Judge Advances False Advertising Suit Against Beer Maker

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — With enduring slogans like “It’s the Water” and “Since 1896”, it’s hard to blame drinkers for assuming Olympia beer came from mountain water like the tranquil river featured on the beer’s cans — and not California tap water.  

Olympia beer’s label in 1914.

At least that’s how a federal judge sees it.

“A reasonable consumer could construe the phrase ‘It’s the Water’ — when taken with the can’s labeling as a whole — to suggest that Olympia Beer is brewed using water from the Olympia area,” said U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley.

Advancing a class action false advertising lawsuit against Pabst Brewing Company, Nunley on Thursday agreed drinkers may have been duped into buying Olympia beer due to an outdated and inaccurate slogan.

In a fight over the phrase “It’s the Water” that adorned Olympia cans for decades, a California man claims he bought the low-cost beer believing it was brewed with artesian spring water from picturesque Washington state. 

After tossing back one of the American lagers, Brendan Peacock claims he was dismayed to learn the beer was in fact brewed in Los Angeles.

“Drinking Olympia has been Plaintiff’s family tradition for many years and the story of the uniqueness and value of the artesian water has been passed down through oral tradition,” one of his briefs stated.

Over two years after suing Pabst in federal court in Sacramento, Peacock’s batch is still brewing after Judge Nunley squashed the corporate brewer’s attempt to dismiss the case. 

At the heart of the brouhaha is the former and current source of the water used to fill Olympia’s gold cans.

Beginning in 1896, Olympia was canned at a brewery near the banks of the Deschutes River in Tumwater, Washington. The scenic setting inspired the beer’s original label featuring a waterfall, walk bridge and a horseshoe adorned with “It’s the Water.”

Shortly after buying the rights to Olympia, Pabst in 2003 ditched the historic facility for several “mega-breweries,” including one in the Los Angeles suburb of Irwindale. Following the takeover, Pabst continued to sell Olympia cans made with California water under the original slogan.

Peacock, who settled a similar lawsuit in 2018 against San Francisco-based 21st Amendment Brewery Café, said he bought some Olympia while grocery shopping after being influenced by Facebook advertisements and the now-controversial slogan.  

“Had plaintiff known that defendant’s marketing messages were false, plaintiff would not have purchased the beer,” Peacock’s complaint states. “Plaintiff paid a price premium for the beer compared to other beer and related goods.”

“Defendant traded on the reputation and quality that Plaintiff grew up hearing about and was advertised far and wide over the decades,” he stated in a brief.

Whether Judge Nunley ultimately buys the argument that Peacock — who defines himself as a “beer, and craft beer, consumer” — was conned into buying beer that routinely sells for less than Budweiser remains to be seen. Regardless of how the dispute ends, Peacock’s lawsuit has apparently spooked Pabst. 

While the waterfall and horseshoe remain, Pabst’s website now features Olympia cans without the traditional slogan. The site does, however, tout Olympia Artesian Vodka, described as being made with the “use of natural artesian water, hand-drawn in Tumwater.”

Pabst declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

Pabst tried to convince the judge “The Original” and “It’s the Water” used in its marketing were subjective, puffery phrases easily ignored by consumers. It also claimed Peacock’s complaint lacked specific details about how and which advertisements swayed his buying habits.  

Nunley ultimately rejected the entirety of Pabst’s dismissal motion, finding that Peacock and the class’ argument was specific and adequately pleaded. He gave Pabst 21 days to respond to the 11-page ruling.

“Plaintiff alleges enough facts to draw a reasonable inference that a reasonable consumer would believe Olympia Beer is brewed with water from the Olympia area of Washington,” Nunley concluded. 

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