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Jesús Malverde, a Mexican Robin Hood-style figure

Bet the Nazis at the FDA won't allow the name to be used on beer that sells in the USA. The Nazis at the FDA shot down a company in Weed, California that wanted to name it's beer Weed Beer because of the lame excuse that people might think the beer had something to do with marijuana.


Mexican brewery taps name of crime legend

by Chris Hawley - Aug. 26, 2008 12:00 AM

Mexico City Bureau

GUADALAJARA, Mexico - A new beer named after the "patron saint" of drug traffickers is brewing up controversy in Mexico, where the government is locked in a bloody battle against drug gangs.

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. "When a product exalts something illegal, that's wrong," said Paul Velázquez, president of the Los Mochis Area Business Owners' Association in northern Sinaloa.

The new brew is part of the so-called narcoculture that continues to fascinate Mexicans despite the violence that has swept over the country in recent years, Velázquez said.

Songs about drug smugglers, known as narcocorridos, remain a staple of Mexican banda music. Newsstands sell pocket-size comic books starring smugglers and hit men, and Mexican movies like the upcoming El Cartel revolve around the country's underworld. One of the hot books of the summer is The Queen of the Pacific and other Narco Women, about Sandra Ávila, who was arrested in October and remains in prison on charges of drug trafficking.

The beer's maker, the small Minerva Brewery in Guadalajara, is donating 1 percent of its profits to a chapel dedicated to Malverde in the city of Culiacán. The company says the beer is not meant to glamorize the drug trade.

"We're just trying to honor a Mexican legend, that's all," said Jesús Briseño, the brewery's general manager.

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.

Over the decades, admirers began attributing miracles to him and building shrines in Sinaloa, though the Roman Catholic Church rejects the practice.

Malverde: 'Green evil'

In the 1980s, drug smugglers began praying to the legendary outlaw for protection. The name Malverde translates literally as "green evil," evoking marijuana.

Drug couriers known as mules sometimes carry pictures of him, and his chapel in Culiacán is full of offerings and letters asking for his help.

Briseño said he got the idea for the beer after visiting Malverde's chapel.

It's not Minerva's first publicity stunt. In 2006, the company made headlines when it produced 24,000 bottles of Duff Beer, named after Homer Simpson's favorite brew in The Simpsons.

A Mexican businessman had registered the Duff Beer name in Mexico and hired Minerva to make a test batch in an effort to sell the idea to Fox Studios. Fox said it wasn't interested, killing plans to mass-produce Duff, Briseño said.

For Malverde Beer, the company designed a green label featuring a hops plant, the mustachioed Malverde and the slogan "A hero, a legend, a beer." The art was meant to look like a superhero comic book, Briseño said.

The beer itself is a malty, European-style pilsner. Some of the barley is imported from Wisconsin, Briseño said.

At 77 pesos ($7.60) for a six-pack, it is about twice as expensive as other Mexican beers. Briseño said the company is marketing it mainly to upscale bars that specialize in imports.

The Casa Ley supermarket chain, am/pm convenience stores and a pharmacy chain have also started selling the brew, he said. Wal-Mart of Mexico sold some as part of a Minerva Brewery variety pack during a promotion in June, but the chain has refused to carry the brand by itself because of the name, Briseño said.

Minerva now sells about 600 cases of the beer a month, up from 400 cases in April. Briseño said the company is registering the brand in the United States and wants to begin exporting Malverde soon.

At the Red Pub in Guadalajara, manager Alejandro Pérez said his customers were divided over the beer.

"The people who buy it buy it because of the image," Pérez said. "And the people who don't buy it do it for the same reason."


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