Booze Skulls and Skeletons

We’ve noticed the use of skull and skeleton images on booze bottles and cans for quite awhile — especially on the labels of craft and micro-brew beers and liquors. But recently it seems more ubiquitous. So we visited a couple local stores and collected example snaps, as well as a few product samples. We don’t want to be on the hook for purchasing and trying every skull-or-skeleton bottle or can we trip across. So in this Halloween-themed post we’ll review several skull-and-bones offenders. Pop the top off a cold one and enjoy. Boo.
Our first selection was Dead Guy Ale’s Rogue beer. It comes,  from Oregon, in the black cans at left, so at first glance we didn’t know whether to expect a stout or… what. Note that it also comes in a dark bottle and, in September and October, Halloween-themed “glow packaging,” though we haven’t seen these options in local stores… Seems odd that we’ve seen the cans here and there, then, considering they’ve only been available since December 2016.

Anyway, turns out it’s a honey-colored German maibock, and at 6.8 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), not a particularly strong member of this variety of bocks. It’s delicious — clean with a dry finish. We happened to pair it with a homemade fish dish — not strategically, just because we were eating some of the fresh-caught Alaskan halibut that my uncle sends every year — but a better pairing proved to be chocolate-covered almonds. The beer has a sweet, toasty maltiness to it. Entree-wise, Rogue is versatile enough to go with summer fare like burgers or sliders. Our single can cost $2.99, so grabbing a few six-packs for barbecues (cheaper by the half-dozen) wouldn’t break the bank, and Rogue should prove a crowd-pleaser. These are the times that are the good times.™

Oh, and in the case of Rogue, the explanation for the skeleton on the label is that the brewery introduced this craft beer, in the early 1990’s, to celebrate the Mayan Day of the Dead (November 1). So the Halloween theme is explicit here.

Next, we sampled Twisted Gourd beer, below, not even realizing it’s from a local (well, Charlottesville, Virginia) distillery — South Street Brewery — until we do some research. It sells itself as an “Imperial Chocolate Chai Pumpkin Ale,” and it turns out that pumpkin beer has an interesting history in Virginia. The history described at that link gives the beer its name, as well as the inspiration for the skull design.

It pours a nutty amber brown with a short, thin head and very little lacing. The nose and taste are sweet with a hint of chai. The taste is lighter than expected, given the dark color. Eventually, we begin to detect a hint of pumpkin, but not chocolate. It has a long, bitter finish — hangs around quite awhile. I guess you could call that chocolatey. Our single bottle cost $2.59, so these would be good for variety at a Fall barbecue, not that we expect any warm days for six months or so. Glad we happened to stumble across this regional, seasonal beer.

Another skull-can we came across was Schilling’s Hard Cider, made from 100 percent Washington apples. It pitches itself as an English Pub Style Cider which, depending on your opinion of English beer, may or may not be a selling point. The first thing we notice is the light, golden color and clear, unmuddled pour. It’s a bit headier than the Twisted Gourd, but not much, and the lacing is nearly as light. The nose is classic cider, very light. The taste is dry and sour, and later we see at the website that the company describes it as “bone dry.” That’s accurate. The cider flavor is subtle, and we could see drinking this with a heavy Japanese curry or something equally thick and umami. It’s not clear why a 6.5-percent ABV cider would feature a menacing, one-eyed, tophatted human skull on the can, but there it is.

Lastly, we found a bottle of Sexton during our travels down Route 301 a couple months back. It’s a Single Malt Irish Whiskey in a hexagonal bottle, and we’ve been using it as a bookend. But alas, it’s time to crack it open for a sample; Halloween won’t wait. We don’t have much to add to this informative review, except to say that Sexton has a very mild peat on the nose and palate. If peaty scotch isn’t your thing, don’t let that turn you off here — it barely registers compared to smoky Islay scotches, say. It’s very smooth with a clean, lingering finish.

So that’s it for our tour of the dark side of beer and spirits labels. Happy Halloween.

Update, 11/7/18, 7:15 p.m.: On the way home from work tonight we found another one — Ballast Point Sour Wench White Wine Barrel Aged beer. Might as well keep this post updated with additional discoveries — maybe we’ll try some of the varieties we left on the shelf (see image at bottom) and report back.


The beer pours with a decent head that dissolves quickly and we notice almost no lacing, though Beer Advocate did. The Advocate also noticed twenty-seven (!) aroma characteristics. We detect only a weak nose of light blackberries, both before and after sipping. We’re surprised by how dark red it is. Initially, we noticed the skeleton on the label but not the words “Sour Wench,” so are surprised on the first sip how — you guessed it — sour it is, like a carbonated cider. Behind the sourness and tartness there is definitely a white-wine taste, from the barrel aging. More subtle are hints of blackberries and raspberries. This isn’t really our bag but it is a unique beer, and would make for a good, medium-bodied thirst-quencher on a hot day if you’re in the mood for something different.

>Update, 11/16/18, 8:00 p.m.: We found another one. For the last two Halloweens, we’ve had a bottle of Captain Morgan’s Jack-O’Blast Pumpkin Spiced Flavored Rum out, mainly because we like the pumpkin-themed bottle. We use it to make seasonal cocktails, though it’s marketed both for that purpose and as a chilled shooter/Halloween-party drink. Until we started being on the lookout for skeleton imagery, we never noticed that this 30 percent ABV product has a skull-and-crossbones image on the back. Oh yeah — Captain Morgan’s is a pirate. We hate pirates. Not buying any more Captain Morgan’s.

It’s not a product we’d normally review here, but since we’re mentioning it, here are some brief thoughts: It’s thin, not creamy at all (in case you were expecting an eggnog-type thing), with strong cinnamon flavor and some heat. It’s like a liquid Atomic FireBall, pure novelty drink or ingredient. Seriously, no more pirates for us.

Update, 11/18/18, 4:00 p.m.: At a local supermarket we noticed two six-packs of Heavy Seas Beer’s skull-and-crossbones-bearing brews: Peg Leg Imperial Stout and AmeriCannon. Not having our camera-phone on us, we had no choice but to purchase them. Glad we did, pirate imagery not withstanding (it is called Heavy Seas, after all). The (Russian) Imperial Stout is the best-tasting beer we’ve tried in a while. It pours with almost no head, shows almost no lacing, and tastes like a roasted, dark-chocolatey Guinness. It’s sweeter and thinner than Guinness, though — less body, less creamy. Results might vary out of a tap. We liked it a bit more than the average ranking at Beer Advocate, which describes it as “deep mahogany in color.” But it’s more like ebony. Heavy Seas is a Maryland-based brewery and, though you wouldn’t know it from the packaging, this stout is 8 percent ABV (thanks BA). Pleasantly surprised. We’ll try AmeriCannon in a day or two. Yes we cannon.

americannonUpdate, 11/19/18, 7:30 p.m.: We open the AmeriCannon next. It’s a pale ale, copper-colored with a foamy head. It shows very light lacing. It’s got a citrusy-lemony nose and slightly bitter taste and finish. It’s medium-bodied with moderate carbonation, and easy to drink; 5.75 percent ABV. We’d serve it at a BBQ.

The Whiskey Wash did some research on Sexton, but didn’t like it as much as we did. They wonder what’s up with the skeleton packaging, too.
♦ Pinterest: Skull packaging (including booze products)
♦ Etsy: Skull bottles
That Mitchell and Webb Look:Are We the Baddies?
♦ Some examples we left on the shelf:

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