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The Meanings Behind the Symbols on 20 Beer Labels

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Breweries are some of the oldest companies in the world, and beer labels are full of little symbols and phrases that point to their storied histories. That, or they just load up the bottles and cans with weird crap so you have something to talk about as you're downing your fifth cold one. Either way, let's decipher some.

1. Amstel Light

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The two lions fighting over a capital letter A on Amstel Light labels? Those are the lions from the Amsterdam city crest, which can be seen here.

2. Bass

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The famous red triangle was the first ever trademark in the UK, registered on New Year’s Day, 1876. In Great Britain's Intellectual Property Office, the Bass Triangle is filed under the registration code UK00000000001. It was selected because it was a clear, distinct, and unmistakable symbol—one that even blind drunks could identify from across the pub. Or, as James Joyce describes in Ulysses:

During the past four minutes or thereabouts he had been staring hard at a certain amount of number one Bass bottled by Messrs Bass and Co at Burton-on-Trent which happened to be situated amongst a lot of others right opposite to where he was and which was certainly calculated to attract anyone's remark on account of its scarlet appearance.

3. Beck's

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The key in the Beck's logo is a reverse image of the key in Bremen's coat of arms—Beck's was founded and is currently headquartered in the German city.

4. Budweiser

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What does that little tiny cursive bit say at the top of Budweiser's label? Glad you asked:

This is the famous Budweiser beer. We know of no brand produced by any other brewer which costs so much to brew and age. Our exclusive Beechwood Aging produces a taste, a smoothness, and a drinkability you will find in no other beer at any price.

The larger text below reads: "Brewed by our original all natural process using the Choicest Hops, Rice, and Best Barley Malt. Beer • Bier • Cerveza • Birra • Biere."

Until 1908, the text on Budweiser labels was in German. Since 1876, the seal in the center has displayed the names of four continents around the rhombus—Europe, Australia, Asia, Africa—and "America" rests beneath it. Sorry, Antarctica and the other, unspecified America.

5. Dos Equis

Dos Equis was first brewed by Wilhelm Hasse in 1897, and was called "Siglo XX" to celebrate the arrival of the 20th century. This was eventually shortened to "XX," or "Dos Equis." Between the two x's on the label is the face of Aztec ruler Moctezuma II, who was killed in 1520 during the Spanish invasion of Mexico.

6. Heineken

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Heineken concedes that they don't know exactly what the red star on its labels means, but they have some guesses. According to them, it is either "a symbol of European brewers in the Middle Ages who believed it to have mystical powers to protect their brew," or that "the position of a star on the front door of the brewery indicated the stage of the brewing process," or "that four points of the star accounted for the elements earth, fire, water and wind and that the fifth point is the unknown, which is an element that brewers in the Middle Ages couldn’t control."

Also, Alfred Heineken wanted the logo to look "friendlier," so he changed the font and designed a "smiling 'e'" by giving the letter a slight tilt.

7. Guinness

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The harp, the national symbol of Ireland, was adopted by Benjamin Lee Guinness for his family's beer in 1862. He based the logo on a specific harp—Brian Boru's Harp, which is the oldest surviving Gaelic harp, and is preserved at Trinity College.

8. Kronenbourg 1664

The red sashes in the label pay homage to the single red sash in the flag and coat of arms of Strasbourg, the French city where Geronimus Hatt first brewed a version of the beer in 1664 (although, back then, Strasbourg was in the Holy Roman Empire).

9. Miller High Life

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The tale of Miller High Life's "girl in the moon" is a bit of literal corporate mythology. Legend has it that in 1907, Miller advertising manager A.C. Paul got lost in the northern woods of Wisconsin and was struck by a vision of a girl perched upon a crescent moon. Some claim she was modeled after a specific member of the Miller family, but no concrete matches can be made.

"The Champagne of Beers" is thought to refer to the fact that it was launched a few days before New Year's Eve.

10. Modelo Especial

The Modelo Especial lions bear a striking resemblance to the lions featured on Mexico City's coat of arms. The shadowy building in the center looks to be a representation of Mexico's National Palace (although we aren't sure. Feel free to drop in to the comments if you have a better guess).

