A few months ago my credit card bill began to soar. A trip to the Vintage Paper Fair in Golden Gate Park was all it took. I walked away with three beer labels and an Ebay habit. Obviously the designs can be appealing, but I also enjoy holding history in my hands even if it is a crappy lager from the 1950’s. Some breweries wrap elaborate amounts of information and symbolism into a beer’s identity. Locality, heritage, ingredients, pop culture, beer style and design ethos of the period all get formed into a package that ultimately effects the success or failure of the brand. Some companies go for the simple and elegant, while others are ridiculous, excessive or muddled.
One of the more peculiar and amusing labels I’ve discovered recently is Viuda Alegre Beer, or Merry Widow Beer, manufactured by the San Francisco Brewing Corporation (also known as Lucky Lager Brewing) in San Francisco during the early 1930’s.
I couldn’t wrap my head around this brand’s pitch. Does the Spanish style label really feature a flamenco dancer enjoying a night on the town postmortem? I rummaged around the web for some historical references and all I could find is one possible connection. In 1905 Vienna, The Merry Widow operetta by Franz Lehar opened with great success and spawned a variety of international versions for decades to come. The story is a classic drama intertwining love, money, and the survival of a kingdom. Two popular movie adaptations were created within earshot of the beer’s production between 1933-35. MGM produced one in 1925 and Ernst Lubitsch directed the other in 1934, but neither production utilized a Latino or Spanish theme. Was General Brewing trying to capitalize on a cultural hit and marketing to a growing demographic? Your guess is as good as mine. Feel free to craft a fictional story for our temptress?