Belgian surrealist René Magritte’s paintings are famous for suggesting that all may not be as it appears, but in the case of a recent shipment of the Champagne of Beers, Belgian authorities are really certain of one thing: Miller High Life is not Champagne.
Thus, on April 17, according to a joint statement issued by the General Administration of Belgian Customs and France’s Comité Champagne, a literal ton of Miller High Life beer was destroyed—98 cases, to be precise—after being deemed to have infringed on Champagne’s Protected Designation of Origin, or PDO.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because authorities in Champagne (and in other wine regions) are ardent defenders of their name’s honor, and in the E.U., it’s illegal to use the name of a PDO unless you belong to said PDO. In other words, it ain't Champagne if it wasn't made in Champagne.
Here in the States, Miller High Life enjoys the very American privilege of calling itself whatever the hell it wants, including “the Champagne of Beers,” which it has for more than 100 years. But those iconic cans and bottles aren’t welcome across the pond. (If you’re curious, according to the Comité Champagne, the United States is joined by just three other countries—Argentina, Kazakhstan and Russia—in refusing to honor Europe’s protected designations.)
“This destruction is the result of a successful collaboration between Belgian customs authorities and the Comité Champagne,” said Charles Goemaere, managing director of the Comité Champagne. “It confirms the importance that the European Union attaches to designations of origin and rewards the determination of the Champagne producers to protect their designation.”
Authorities took so much pleasure in “ensuring that the entire batch, both contents and container, was recycled in an environmentally responsible manner” that they filmed and released a grimly silent but mesmerizing High Life snuff film, which Wine Spectator shares here, under caution that real High Life Men may find it difficult to watch.
Neither the source nor recipient of the pallet of Miller High Life was identified, but High Life parent company Molson Coors doesn’t export the Champagne of Beers to Europe, and the extreme party foul was committed with the consent of the shipment’s intended recipient in Germany. (In a presumed coincidence, Miller Brewing Company was founded in Wisconsin in 1855 by a German immigrant, Frederick Miller.)
At about $20 per case, the total value of the destroyed High Life amounts to just under $2,000. Of course, it probably cost just as much to ship it across the Atlantic. For the foreseeable future, Germany’s bier lovers will just have to learn to live that Löwenbräu Life.
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