Homer Simpson would feel at home in Latin America. His favorite beer, Duff, is available in Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Chile.
The lager has the same logo as the brew that Homer guzzles at Moe’s, his local bar in the Fox cartoon series. In South America, the beer’s motto is “Yes it does exist!” But nobody seems to be willing to discuss Springfield’s finest.
The makers of Duff in South America say they aren’t allowed to talk to the U.S. media. Duff Mexico — which started the Latin American trend — would not respond to interview requests. And 20th Century Fox, which owns the rights to “The Simpsons,” said it would not comment on the story and would not say whether it has a licensing agreement with any of the Duff producers.
The stonewalling doesn’t mean Duff is keeping a low profile. In Colombia, Duff Sudamerica sponsors concerts and is available at dozens of the swankiest bars. When Duff launched in Chile in March, its raucous parties and Homer imitators made the nightly news.
The owner of the Chilean franchise, Enrique Robles, told the El Mercurio newspaper that he hoped to sell $750,000 worth of beer this year alone.
“Two generations of young people have been raised on ‘The Simpsons,’ ” he told the newspaper. “What we have is an unsatisfied fantasy.”
That fantasy remains off-limits to U.S. fans of “The Simpsons.”
Fox has never licensed the beverage in the United States. According to several reports, “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening fears that bringing Duff into the real world would be tantamount to pushing alcohol on minors.
The Duff dearth north of the border has only made fans more desperate. Online message boards buzz about where to find Duff. On EBay, an empty bottle of Duff beer from Argentina sells for $14.99; a decal off the Colombian product is being offered for $8.99.
At Rock Garden, a bar in Bogota, Duff commands import prices — about $5.50 a bottle — even though it’s brewed in the nearby city of Medellin.
The bar’s general manager, Reynaldo Roman, said the Colombian brewer of Duff, 3 Cordilleras, has assured him it is legally entitled to sell it.
“I’m not going to tell you that this is the best beer in the world, but it sells very well,” Roman said. “When people see it, they have to buy it. The marketing has already been done for it; there are a lot of ‘Simpsons’ fans in Colombia.”
Being a premium brand is a strange niche for Duff. In the cartoon, the beer is the lowest of swill. During one episode of “The Simpsons,” when Homer tours the Duff factory, he finds bottles containing Adolf Hitler’s head and a three-eyed fish.
In the Americas, real-world Duff started hitting the shelves in 2008 when Rodrigo Contreras began producing Duff in Mexico at his Tijuana-based “Simpsons Brewing Company” — a name he has told the media is a coincidence.
In an interview with the Financial Times in 2009, Contreras said he had been trying to contact Fox and the producers of the series since 2006.
“I wanted to reassure them I wasn’t a thief and I didn’t want to steal their ideas,” he said. When he didn’t get a reply, he simply decided to push on.
Duff Argentina, which also began producing beer in 2008, said it had never had any legal problems.
“Our biggest problem has been keeping up with the growing demand,” the company said in an email.
A search of U.S. court records showed no signs of lawsuits aimed at Contreras or the Latin American Duffs.
But that doesn’t mean they are out of the woods, said Janet Moreira Gamble, an intellectual property lawyer with Miami’s Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson.
Fox and the brewers could be pursuing dispute resolution in Latin America or negotiating a deal outside the courts, she explained.
But if the brewers “are producing Duff beer without Fox’s permission and are trading off ‘The Simpsons’ goodwill and fame, then that definitely presents a problem,” she said.
Fox has gone after imitators before. In 1996, Fox and Groening sued to keep two Australian bottlers from using the brand name.
And there is already a regional Duff war raging without Fox weighing in. On its website, Duff Sudamerica — which claims it has the South American production and distribution rights from Duff Mexico — said Duff Chile was a fraud.
Duff Chile responded on its own website saying it invested $15,000 in promoting the beer only to have Duff Sudamerica give the distribution rights to someone else.
Neither company would respond to interview requests.
The spat doesn’t seem to worry local bar owners. At the Carbon Steak House in Bogota, Duff is the house beer, and the tiny establishment moves about six cases a week, said Jesus Rincon, one of the bar’s proprietors.
“In Colombia, the Simpsons are legendary, and nobody can believe that the beer really exists,” he said. “Everyone wants to try Homer’s beer.”
Wyss writes for the Miami Herald/McClatchy.