Brands may have amazing liquid but if the packaging doesn’t entice consumers, they’re playing a losing game. Luckily, as our annual Design & Packaging Masters showed, there is no shortage of strong looks in spirits.
It’s what’s inside that counts. Never judge a book by its cover. Beauty is only skin-deep. While there is wisdom in these famous axioms, there’s no denying the importance of physical appearance in the spirits world. Drinkers are inundated with choice, and getting liquid to lips is a harder task than ever. As such, having standout packaging is vital to recruit new consumers and keep fans engaged.
Unlike all other rounds in the Global Spirits Masters series, The Design & Packaging Masters 2018 – sponsored by capsulated natural cork stopper range Amorim Top Series – assessed entries on appearance alone. As well as eye-catching aesthetics, our team of experienced judges was on the look out for quality materials, creativity, strong branding, functionality and a clear communication of the relevant category.
The panel consisted of: Mike Axford, creative director at The Brand Foundry; Ben Manchester, bar manager at Bluebird Chelsea; and Hugo Mesquita, sales and marketing director for the spirits division at Amorim. The competition took place at Quaglino’s in London, and was chaired by me, Amy Hopkins, editor of The Spirits Business.
The day got off to a strong start with the Vodka round, which resulted in one Master medal – the highest award in the competition – for Sonoma Brothers Vodka, which judges said “screamed craft”. “This look gives the brand a very strong message,” observed Mesquita. “It has an elegant round finish, which isn’t common in these sorts of bottles”. Also in the round, “classy and modern” Underground Spirits Vodka and “striking” Purity Vodka 51 bagged Gold medals, while “unique” Legend of Kremlin and “beautifully finished” Tigre Blanc won Silver.
The high standard continued in Gin – arguably a category where design is particularly important because of the glut of new players. Judges gave two Master medals, to Salcombe Gin ‘Mischief’ and Smeaton’s Bristol Method Dry Gin. “From the box you know you are getting something outstanding,” Mesquita said of the former. Meanwhile, Axford praised Smeaton’s for its “really high-end and usual look” and “great use of typography”.
Gold medals were also awarded to “nice and not overdone” Blackwoods Gin, “original” Martín Sessé London Dry Gin and “crafty” Sonoma Brothers Gin, while Komasa Gin, Colonsay Gin and Bartolomeo were given Silver awards. Axford said of the wider gin category: “There are big brands with big budgets, but we are seeing more interesting designs from smaller brands because they are having to try harder. Consumers are baffled by choice, so they need to be presented with the right information to make informed purchasing decisions.”
Moving into Rum, even more Master medallists were named – three in total. Rathlee Rum, which was designed by Stranger & Stranger, won praise for its “whimsical illustration” that communicated the “captivating story” of a rum distilled in Latin America and aged in Cornwall, England. The top accolade also went to “quirky” Neptune Rum, whose design reflected the “craft” production of the liquid inside the bottle. Additionally, judges loved the “beautiful, intricate” label of El Supremo Rum, which also secured the Master title.
Meanwhile, “striking, memorable” RedLeg Spiced Rum and “exotic, bold” Compagnie Des Indes West Indies 8 Year Old Blend won Gold in the round, which ended on a Silver for “fun, tongue-in-cheek” Compagnie Des Indes Tricorne.
A single Gold was given to Sullivans Cove XO Single Cask Brandy, described as “very stylish and high-end-looking”, in the Brandy leg of the competition. The cousin category of Cognac resulted in one Master medal for Bache Gabrielsen Tre Kors, which Manchester said was “very classy” and a “masterclass in typesetting”. Axford added: “The typography is very nice. It has a classic feel to it and great story demonstration. All the elements of the design sit very happily together as one.”
IMPERFECT, IN A NICE WAY
A small American Whiskey round came up next and yielded two medals: a Master for 291 Barrel Proof Colorado Rye Whiskey and Gold for Coppercraft Distillery Blend of Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Of the Master medallist, Mesquita said: “It feels handmade and not industrialised.” Manchester added: “It’s imperfect but in a nice way. It clearly communicates craft, and works perfectly in the American whiskey category – you can imagine it being slid along a western bar.”
Judges praised the “strong branding” and “nice typography” of the Coppercraft bottle. Manchester said: “I like its brutishness. It’s like a mantelpiece ornament – you certainly wouldn’t chuck it in the bin.”
The Master standard continued in Irish Whiskey, with The Sexton Single Malt taking the award. Judges were impressed by its “innovative look” featuring a dark copper and black colour scheme and “strong typography”. The “slightly obscure” but “fun and high quality” 13-year-old Irish whiskey from That Boutique-y Whisky Company stood out with its quirky illustrated label, presentation box and stickers.
In the World Whisky leg of the competition two Silvers were awarded to “simple and effective” Kanosuke New Pot and Helsinki White Dog 100% Rye Malt, whose “innovative bottle shape” caught the judges’ eyes.
A larger Scotch Whisky round followed, and saw an impressive five Master medals awarded. Gordon & MacPhail achieved the rare feat of securing Master medals for all of its entries in the competition. The bottler and maturation expert relaunched its streamlined collection this year with a new look – and its work has clearly paid off, with the Discovery range and two Connoisseurs Choice age brackets securing the competition’s highest award. Axford said: “As a branding exercise, all of these bottles from Gordon & MacPhail are exquisite. They are thoughtful, effective and beautiful, and tie in together so well.”
The Master standard didn’t stop there for the Scotch contingent – Dewar’s 25 Years Old The Signature and Glenfiddich Winter Storm also scooped the title. Axford called the Dewar’s bottle a “masterclass in packaging”, while Glenfiddich Winter Storm was deemed “highly creative and premium” with a “lovely texture”. The round also resulted in a Gold medal for Aberfeldy 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky Gold Bar Tin and two Silvers, one for Ballantine’s Finest Felipe Pantone Limited Edition and for another That Boutiquey Whisky Company bottle and presentation box.
To the judges’ delight, two further Master-worthy recipients were named in the Speciality leg: Gammel Opland Aquavit and Morveren Absinthe. The former was described as “pure class”, showcasing “wonderful use of colour”. Morveren Absinthe, meanwhile, was praised for “bringing its story and concept to life” with a “beautiful, dreamlike design”. Mesquita said: “This has everything going for it. I love how the bottle slides down the tube.”
The penultimate round of the day was Liqueurs, which produced one Gold medal for Beverbach Whiskey & Coffee Liqueur and two Silvers, for Licor 43 Baristo and Csíksomlyói Salvator. Axford said of the Gold medallist: “The shape of the bottle is quite special. It’s simple but effective.”
Judges got into the festive spirit as they faced the competition’s last leg, Gifting, in which Atom Brands secured three Silver medals. The first went to its “neat and compact” single-pack Christmas bauble, containing a dram of Ableforth’s Bathtub Gin. Two of the group’s Drinks by the Dram advent calendars – containing Tequila and Bourbon – also won praise.
From the quirky and outlandish to the simple and elegant, the panel assessed all manner of design aesthetics during the day, awarding an impressive 16 Master medals – more than any previous Design & Packaging Masters competition.
As an increasing number of spirits brands rethink their image, it’s clear the industry is working harder than ever to connect with consumers on a deeper level, before bottle seals have even been broken.
Click through the following pages for the full list of medal winners in this year’s Design & Packaging Masters.