Not all booze mascots are made up by ad execs. Some are actually based on real people, epic figures whose fans honored them by slapping their likenesses on a label. And knowing the fakes from the real deals makes you a booze whiz. See if you can distinguish the legit boozy heroes from the imposters.
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About 300 years before anyone took a sip of his namesake spiced rum, the real Cap’n trolled Spanish colonies in the Caribbean, plundering his way to fame and fortune. The Welsh-born Henry Morgan was employed by the British crown; he was a pirate for pay, and he was darn good at it. He raided everywhere from Cuba to Panama to Venezuela, and was eventually rewarded with a knighthood. Though pirates and rum go hand in hand, Morgan probably drank more brandy and Madeira than rum during his tenure on the high seas, as that was the booze available in the Spanish colonies he sacked. That said, he did go on to become lieutenant governor of Jamaica, so chances are he tasted the sweet nectar of the sugar cane spirit at least once in his life.
We can thank not one but two José Cuervos (Josés Cuervo?) for the tequila brand we know and shoot today. The first, José Antonio de Cuervo y Valdés, received a land grant from King Ferdinand VI to plant agave in Tequila, Mexico. The second (and son of the first), José Maria Guadalupe Cuervo y Montana, began distilling mezcal there in 1795. A few more generations (and a lot of tequila later) and Jose Cuervo has earned his (their?) place amongst tequila royalty and dive bar glory.
Miller High Life’s Woman in the Moon
Miller brand lore holds that the girl perched on the crescent moon was modeled after the granddaughter of founder Frederick Miller. But another tale attributes the lunar woman to ad man A.C. Paul, who got lost in the woods at night and experienced a vision of the radiant female in the sky. The Miller Coors website calls her an “enigma,” but considering other brands like Canadian beer maker O'Keefe have advertised with suspiciously similar images, the woman in Miller’s moon is probably just a marketing ploy.
Americans celebrated the repeal of Prohibition in many ways (most of them involving more than a few stiff, legalized drinks), but no one topped August A. Busch, Jr. and Adolphus Busch III, who surprised their father and Budweiser president August A. Busch, Sr. with a horse-drawn carriage full of beer. That touching gesture was immediately commodified into an advertising stunt. Anheuser-Busch arranged for a similar Clydesdale-drawn cart to drive to the Empire State Building, where a case of beer was presented to the governor of New York.
Johnnie Walker’s Striding Man
The “Striding Man” began his life as a doodle. According to the brand, illustrator Tom Browne scrawled out the now-iconic logo on the back of a menu during lunch one day. Browne was an extremely popular illustrator at the time, so it was a no-brainer for the brand’s owners to adopt the logo. It has gone on to outlast much of Browne’s other works, which included comic strips like “Weary Willie and Tired Tim” and “Airy Alf and Bouncing Billy.”
The grey geese flapping across the French vodka’s label sprung not from a nest, but from the mind of spirits savant Sidney Frank—the same booze baron who took Jägermeister from traditional spiced German liqueur to frat house staple. When Frank came up with the name at 5 a.m. one morning in 1996, there was no brand, no distillery and no vodka yet. There was just Frank and his keen sense of American consumerism. To his credit, it’s a catchy name.
The Old Mr. Boston distillery was, in fact, brand new in 1933, when the booze brand started up on the heels of Prohibition’s repeal. To give the brand a bit of history and a connection to pre-Prohibition drinking, Mr. Boston himself was introduced to drinkers in his eponymous cocktail guide in 1935. “He is jovial and ever ready to accept the difficult role of ‘Life of the Party,’” read the description of the jolly tubby frontman. He is also completely made up.
Despite what you’ve heard from sea lore and Pirates of the Caribbean movies, the Kraken is a deep sea phony. Some attribute sightings, which date back a couple centuries, to giant squids. No matter what you believe, the Kraken would undoubtedly lose in a battle with the Lusca, a Caribbean sea monster known for its taste for rum-bearing ships, and our kind of monster.
Before 1940, Wild Turkey wasn’t called Wild Turkey. A distillery executive brought the generic hooch along with him to a hunting trip, and it was only after his friends pestered him for more of that “wild turkey bourbon” that the name caught on. And here we thought the name came from the way the whiskey makes you gobble like a turkey when you drink it. Wait, is that just us?
Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World
The Most Interesting Man in the World gained fame and recognition not for his feats of machismo, but for beating out 200 competitors in a 2006 casting call. Despite the ambiguous accent, actor Jonathan Goldsmith is a self described New York Russian Jew, and he was picked for the role because he was cool but old, meaning he wouldn’t threaten younger drinking men who hadn’t achieved as much as the fictional jack-of-all-trades.
The Jägermeister Stag
Despite what they might tell you, frat bros did not invent Jäger. The spiced German liqueur dates back to 1935, but it draws on a long tradition of European hunting beverages. The featured stag isn’t some prized kill, but a mythical beast that appeared to the unscrupulous hunter Hubertus in 657 outside Toulouse, France. The saintly stag supposedly bore a glowing cross between its horns and inspired Hubertus to take up religious work, eventually earning him the title of patron saint of hunters. After enough Jäger, we see a glowing stag too, but it just tells us to dance on the bar.
It was Don Facundo Bacardí Massó’s wife, Doña Amalia, who noticed the fruit bats nesting in the roof of the couple’s new rum distillery in 1862, and it was she who suggested they use the winged critter as a logo. The image apparently struck a chord with local drinkers, who would ask for “el ron del murciélago,” the rum of the bat. The brand is so thankful for its mascot that the distillery added a real bat cave in 2016.
Guinness employed a whole cast of animal mascots, from a sea lion to a pelican, who all thirstily snatched pints away from unwary humans. But it was the toucan who gained the most notoriety, convincing drinkers that there was some vague health benefit to the brew as black as tar, and delighting homophone fans with puns like: “How grand to be a Toucan. Just think what Toucan do.”