A Guadalajaran brewery is fermenting controversy—eh? “fermenting”?—by selling a beer named after a man known as the patron saint of drug traffickers. The Arizona Republic reports on the malty European-style pilsner, which uses barley imported from Wisconsin:
Malverde Beer is named after Jesús Malverde, a Robin Hood-style figure who is revered by drug smugglers in the western Mexico state of Sinaloa. It debuted in April and has been spreading to bars around western Mexico. The brewer plans to sell it in the United States, too.
The beer has appeared as Mexico is reeling from a spike in drug-related murders and the United States prepares to pour about $465 million into Mexican anti-drug efforts. Civic groups in Sinaloa have criticized the beer, and Wal-Mart of Mexico has refused to stock it.
At what point can you start naming spirits after crime figures? Robin Hood—that’s charming. Wasn’t he a beneficent animated fox? Then: Al Capone? Well, he murdered a lot of folks but that was nearly 100 years ago, and he’s kind of a cartoon gangster at this point. So, sure. Why not?
Then it gets stickier: What about naming a beer after Vito “Don Vito” Genovese, one of the key organizers of the modern American Mafia? Suddenly, we’re looking at victims who have sons, daughters, grandsons, and granddaughters still walking around. The Genovese organization still exists. This is probably the wrong side of the line.
Naming a beer after the Crips is definitely the wrong side of the line, although it does lend itself to catchy marketing slogans: “For a taste that’s refreshing and crisp, drink … Crips!”
Having nailed down the line, we can look at Malverde again:
Historians are unsure whether Jesús Malverde ever existed. But legend says he was born in the late 1800s and embarked on a life of crime in Sinaloa, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor during the reign of Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz. He was executed by the Sinaloa state governor in 1909, the stories say.
Seems like a clear green light, so to speak. But the fact that modern traffickers revere him as a saint throws a monkey wrench into the calculation: Through no fault of his own, Malverde (if he ever existed) is a lively icon of the modern drug trade. That, by itself, seems to make naming a beer for the guy a Bad Idea. But Robin Hood? Cleared for takeoff!