Anheuser's Leffe is not Belgian 'abbey' beer: U.S. lawsuit

(Reuters) - Anheuser Busch Inbev SA ABI.BR has been sued by a U.S. beer drinker who claimed he was duped into believing its Leffe brand beer was brewed in a Belgian abbey, rather than mass produced in an automated factory that also makes Stella Artois.

The logo of Anheuser-Busch InBev is pictured outside the brewer's headquarters in Leuven, Belgium February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The proposed class action lawsuit was filed on Friday in Miami federal court by Henry Vazquez, an optometrist who said Anheuser’s deceptive packaging caused him to overpay for Leffe beer, among them Leffe Blonde and Leffe Brune.

Vazquez sued in the same court where Anheuser last year reached a more than $20 million settlement with drinkers of Beck’s, who said the company passing their beer off as German though it was made in St. Louis.

Spokesmen for Anheuser did not immediately respond on Monday to requests for comment.

Vazquez said Anheuser misleads consumers by touting Leffe as a premium product first “brewed and perfected by Belgian monks” in 1240, sustained through “750 years of Belgian tradition,” and depicting the bell tower of an abbey on the label.

The lawsuit said that unlike other Belgian beers such as Chimay, Leffe has not been brewed at an abbey since the Abbaye de Leffe was destroyed in the French Revolution in around 1794.

According to the lawsuit, the Leffe label makes no mention of Stella Artois, including the plant in Leuven, Belgium, where it is produced, and which has a brewing capacity of about 9 million hectoliters (238 million gallons) a year.

“Their marketing quite clearly shows Leffe to be a specialty craft beer,” Natalie Rico, a lawyer for Vazquez, said in a phone interview. “Consumers believe they are buying something that is limited quantity and very high quality. That is not the case.”

The lawsuit seeks class action status for consumers nationwide and in Florida who bought Leffe within the last four years. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages, and a formal declaration that Leffe is not made in an abbey or by monks.

The case is Vazquez v. Anheuser-Busch Cos, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, No. 16-21181.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, editing by G Crosse