Shopping for liquor or beer can be overwhelming. With a slew of options resting on the shelves, is it shameful to admit the ones with eye-catching labels are usually the first choice?
Walking down the rum aisle, the sketch of pin-up hula girl beside the name “Sailor Jerry” catches the eye immediately.
Each bottle is clear and has a sketch of a pin-up girl on the backside of the front label. The more of the liquor you drink, the more of the girl you get to see.
These sketches are designs by tattoo artist Norman Collins, famously known as “Sailor Jerry” for which the brand is named.
Collins is credited with being one of the first Western tattoo artists to use Asian influences in his work. Collins embraced his fancy for Asian artwork and gave this traditional style his own twist starting in the late 1920’s.
He was a sailor, a revolutionary tattoo artist, a poet, a traveler, a perfectionist and a slew of other labels one could place upon him. After all the indexes though, Collins was simply the Sailor Jerry.
Sailor Jerry would probably walk through a spirits store overwhelmed not by the variety of choices, but the idea of being surrounded by hundreds of stories captured and pasted to bottles on inches-wide labels.
Collins embodied the traditional outlook that a tattoo was a way to express an identity and a belonging to a certain community or culture. In the same fashion, "Sailor Jerry" fans drink the liquor out of loyalty to what the brand represents.
“Sailor Jerry” rum, sold by William Grant & Sons, is known to use counter-culture driven advertising, which has led to a particular group of consumers that are dedicated to what used to be an underground brand. Think cult classic of liquor.
This altervative culture revolves around tattooing, music, motorcycles and being an individual, all aspects infamous to Collins himself.
The label isn't everything, though. This dark Caribbean distilled rum is just as warm and playful as the lifestyle it is marketed to compliment.
As Collin's tattoos are classic, a stamp of appreciation and respect to artists past, and also a way of saying that you know life is short, so why not live it, "Sailor Jerry" has a straight-up, nothing fancy, just the way it should be, taste with vanilla infusions and hints of cinnamon.
This makes it a flavor punched mixer for tropical cocktails or a potent shot with a sweet aftertaste, just as the sailors flowing through Collins' tattoo parlor in Chinatown of Honolulu, Hawaii would have preferred it.
The tattoo parlor was for sailors by a sailor, combining influences from the foreign lands they went to and their robust militaristic pride. And though the seductive pin-ups with cute outfits on the rum’s labels have become the icon of the brand, turns out, the pin-up girls were only a small corner of Collins’ tattoo design gallery.
A new tattoo genre surfaced through Collins’ work. His techniques and colors reflected the blend of Asian tattoo culture and the edginess of a well-traveled sailor.
Bold outlines and the use of the colors red, purple and yellow are the first aspects that make a Sailor Jerry tattoo recognizable. There is also a consistent use of images such as women, ships, anchors, dragons and birds, all encompassing representations of a sailor’s life.
The cult liquor's followers may not be ready to admit it, but their favored brand has started to attract thousands of other customers, similar to the story of Collins' tattoo movement within his own studio.
As the popularity of the rum continues to grow, much like the fascination of tattoo culture, more customers will enjoy the tease of the pin-up sketch revealed as the spirit is poured. Original "Sailor Jerry" fans would have to agree that this, along with Collins' story and the timeless taste of rum, a favored drink that has crossed many cultures like the language of tattoos, is irrestible.
"Sailor Jerry" is one bottle worth its label and priceless in the culture it leads.