11. National Bohemian

The man on National Bohemian beer is Mr. Boh (derived from the suds' nickname, "Natty Boh"). Mr. Boh was introduced in 1936, and no one knows why he only has one eye. Some say it's because he is in profile, while one of National Bohemian sales chiefs says it's because "It only took one eye to pick a good beer."

12. Newcastle Brown Ale

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The five points of the blue star on bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale represent the five founding breweries of the city. The shadow inside the star is of Newcastle's skyline, including the Tyne Bridge. In its first year, the beer swept the 1928 International Brewery Awards and the gold medals from that event adorn the label to this day.

13. Pabst Blue Ribbon

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Like Newcastle Brown Ale, PBR includes some serious boasting of accolades earned decades (or centuries) ago. The cursive below the ribbon on PBR's label states:

This is the ORIGINAL Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. Nature's choicest products provide its prized flavor. Only the finest of hops and grains are used. Selected as America's Best in 1893.

This selection occurred at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and the beer that won the honor was actually Pabst Best Select. (Though just how special the Blue Ribbon honor was is a matter of debate.) After the World's Fair, they changed the name of the beer to reflect the award.

They also used to tie real blue ribbon around the bottles, which required over one million feet of silk a year. They stopped this practice in the '50s, when they just started printing an image of a ribbon on the labels (and cans).

14. Pilsner Urquell

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Imprinted in the red seal on Pilsner Urquell's logo is an image of the brewery's main gate. The brewery was founded in 1839 in Plzeň, and construction on the gate began three years later.

15. Rolling Rock

Ah, the mysterious "33." To be clear, no one is 100% sure what it means. However, plenty of folks have taken guesses:

• It took 33 steps to get from the brewmaster's office to the brewing floor in the Latrobe brewery.
• 33 degrees Fahrenheit is the perfect temperature for drinking beer.
• 33 stands for 1933, the year prohibition ended (or the year the Pittsburgh Steelers were founded).
• The racehorse on the bottle wore 33.
• The water used for the original batches was taken from a stream marked "33" by the Pennsylvania Fish and Game Commission.
• There are 33 words in Rolling Rock's pledge of quality, which is printed on every bottle:

"Rolling Rock, from the glass lined tanks of Old Latrobe we tender this premium beer for your enjoyment as a tribute to your good taste. It comes from the mountain springs to you."

The "33" was to inform typesetters of the word count, but they accidentally left it in.

16. Sol

More corporate mythology, this time from south of the border. Sol was apparently created on a bright, sunny morning in 1899 at a brewery called “El Salto de Agua” (the water fall) outside of Mexico City. The sun's rays sprung from the horizon and fanned over the brewing pot, and the brewmaster named the batch "El Sol," for the sun, and its label represents this moment.

17. Stella Artois

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Stella can be (loosely) tracked to 1366, with the Den Hoorn brewery in Leuven, Belgium. Den Hoorn means "the horn," and this symbol is represented on the beer's current labels—making it the perfect brew for Pynchon fans.

18. St. Pauli Girl

The original St. Pauli Girl was a cartoon of a buxom waitress drawn by a local artist, but a common connotation for the woman on the label is a little different. St. Pauli is the Red Light District of Hamburg (not Bremen, where the beer is bottled), and many associate the term "St. Pauli Girl" with "prostitute."

19. Stroh's

Keen-eyed drinkers will notice that cans and bottles of Stroh's used to say, "America's Only Fire-Brewed Beer," but now merely say, "America's Premium Brewed Beer." (As you can see in the above photo, which appears to have been taken in a wood-paneled basement. Appropriate, considering Stroh's is exclusively consumed in wood-paneled basements.)

Apparently, after Stroh's was acquired by Pabst, they had to ditch their old ways of heating kettles over an open flame for cost reasons. The product is now produced mainly in Miller breweries, which don't have those specialty open-flame kettles.

