Miller High Life is not the only brand to have been under fire from the Comité. In 2017, the group tried to block ALDI from selling Champagne Sorbet, but a judge ruled in favor of the grocery store because the sorbet really did contain 12% champagne and the flavor of the product showcased those characteristics.
Funny enough, Molson Coors Beverage Co. doesn’t even export Miller High Life to the EU, so the shipment was one that someone had ordered. Although Belgian customs did not disclose who had ordered the 2,000+ cans, it confirmed that the buyer “did not contest” the destruction of the beer.