The Icons Behind Your Liquor Labels

What you didn't know about the names on your liquor bottles

It’s no secret that Captain Morgan, Johnnie Walker, and Jack Daniel actually existed. (For the record, they were a Welsh pirate, a Scottish grocer, and an American distiller, respectively.) But there are a number of other familiar spirits that are also named for real people, and many of them have fascinating stories of their own.

After playing football under legendary coach Bear Bryant at the University of Kentucky, Jim Beam’s grandson Frederick Booker Noe II joined the family business. In 1988, he introduced one of the world’s first premium bourbons and named it after himself. Booker’s Bourbon is aged between six and eight years and bottled uncut and unfiltered.

Born in Atotonilco el Alto, a small town in the Mexican state of Jalisco, young Julio González grew up surrounded by tequila-making culture. And the ambitious young man opened his own distillery in 1942, at the age of 17, to produce alcohol for friends and family. Almost 70 years later, Don Julio Tequila is known around the planet and is one Mexico’s finest brands.

In the 1970s, master distiller Börje Karlsson helped create one of the most famous spirits of all time: Absolut Vodka. And 10 years ago, he came out of retirement to co-found Karlsson’s Gold Vodka. The eponymous liquor is made from seven heirloom varieties of potatoes and distilled only once, so it retains a subtle savory hint.

"Pappy" is a word that gives whiskey lovers goosebumps. It was also the moniker of Julian P. Van Winkle Sr., who began his career as a liquor salesman in the late 1800s and later ran his own distillery. In the early 1970s, his descendants resurrected the business and their award-winning Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbons not only bear their patriarch’s name but also his image.

Norman Collins, aka "Sailor Jerry," was a Navy vet who owned a famed tattoo parlor in Honolulu for decades until his death in 1973. He turned the craft into a true art form, adopting traditional Japanese techniques, creating new pigments, and devising iconic images. He was also the inspiration for the eponymous caramel-and-cinnamon spiced rum.

When your last name is "Beveridge," it’s hard not to be in the liquor business. But Tito Beveridge, a geophysicist, worked in the oil-drilling industry before deciding to become a distiller. He built his original still, according to legend, based on photos of old-timey moonshine operations. Tito’s Handmade Vodka, located in Austin, became Texas’ first legal distillery in 1997.

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