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Happy Birthday: Carlsberg Elephant Beer is 50 years old this week


9 November 2009 marks the anniversary of the Carlsberg Elephant Beer. Fifty years after its creation, Carlsberg Elephant is a true Carlsberg classic and some might even call it a design icon.

One winter morning November 1959 the first trucks loaded with Carlsberg Elephant Beer took off from Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen. No doubt this was an eye-catcher; on the back of the trucks, both the motorized and horse-drawn ones, was a small turquoise elephant who, surrounded by a nice warm and dense jungle, declared itself as charming, elegant and elephant.

The Elephant was on the street

Back in 1955 Carlsberg’s Export Lager Beer was exported to a number of countries. The label was ornamented with Carlsberg’s perhaps most famous landmark; the Elephant Gate. This resulted in the beer becoming known as the elephant beer on several markets, which ultimately inspired the launch of a new beer, based on the recipe of Special Brew and Export Lager Beer. The beer was officially named Carlsberg Elephant Beer.

Carlsberg Elephant is still brewed at Carlsberg Breweries in Denmark, and is exported around the world to markets such as Iceland, New Zealand and Belgium just to name a few. Some markets brew their own Carlsberg Elephant beer locally according to the original recipe.

The Elephant Beer was launched in a time where Danish design, architecture and crafts achieved great international success. Carlsberg has a long tradition of producing promotional posters reflected by the changing times, and as a result poster artist Kjeld Nielsen was asked to develop an icon that could be used in advertising. He came up with a small blue elephant that almost looked like something out of a children’s book.

To the international audience this may seem somewhat misleading, considering that the beer definitely is not intended for children. But to fully grasp the geniality of Nielsen’s design, one needs to understand the Danish sense of humour and subtle irony. The blue elephant soon became a much loved symbol and was used extensively for more than a decade. Today the Elephant Beer’s mascot is even considered a design icon by many artists and graphic designers. Kjeld Nielsen’s work is regarded as some of the most original promotional materials in Carlsberg’s history. In occasion of the 50 year anniversary new enamel signs with Nielsen’s blue elephant have been produced.

Other Facts:

• In 1976 a young Tom Waits appeared on DR (Danish Broadcasting Corporation) with a show that later became known as “Elephant Beer Blues” because he held an elephant beer in hand throughout the show.

• The elephants at the Elephant Gate at the Carlsberg Brewery in Copenhagen are neither Indian nor African. The ears are the same proportions as the Indian elephant’s, but the size and conformation is more reminiscent of an African elephant. The elephants were made by the artist Nilaus Fristrup, and his experience with elephants was primarily from drawings. The elephants are carved in granite from the island of Bornholm in Denmark.

• The inspiration for the Elephant Gate originates from Bernini’s obelisk-carrying elephant at the Minerva Square in Rome. On the elephants’ rug the Carlsberg logo brand of that time (The Swastika – originally an Indian symbol for good luck) and the initials of Carl Jacobsen’s four living children Theodora, Vagn, Helge and Paula is seen. Inside the gate craftsmen and architects are reminded of their work.

• An elephant was once housed at the Carlsberg stables. It was an elephant from Switzerland who had come to Copenhagen for breeding.

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Sunday, September 24, 7:29 pm

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