In 1987, Heineken Tried to Convince Beer Drinkers That Corona Was Actually Urine

It turns out Heineken is the original mean girl.

Corona was on its way to the top before malignant rumors started a panic.
Corona was on its way to the top before malignant rumors started a panic. Sarah-Rose/CC BY 2.0

After a long day at work, there’s nothing better than sitting down at a bar and enjoying a nice, foamy bottle of yellow liquid previously stored in a human body.

Did the thought make you panic? If so, you might understand how lovers of Corona beer felt in 1987.

Though the brand had only arrived to the United States in 1979, its rise to the top was almost immediate. Its allure as the “California surfer/life by the beach” beer of choice, made it a national favorite. Less than ten years after its arrival, it was second only to Heineken for imported beer popularity.

It seemed like nothing could stop Corona Extra, a product of the Mexican beer company, Grupo Modelo. But then, unexpectedly, stores begun to refuse to sell it, sales plummeted, and the entire country turned against it. The reason? A rumor that urine was one of its components.

Beer distributors whispered that Mexican workers used beer containers destined to be exported to the U.S. as urinals. Supposedly, this was the way the irate workers took vengeance on their northern neighbors and fiercest rivals. Or something to that effect.

Mural advertising Corona Extra.
Mural advertising Corona Extra. Toksave/CC BY 3.0

Sadly, this obvious lie was believed by many beer drinkers. In some towns, sales went down by almost 80 percent, and stores all over the country returned shipments. Though not everyone believed the ridiculous rumor, enough people panicked and spoke out against the company for there to be irreversible consequences on sales and brand name.

Panicking, Michael J. Mazzoni of Barton Beers, the company that distributed Corona, decided to investigate into the matter to see in what way the company’s reputation could be salvaged. He somehow managed to trace the rumor back to one of Heineken’s retailers, Luce and Son, Inc., who were eager to chip away at Corona’s growing market share.

Heineken single-handedly ruined Corona's reputation.
Heineken single-handedly ruined Corona’s reputation. Public Domain

Corona’s parent company sued for $3 million in damages. A settlement was reached, and, Luce and Son, along with representatives of other beer companies who had been happy to repeat the rumor, agreed to issue public statements denying the veracity of the allegations.

The damage to Corona’s reputation had been sustained, though and not just to the beer: the rumor fed upon and amplified racist stereotypes against Hispanic culture. It took the company years to recover, and it has taken them even longer to dispel the falsehood that, perhaps, prevented their becoming the most popular imported beer in the U.S.. Articles dedicated to dispelling myths about beer continue to struggle to debunk the rumor.

And even people who are sound enough to realize the rumor is a blatant lie, often have a hard time dispelling the unpalatable image of urine as they see the yellow, foamy beer. So much so, that Urban Dictionary lists “Mexican piss water” as a derogatory name for Corona. Old rumors die hard.