If you've been buying the Japanese "import" Kirin beer brand under the impression it's actually made in Asia, you've been misled. And you've probably been paying too much for the beer.
Fortunately, you might be able to get some of that beer money back. According to Law360.com, Anheuser-Busch InBev, which owns Kirin alongside giant brands like Budweiser and Bud Light, recently settled a class-action lawsuit filed in Miami that alleged “the packaging, marketing and advertising of Kirin beer is designed to deceive consumers into believing they are purchasing a product made in Japan.”
In fact, Kirin—described as a “Japanese-style pilsner” on the Anheuser-Busch website—is brewed in Virginia and southern California.
A statement offered to the press from A-B said, “We believe our labeling, packaging and marketing of Kirin Ichiban and Kirin Light have always been truthful.” Yet the company agreed to settlement terms that include no further use of the word “imported” relating to Kirin, more prominent disclosure on labels concerning where the product is actually brewed, and refunds to people who bought Kirin and have receipts to prove it. Customers can get money back to the tune of 10¢ per bottle or can, 50¢ per six-pack, and $1 per 12-pack. No matter how much Kirin you’ve purchased, the maximum payment per household is $50.
What’s interesting, and somewhat ironic, about the alleged trickery is that the labels and marketing would be implying a beer was made somewhere other than the U.S. in the first place. After all, the “Made in the USA” label is a selling point for all manner of goods lately. And in an era when Budweiser, Coors, and other iconic “American” brands—even Pabst, for cryin’ out loud!—are in the hands of foreign owners, smaller brewers have gone to special lengths pointing out that their beers are thoroughly American.
What’s more, consider the swift rise of American craft beer’s reputation around the globe, and how the hot trend is for beer-loving countries like Germany to import top-quality American beer rather than the other way around. Given the modern-day beer landscape, if anything, you’d think that beer companies would be more inclined to fudge that a product was brewed in the vibrant American beer scene even if it wasn’t.
But Kirin, and a few other mass-market “imports” (see below), gained their footholds in the marketplace during a different era—one in which beers were deemed superior to American brews simply by claims of foreignness. So, in the same way that the world’s biggest brewers continue to blur the lines of what brews are truly worthy of the “craft beer” label, there remains a proliferation of a few beer brands that seem to originate overseas, and that one would understandably assume are made overseas, and yet truthfully are produced right here in America.
In addition to Kirin, the faux imports below are all brewed in the U.S.:
Beck’s. Like Kirin, this Anheuser-Busch InBev-owned brand is the subject of a class-action lawsuit claiming deceptive marketing because the labels use phrases such as “Originated in Germany” and “German Quality.” Beck’s is actually brewed in 15 different countries, including the U.S., so the Beck’s you buy in this country was most likely produced here.
Foster’s Lager. Billed as a “uniquely Australian beer” by corporate parent SABMiller, Foster’s has been brewed in Texas for years. British pub patrons may also be surprised to know that the Foster’s on tap there is made in Manchester, England, not Down Under.
Killian’s Irish Red. In fairness, MillerCoors lists the Killian’s brand under the category of “Craft” rather than “Import.” But craft beer insiders wouldn’t call Killian’s either. The Killian’s website runs through the history of the brand, which originated in with “the first batch of Enniscorthy Ruby Ale” made by George Killian himself in Ireland. It glosses over how the name was purchased in the 1980s by Coors, and that it’s been brewed in Colorado for decades.
Red Stripe. When sold in the U.S., the iconic grenade bottles of Red Stripe used to feature the word “Imported” on its label. But starting in 2012, when production for the U.S. market was switched from Jamaica to Wisconsin, the Diageo-Guinnness-owned beer dropped the “I” word and tweaked the label to reflect its status as merely a “Jamaican Style Lager.” Nonetheless, plenty of drinkers assume it’s still made and imported from the Caribbean.
[UPDATE: Somehow we overlooked that Bass Ale, the “original English Pale Ale” that was actually served on the Titanic, is now also brewed in the U.S. (Baldwinsville, N.Y.), and some drinkers sure aren’t happy about how the American-produced version tastes.]
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