20. Yuengling

The eagle on bottles of Yuengling is an artifact from the beer's beginnings at the "Eagle Brewery," opened in 1829 in Pottsville, Pennsylvania by David Gottlob Jüngling. The German immigrant anglicized his name, and when his brewery burned down in 1831, he and his son opened a new brewery that featured their brand-spanking-new American names.

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science
Why Adding Water to Your Whiskey Makes It Taste Better
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Don’t ever let people tease you for watering down your whiskey. If they’re true aficionados, they’ll know that adding a splash of water or a few cubes of ice to your drink will actually enhance its natural flavors. But how can something as flavorless as water make a barrel-aged scotch or bourbon taste even better? Chemists think they’ve found the answer.

As The Verge reports, researchers from the Linnæus University Centre for Biomaterials Chemistry in Sweden analyzed the molecular composition of whiskey in the presence of water. We already know that the molecule guaiacol is largely responsible for whiskey’s smoky taste and aroma. Guaiacol bonds to alcohol molecules, which means that in straight whiskey that guaiacol flavor will be fairly evenly distributed throughout the cask. Alcohol is repelled by water, and guaiacol partially so. That means when a splash of water is added to the beverage the alcohol gets pushed to the surface, dragging the guaiacol along with it. Concentrated at the top of the glass, the whiskey’s distinctive taste and scent is in the perfect position to be noticed by the drinker.

According to the team’s experiments, which they laid out in the journal Scientific Reports [PDF], whiskey that’s been diluted down to 40 percent to 45 percent alcohol content will start to show more guaiacol sloshing near the surface. Most commercial whiskey is already diluted before it's bottled, so the drink you order in a bar should fall within this range to begin with. Adding additional water or ice will boost the flavor-enhancing effect even further.

As for just how much water to add, the paper doesn’t specify. Whiskey lovers will just have to conduct some experiments of their own to see which ratios suit their palate.

[h/t NPR]

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Big Questions
If Beer and Bread Use Almost the Exact Same Ingredients, Why Isn't Bread Alcoholic?
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If beer and bread use almost the exact same ingredients (minus hops) why isn't bread alcoholic?

Josh Velson:

All yeast breads contain some amount of alcohol. Have you ever smelled a rising loaf of bread or, better yet, smelled the air underneath dough that has been covered while rising? It smells really boozy. And that sweet smell that fresh-baked bread has under the yeast and nutty Maillard reaction notes? Alcohol.

However, during the baking process, most of the alcohol in the dough evaporates into the atmosphere. This is basically the same thing that happens to much of the water in the dough as well. And it’s long been known that bread contains residual alcohol—up to 1.9 percent of it. In the 1920s, the American Chemical Society even had a set of experimenters report on it.

Anecdotally, I’ve also accidentally made really boozy bread by letting a white bread dough rise for too long. The end result was that not enough of the alcohol boiled off, and the darned thing tasted like alcohol. You can also taste alcohol in the doughy bits of underbaked white bread, which I categorically do not recommend you try making.

Putting on my industrial biochemistry hat here, many [people] claim that alcohol is only the product of a “starvation process” on yeast once they run out of oxygen. That’s wrong.

The most common brewers and bread yeasts, of the Saccharomyces genus (and some of the Brettanomyces genus, also used to produce beer), will produce alcohol in both a beer wort
and in bread dough immediately, regardless of aeration. This is actually a surprising result, as it runs counter to what is most efficient for the cell (and, incidentally, the simplistic version of yeast biology that is often taught to home brewers). The expectation would be that the cell would perform aerobic respiration (full conversion of sugar and oxygen to carbon dioxide and water) until oxygen runs out, and only then revert to alcoholic fermentation, which runs without oxygen but produces less energy.

Instead, if a Saccharomyces yeast finds itself in a high-sugar environment, regardless of the presence of air it will start producing ethanol, shunting sugar into the anaerobic respiration pathway while still running the aerobic process in parallel. This phenomenon is known as the Crabtree effect, and is speculated to be an adaptation to suppress competing organisms
in the high-sugar environment because ethanol has antiseptic properties that yeasts are tolerant to but competitors are not. It’s a quirk of Saccharomyces biology that you basically only learn about if you spent a long time doing way too much yeast cell culture … like me.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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