Lifestyle

How 24 Iconic Liquor Brands Got Their Names

Published On 05/11/2015 Published On 05/11/2015

Have you ever picked up a bottle of Jameson and gone, "Hey, who the hell was this Jameson jerk anyway?"

Because the Internet is a never-ending hole of information (and secrets) we were able to uncover some stories about the history behind the names of these 24 iconic liquor brands. 

Ballantine's

Ballantine's 

The story of Ballantine's is as follows: In 1827, a man named George Ballantine set up a small grocery store in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he supplied his clientele with a plethora of whiskies. George's son—the aptly-named George Jr, eventually took over the business and built up a reputation with the family name emblazoned on the bottle. 

Beefeater 

Beefeater 

A "beefeater" is actually a colloquialism for The Yeomen Warders who are the ceremonial guards of the Tower of London. The origins of the slang term are unknown, but it is thought to refer to the guards' right to eat as much beef as they wanted from the King of England's table. Not even kidding. 

Bacardi 

Bombay 

Remember the British Empire? Bombay's name pays tribute to the gin's popularity in this Indian city, specifically during the British Raj. Sapphire refers to the Star of Bombay—the sun never sits on the British Empire, except in England...where the sun does not exist.

Brugal

Brugal 

Our friends at Brugal gave us the skinny about Brugal: it's named after the founding man, Don AndrĂ©s Brugal Montaner, who broke from the traditional Dominican style of rum-making and created a distinctively dry rum that's super palatable. 

Beam Suntory

Canadian Club 

Believe it or not, Canadian Club was actually founded in Detroit by Hiram Walker until Prohibition forced the company to relocate to Ontario. Years later, the whisky began to gain popularity in gentlemen's clubs of the U.S. and Canada and became known as Club Whisky. Originally, distillers wanted to keep the word "Canadian" off the bottle, but found it earned the whisky recognition among its clientele. 

The Edrington Group

Cutty Sark

Cutty Sark is named after a British clipper ship that gained fame from carting tea from China to London during the 1800s. It was known as one of the fastest ships in the world. The name of the ship itself was taken from the nickname of the witch "Nannie Dee" in Robert Burns' 1791 poem, Tam o' Shanter: “Now, wha this tale o' truth shall read, Ilk man and mother's son, take heed: Whene'er to Drink you are inclin'd, Or Cutty-sarks rin in your mind, Think ye may buy the joys o'er dear; Remember Tam o' Shanter's mare.”

Bacardi 

Dewar's 

While John Dewar founded his scotch company in 1846, it was his two sons—John Alexander and Tommy Dewar—who made their father's drink an international success. Their last names are Dewar, get it? That story may be boring, but Tommy Dewar wasn't.

Diageo

Gordon's 

Gordon's London Dry Gin was developed by a Scotsman named Alexander Gordon. The company retained his name even after they amalgamated with Charles Tanqueray & Co. in 1898. Two houses of gin united!

Grey Goose

Grey Goose

New York Mag tells us an entertaining—albeit—vague story about how Sidney Frank came up with the name Grey Goose and subsequently became a billionaire: “At 5:20 on a Sunday morning in the summer of 1996, Sidney Frank—liquor baron extraordinaire, dapper elderly gent, CEO of the Sidney Frank Importing Co.—picked up his phone in a fit of inspiration. He dialed up his No. 2 executive, who listened in a groggy daze as Frank proclaimed, 'I figured out the name! It’s Grey Goose!'"

Hornitos

Hornitos

The word Hornitos actually means “little ovens” in Spanish, which has a deeper meaning than the gibberish faux-term-of-endearment it presents itself in English. Hornitos’ name comes from the fact they were the first tequila makers to cook the piñas in ovens instead of cooking them over an open fire. 

Jack Daniel's 

Jack Daniel’s

There's a great story behind this bottle of whiskey. Jasper Newton Daniel was born in 1850 in a small town in Tennessee to a modest family of 14. After his mom died, Jasper’s father decided it was time for his son to learn a craft—the craft of whiskey-making. Over the next few years, young Jasper learned how to distill whiskey under the direction of a reverend named Dan Call.

Under immense pressure from evangelists, the reverend gave up his business and sold it to Jasper shortly after the start of the Civil War. Daniel picked up the cool nickname, “Jack,” and traveled the country with a band called The Jack Daniel’s Original Silver Cornet Band. Word of his whiskey spread like Influenza epidemic of 1918 (too soon?) and it wasn’t long before Jack Daniel’s Whiskey swept the nation, winning medals and gaining legions of fans. In the early twentieth century, news of Jack Daniel’s whiskey spread to Europe, thus cementing this fine spirit as a bar standard.

