It doesn’t matter if a drink is bubbly — it’s not “champagne” unless it comes from the Champagne region of France. As American brewer Miller discovered, if it’s beer it’s definitely not champagne.
The company has long advertised its Miller High Life as “the champagne of beers.” However, Champagne – the committee set up to defend Champagne’s designation – begs to differ.
Products under the name “Champagne” cannot be imported into Europe unless they are produced in the Champagne region.
Customs officials in Belgium in February seized 2,352 cans of beer en route to Germany after they landed in the Belgian port of Antwerp. “The authorities seized the cans because they used the protected name ‘Champagne,'” Christian Vanderveeren, director general of Belgian customs, told reporters.
The European Union has a system of Protected Geographical Indications, created to guarantee the authentic origin and quality of artisanal food, wine and spirits, and to protect them from imitation.
For example, the Comité Champagne is active in preventing sparkling white wines from other regions and countries from being called “Champagne”, even though some are produced by French Champagne houses investing abroad, as in Australia.
Based in Milwaukee, Miller has been using the phrase “Champagne of Beers” since 1906.
At the request of the Champagne Committee, the Belgian customs authorities ordered the destruction of the cans. So, this week, customs officials took each canister, lifted them into open-bottom boxes, and drained the offending liquid.
The empty cans are then crushed by heavy machinery and sent for recycling.
Belgian customs officials said the destruction of the cans was paid for by Commit Champagne. According to a joint statement, this was done “with the utmost respect for environmental concerns, by ensuring that both the contents and the container are recycled in an environmentally responsible manner.”