Gained in Translation

How one nation’s mass-market swill can become another’s aspirational nectar.

By Roger Bennett

ILLUSTRATION BY LYDIA NICHOLS

U.S.

Hennessy

In its native France, Hennessy is known as a stuffy tipple meant for musty old men; French youth prefer Scotch. In the U.S., “Henny” has become a de rigueur club drink, a staple of cocktail creativity, and a fixture in the hip-hop community.

ARGENTINA

Stella Artois

The Belgian lager is popularly known in the English market as the “wife beater,” the drink of choice for hooligans. It was carefully launched in Argentina in 2004 as a sophisticated craft ale for the affluent consumer and has become a market leader in the premium category.

UKRAINE

Brahma

Domestically, this Brazilian giant is a no-thrills, light brew. Yet the label has succeeded in Europe — even in vodka-loving Ukraine — by creatively branding itself as “Brazil in a bottle,” with the promise of beaches, samba, and Rio de Janeiro.

SOUTH AFRICA

Bell’s Whisky

In the U.K., Bell’s is viewed as a favorite for the drinker valuing price over taste. But in the fast-growing, $5.4 billion South African whisky market, the blend has fended off competition from a pack of single malts to position itself as the best-selling Scotch in the country.

CHINA

Pabst Blue Ribbon

This cheaper-than-water retro favorite has been tweaked and recast for China as Pabst Blue Ribbon 1844, a “world famous spirit” that marketers claim has been “matured in a precious wooden cask (like a) Scotch whisky.” Hence the $44-per-bottle price tag.

INDIA

Foster’s Lager

The Indian beer market is one of the world’s fastest growing, expanding at an annual rate of 13 percent to 15 percent. Though it’s brewed in India, Foster’s has trumpeted its Aussie heritage via an “Art of Chilling” campaign to become the nation’s third-best-selling mild beer.

RUSSIA

Jameson Whiskey

Whiskey in Russia is increasingly perceived as a prestigious alternative to vodka. Irish-dive perennial Jameson was one of the first brands to enter post-Soviet Russia in the early ’90s. It’s established itself as a leader, claiming 80 percent of the popular Irish whiskey market.

JAPAN

Jinro Soju

The barley-based liquor, which its maker claims is the best-selling spirit in the world, forged a reputation as a working man’s drink in its native Korea. But in Japan, it was first pitched to corporate salarymen, then at clubgoers eager to embrace an alternative to traditional sake.

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