Why Belgian Authorities Destroyed Over 2,300 Cans Of Miller High Life

Belgian authorities called foul this week when a Customs agent processing imported goods noticed a shipment labeled "The Champagne of Beers." If the slogan sounds familiar, it's probably because Miller High Life has been using the nickname since 1906. Originally "The Champagne of Bottle Beers" — the company dropped "bottle" from the slogan in 1969 — the cheeky tagline references the beer's crisp, clear flavor. For more than a century, the bottled beer has been shipped all over the world without incident, but recently, eagle-eyed Customs agents manning an entry port in Antwerp, Belgium took issue with the word Champagne, initial capital letter and all, on a shipment of beer headed for Germany.

The problem? According to French law, the word Champagne can only apply to sparkling wine made under exacting standards in the Champagne region of France. The law, part of France's protected designation of origin legislation, forbids the use of the word Champagne on any product that does not meet strict guidelines (and let's face it, even the best beer in the world will never be Champagne). So the Customs agents did what any self-respecting inspectors would do: they destroyed the entire shipment — more than 2,300 cans — but not before reaching out to French authorities for direction.

An interestng twist

Citing the protected designation of origin status of Champagne, Le Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne and the General Administration of Belgian Customs issued a joint statement explaining the decision to destroy 2,352 cans of Miller High Life. According to the statement, the agencies first contacted the buyer who agreed to go along with the ruling. Officials then contracted a Belgian company to destroy the shipment in a manner consistent with environmental and recycling policies.

"This destruction ... confirms the importance that the European Union attaches to designations of origin and rewards the determination of the Champagne producers to protect their designation," said Charles Goemaere, managing director of Comité Champagne.

Following the action, Miller High Life owner Molson Coors Beverage Co. told The Associated Press it "respects local restrictions" regarding the use of the word Champagne, adding "But 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." 

So why this ruling, after the slogan's been used for over a century? Molson Coors doesn't currently distribute Miller High Life in the EU, telling The Associated Press, "We frankly don't quite know how or why it got there, or why it was headed for Germany." As of writing, the German buyer who ordered the 2,352 cans of Miller High Life has not been disclosed.