His demise has made him just as memorable: In 1906, Jack Daniel went into his office to open a safe, couldn’t remember the combination, and kicked the safe in anger. He broke his toe, never saw a doctor, and eventually lost his entire leg to gangrene. Five years later he died from complications from the gangrene...all from kicking a safe.

Jagermeister

Jägermeister

Jägermeister—when translated—means "Hunting Master," but if you speak German, that's obvious. Our buds at Jäger told us the origin of the logo: legend has it, while on a hunt, the patron saint of hunters, St. Hubertus, was moved to devote his life to good work after he was confronted by a white deer carrying an illuminated cross between his antlers...that explains the bottle. The experience, on the other hand—probably drugs.

Jameson

Jameson

The father of Irish whiskey, John Jameson, founded the Bow Street Distillery in 1780 and has been going strong ever since. In 2013, annual sales topped 4.7 million cases, which amounts to over 56 million bottles, making it the most popular whiskey in the world. 

Beam Suntory 

Jim Beam

Since 1795, seven generations of the Beam family have dedicated their lives to producing some of the best selling bourbon in America. When Prohibition hit America in 1920, the Beam family was forced to shut down operations. In 1933, after booze was legalized again, it was James B. Beam who rebuilt the company and got the whiskey brand back on its feet. Since then, each bottle has been affectionately nicknamed “Jim” after the man who saved the family business.

Ketel One

Ketel One

“Ketel” is actually Dutch for “pot still” and was named after the distiller’s oldest coal-fired copper pot.

Monkey47

Monkey 47

We love Monkey 47, so it was a pleasure to talk to these guys about their origins. Let’s get one thing out of the way—the “47” refers to the number of botanicals this gin contains. The “Monkey” on the other hand, pays tribute to a British man named Montgomery Collins, a massive gin fan who was tasked with rebuilding Berlin’s zoo at the end of WWII. When his personal bottle was found in the mid-1960s in an old country club guest house, they also found a sketch of a monkey with the words “Max the Monkey–Schwarzwald Dry Gin” in black lettering.

Beam Suntory

Old Crow 

Shockingly, Old Crow has nothing to do with any member of the avian species, but rather a Scottish immigrant named Dr. James C. Crow. When Crow settled in Frankfort, Kentucky in the 1830s, he made whiskey for his employers and sold it simply as "Crow." The aged bottles were called "Old Crow," which ended up sticking. It was Ulysses S. Grant's drink of choice.

Beam Suntory

Old Grand-Dad

Now owned by Beam Suntory, this massive parent company has a great little anecdote about this delicious—and inexpensive—whiskey: "Old Grand-Dad was a distiller named Basil Hayden who made his name by distilling a bourbon whiskey made with a higher percentage of rye. Basil Hayden passed along the art of distilling to his son and then, in turn, to his grandson. It was the third generation distiller, Colonel R.B. Hayden, who honored his grandfather by naming his justly famed whiskey 'Old Grand-Dad.'"

Sailor Jerry

Sailor Jerry

Before there was the rum, there was the famous tattoo artist. Norman Keith Collins gained fame from tattooing sailors and shortly picked up the nickname Sailor Jerry. After his death, Collins’ proteges Ed Hardy and Mike Malone started Sailor Jerry Ltd. and began branding everything under the sun with Jerry’s logo, including shoes and spiced rum.

Seagram's

Seagram's 

Before Joseph E. Seagram got into the gin game, he led a colorful life as a bookkeeper in a grist mill and as manager of a flour mill in Waterloo, Ontario. There, he learned the distilling process and used that sweet, sweet flour money to fund his booming alcohol business. Seagram didn't stop there; he founded Seagram Stables in 1888 and raced horses for a number of years. 

Stolichnya 

Stolichnaya

Stoli is the Russian adjectival form of "stolitsa," which means "capital city." 

Svedka

Svedka

Svedka is actually a relatively punny play on two different words: “Svenska” which is the word “Swedish” in Swedish, and vodka, which means “drink that makes memories disappear” in English. Yeah, I guess that pun isn't especially funny. 

Diageo

Tanqueray 

Charles Tanqueray set up shop on Vine Street in London during 1838 and it was one of the only facilities to survive the German bombings during World War II.

Campari Group

Wild Turkey

In the 1940s, a distillery executive brought his buds a private supply of his 101 proof bourbon during a hunting trip—for wild turkeys. As the story goes, the buds liked it so much that they asked him to bring the same bourbon the following year. The executive then decided to nickname and market the brand as Wild Turkey. No word on whether or not the guys actually killed any turkeys. 


Jeremy Glass is the Vice editor for Supercompressor and his favorite alcohol is everything. 

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