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The Story Behind Ginebra San Miguel’s Famous Bottle Label

Mamerto Adan is a feature writer who is back in college once again. Science is one of his many interests and his favorite topic.

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Sometimes there are stories behind the items we see every day. Some might be dull, but most could be fascinating. If only objects could talk, they might tell us a rather intriguing secret that will give us a deeper insight not just on the object itself, but to our culture and identity. I mean I was surprised when my mom told me that this old deer antler hanging on the wall was once my gramp’s hunting trophy.

And one day as I was out shopping, I had a chance visit to a liquor store. My pal going with me is a big fan of drinks, and he told me some of the brands there had been around for more than a century. One of which is a branded gin boasting a curious bottle art of a triumphant angel expelling (or slaying) a demon.

I often saw this gin bottle when my neighbors go on a drinking spree (much to the annoyance of the townspeople). And I often associated the Ginebra San Miguel, the name of the brand with drunkards wrecking the midnight sidewalks. The supposedly religious image of the angel was forever spoiled by its association with intoxicated felons, but as a friend told me, I should look pass the alcohol abuse and see how it is connected to one of Philippine’s national artists.

The Early Start of Ginebra San Miguel

Founding partners of the Casa Roxas; Domingo Roxas and Antonio de Ayala. Photos taken from Ayala.com.ph.

Founding partners of the Casa Roxas; Domingo Roxas and Antonio de Ayala. Photos taken from Ayala.com.ph.

It all started in June 1834, when Casa Roxas, known today as the Ayala Corporation founded the first distillery in the Philippines, the Ayala distillery (Destilerias Ayala Inc.). Its location was in Quiapo, Manila, where it produced a variety of drinks ranging from cognac to gin. Some of its brands was Ginebra Ayala, Ginebra Nacional, and Ginebra San Miguel.

Yes, Ginebra San Miguel has been around since 1834, and basically older than the Philippine republic. In fact, the term “Ginebra” was Spanish for gin, and the recipe remains unchanged even to this day. Hence the said spirit in the modern store shelf is basically the same one that our ancestors sipped. It survived the revolution, the Philippine-American War, World War 2, the Martial Law and a lot of more. And going back to the revolution, it was said that this brand was the gin of choice served during the Malolos Convention.

And Then We Have Fernando Amorsolo

The young Fernando Amorsolo. Taken from http://www.fernandocamorsolo.com

The young Fernando Amorsolo. Taken from http://www.fernandocamorsolo.com

But the easily recognizable bottle wasn’t seen until in 1910, thanks to a man named Fernando Amorsolo. It was him who made the highly recognizable label bearing the image of St. Michael the Archangel, triumphantly battling the vanquished demon.

In Paco, Manila, was where Amorsolo was born. The date was May 30, 1892. In his younger years, Amorsolo helped his family by selling water-color postcards to a local bookstore, while his first success was in 1908, when his painting won second place in a contest organized by Asociacion Internacional de Artistas. He then studied arts in Liceo de Manila (between 1909 to 1914) and continued his art education at the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts.

After graduating, Amorsolo worked in the Bureau of Public Works as a draftsman. He then worked as a chief artist at the Pacific Commercial Company, and a part-time instructor in the University of the Philippines.

His life and career were like that for three years, working as a graphic artist and an instructor. But his career was about to saw a windfall when the Ayalas needed a label for their Ginebra San Miguel. They then commissioned the young Amorsolo to design the bottle artwork for their signature gin.

The "Marca Demonio"

Original bottle art of Ginebra San Miguel.

Original bottle art of Ginebra San Miguel.

As what’s mentioned above, Amorsolo made a label to reflect the brand name. The label bears the traditional iconography of the Archangel Michael. If we check the original illustration, we could see the winged Archangel in red garb and cape. His right hand raises a sword, which appears to be of a wavy blade. It might resemble the local blade “kris”, but it could be a representation of the fiery sword mentioned in the Book of Genesis. In some traditional iconography, the Archangel Micheal was depicted wielding the fiery sword as he deposed the devil. And speaking of devil, we have a demon covering up under St. Michael’s feet as if protecting himself from the Archangel’s blow. The wing design of the demon, which resembles that of the bat and moth, is typical of some depictions in arts.

In the original label, the scene was set in a background of sky and clouds, as if depicting Heaven, as flame licked the demon’s back in his downfall to hell.

The original label art was created in 1917 and known as “Marca Demonio.” The name of the brand was set above the illustration, while the name of its company (Ayala Inc.) could be seen underneath the vanquished demon.

When the Ayala Distillery was bought bough by La Tondeña, Inc, the label artwork was slightly retouched. The image of the Archangel was simplified, and the demon was now in all red color (it was black with red wings). Mountains was also added to the background.

Later History

The label art, after La Tondeña, Inc acquired the Ayala Distillery.

The label art, after La Tondeña, Inc acquired the Ayala Distillery.

Amorsolo’s creation of the product label propelled his career when Enrique Zobel de Ayala (patriarch of the Zobel de Ayala family), the owner of the beverage company took notice of the design. Being a patron of art, he was so impressed with Amorsolo’s Marca Demonio, that Zobel offered him an education in the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid. Amorsolo never failed Zobel, and not only that he passed the entrance exam, he was offered a position of a professor in the school.

And the rest will be history for Amorsolo, as he will later become a recognize artist. Eventually, history will honor him as one of the most important artists in the Philippines.

La Tondeña, Inc. later acquired the Ayala Distillery in June 21, 1924, the maker of the historic gin, which will be then acquired by San Miguel Corporation before evolving into La Tondeña Distillers, Inc. It will undergo another name change, and will be known as Ginebra San Miguel, Inc.

References:

1. “Citing Sources and Referencing.” http://www.fernandocamorsolo.com/biography.html. Accessed 23 March 2020.

2. Ocampo, A. (June 17, 1989). The Man Who Made Marca Demonio.

3. Hlousek, Petr. "La Tondeña Distillers, Inc. (Philippines)". Peter's Rum Labels. Retrieved 29 September 2019.

4. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 23 January 2013. Retrieved 6 November 2012.

5. dela Peña, Zinnia (8 March 2003). "La Tondeña now known as Ginebra San Miguel Inc". The Philippine Star. Retrieved 23 April 2018.

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