Brewing Row: EU Court Allows Dutch 'Bavaria' Beer

The Bavarian fondness for a glass of local beer is legendary. But brewers in the picturesque southern German state are up in arms about a leading brand of Dutch beer -- called Bavaria. After years of legal wrangling, Europe's highest court has ruled that the Dutch brand can retain its trademark name.

Sold in its shiny green glass bottles, Bavaria beer is a common sight at bars and cafes across Europe. But closer inspection of its label reveals that the hops-based beverage has no ties to the German state of Bavaria and is actually "made in Holland."

Bavarian beer fights back against its Dutch namesake.
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Bavarian beer fights back against its Dutch namesake.

And that is hard to swallow for brewers in Bavaria. They have long argued that the Dutch firm is profiting from their region's beer-making reputation. But the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled on Thursday that the Dutch brewer can continue to use the "Bavaria" name, despite the European Union law that gives brewers in the German state exclusive rights to the term Bavarian beer.

That extends an enduring legal spat. The Bavarian Brewers Federation has challenged the second-biggest Dutch brewery in German, Italian and Spanish courts. The beer-making group, which represents 650 small brewers, wants the Bavaria brand to operate under a different name, given that the "Bayerisches Bier" or Bavarian beer is considered a protected geographical indication (PGI) by the EU, putting it in the same elite group as Greek feta cheese, Italian Parmesan cheese or French champagne.

But the court said the Dutch brewer could retain the brand name it adopted in 1925 because it pre-dated the European ruling that Bavarian beer should have a special status. Signaling that the two groups must coexist, it said Europe's regional protection rules were not intended to disrupt brands which were registered in good faith.

Following the European Union ruling, the Dutch brewer must now go to back to an Italian court to prove it applied for its trademark in good faith in 1971. The case is the latest in a series of legal fights over the EU's laws to protect food and drink products from specific regions. Last year, for example. a court ruled that only Italians can use the name Parmesan for their versions of the famous regional cheese, turning down a challenge from German cheese makers.

Both parties publicly welcomed the ruling. The Dutch brewer celebrated the fact it could retain its traditional name. The Bavarian Brewers Federation, meanwhile, said it welcomed the validation of its local brew's protected status. The association's spokesman, Walter König, vowed that the decision did not mark the end of its battle against its Dutch rival.

"The European court has strengthened our designation and we see this as the optimal starting point for the cases that are still running in Italy and Germany," he told Friday's edition of the Financial Times. "We're also now considering whether to pursue legal action against those free-riders selling beer using our good Bavarian name in other European countries."

jas -- with wire reports

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