Made with multiple materials and printing processes, labels play a crucial role in the spirits sector and rely heavily on design. They can also be a potent vector for technology. First published in the spring 2023 issue of Formes de Luxe, we round up the latest trends in the highly creative sector of spirits labels.
When the label steps out of line
The tequila El Ateo—“the atheist”—is a tribute to philosophical exploration: the brand’s three references feature an illustration of either Aristotle, Hegel, or Freud. But each man’s head is abruptly cut off at eye-level, truncated by an uneven line meant to make the label appear torn. According to Mexican design agency Estudio Albino, the image represents the idea that the quest for knowledge is essentially a personal experience. This symbolic composition subverts the deliberately classic graphic design, which Full American Graphics has rendered on textured paper with a combination of offset, hot stamping, and embossing.
Reincarnated Spirits, released in 2022 by Berlin-based design studio Ruska Martin Associates, is a manifesto for a circular economy. This applies to distillation—carried out with yeast derived from a sparkling wine and usually disposed of—right on through to the choice of packaging. The recycled paper label is shredded Banksy style, but only halfway through, signifying a need to end to selfdestruction and waste. In order to make the bottle more easily recyclable, the label is held in place by a band of adhesive paper (Fasson Crush Grape) instead of glue, and printed with water-based inks by the Austria-based Carini.
Oski, a 100% Armenian gin produced by Greenwoods, sports a unique decoration designed by the Formascope Agency and composed of seven overlapping labels: each one represents an aspect of the product or its history. For example, one is printed on artisanal Ursus paper containing plant residues that create a green hue similar to thyme, the gin’s main ingredient; and another is made of real copper, like the traditional still used to make the spirit. These seven, hand-applied bands can be positioned in any order to create a total of 5,040 different combinations. They are produced by the Armenian printer Moussaler Printing House.
Taking inspiration from minerals
Pewter labels, appreciated for their association with tradition and noble materials, are also breaking new ground. Etincia (Alliance Etiquettes Group) now offers 40% recycled pewter and intends to increase this proportion to 100% in 2023. When it comes to finishes, techniques range from manual patinas to digital printing that allows for unpredictable decorations. For its highest quality cognac, Grande Champagne, Abécassis has chosen contemporary-looking labels marked with a simple black silk-screen print.
Autajon offers adhesive labels in imitation pewter that allows for more complex cut shapes than real metal: colors, shine, and textures created by round or “diamond point” embossing are used to reproduce pewter’s texture and appearance. Copper calls to mind old-fashioned stills, giving it symbolic value in the spirits industry.
Metal is used for subtle accents on a label designed by English agency Kingdom and Sparrow for the gin brand 58 and Co.; these include a juniper leaf motif that appears dipped in copper, a result achieved using rosy hot foil stamping (Kurz) and 3D embossing.
58 and Co
Seram’s natural stone labels are an entirely different proposition: they consist of thin sheets of slate or mica laminated either on a fiberglass support or on a flexible and thermoformable resin. The first technique produces a rigid label that creates effects of transparency and light when engraved and laser cut; the second produces a label that conforms to the shape of the bottle and that can also be combined with a material such as bamboo.
Focus on environmental impact
With its organic cognac, 2050—the deadline set by the European Union to reach carbon neutrality—A. de Fussigny wants to promote a disruptive innovation. Rather than glass (deemed too heavy and energy greedy), the bottle is made of a linen and bio-based resin composite (the interior is currently lined with a layer of recycled PET). The concept, patented by Green Gen Technologies, is associated with a label made of casein, or milk protein, a natural polymer that dissolves in water without releasing any pollutants. The material is produced in granular form by the French startup Lactips, then transformed into a film by Plastiques Venthenat and printed by Lorge.
A. de Fussigny
The Rémy Piron distillery has aligned its cognac Découverte Perpétuelle with local craftsmanship by choosing a linenbased paper handcrafted by Moulin du Verger for the label. In keeping with the refined design by Maison Linea, the label was printed by L’Atelier Graphique du Cognaçais, then affixed to the bottle’s shoulder using traditional glue. In this case, the back-of-pack label is actually glued to the bottom of the bottle for more discretion and die-cut from the center of the main label to limit material waste.
An increasing number of papers are produced using food industry by-products. For example, Crush Grape by papermaker Favini combines 15% grape waste with 40% recycled paper and 45% virgin pulp, and is offered in an adhesive version by Avery Dennison under the brand Fasson. This medium was chosen for the label on the organic cognac Prince Hubert de Polignac, printed by Inessens with ink made from natural pigments derived from minerals or plants. The soft colors harmonize with semi-transparent hot stamping produced with an aluminum-free film (Lumafin by Kurz).
Prince Hubert de Polignac
For its line of organic white rum, Bologne opted for a paper made of 95% bagasse, the residue left over from grinding sugar cane, and 5% hemp and linen fibers (Fasson Cane Fiber Paper). Nacara Impressions produced clear, clean graphics that convey the alcohol’s organic quality (Maison Linea).
Paradis Perdu gin, part of the latest conceptual collection by Alliance Etiquettes, boasts some impressive window stickers! Printed on transparent plastic film that lets light filter through, the illustration depicts a stained-glass window featuring an angel motif. The rest of the label is made opaque using paper laminated onto the film, but hollowed out in the center to leave the stainedglass visible. A red, screen-printed tag on the top delivers a contrasting shot of urban energy.
Other effects of transparency can be created with two-sided printing (the two sides are separated by a layer of opaque white). When a decoration is printed on the back of a label, in other words on the adhesive side in contact with the glass, it shows through the bottle, producing an eye-catching illusion of depth. Autajon used this process on back-of-pack labels for Du Grand Nez and Vertigo gin, highlighting the emblem on each: the figure of Henri IV and a dizzying Hitchcock staircase, respectively.
Du Grand Nez
If luminescent pigments are added, the label can be made to glow at night in festive environments. Vodka Stoli, in collaboration with the graphic artist Jason Naylor, has launched a collection of bottles in electric colors, with certain details highlighted by a phosphorescent varnish. The packaging is a sleeve produced by Eurostampa using high-definition flexography. Butterfly Cannon oversaw packaging design.
Mastering the art of the necktie
The collar is an oft-neglected packaging element, sometimes for lack of appropriate paper. To remedy this, paper manufacturer Fedrigoni is launching a range of neck and front labels produced in the same fine FSC-labeled papers. A strong adhesive is used to reduce the shape-memory effect of thick media that tend to peel off when applied to small diameters. Using alternative materials is another way to add value to products. Take the monogrammed copper collar that adorns the prestigious Saints & Scholars Irish whiskey from High N’ Wicked (Altamar Brands): reminiscent of the Irish flag, the accessory (provided by Global Package) sets this special edition, produced by a brand mainly dedicated to American whiskies, apart. The agency Watermark Design oversaw creative work.
Saints & Scholars
The 1996 JM Signature rum is adorned with a simple wooden plaque attached to its neck by a red cotton cord. Wood, also used to make coffrets, is meant to evoke the barrels in the cellars in Martinique—an approach endorsed by Maison Linea. The screen-printed, hand-numbered labels are produced by Diampack Norline Atelier.
When labels connect
The label has become a tool for digital communication. In a recent collection of prototypes designed to demonstrate the potential of its adhesive substrates and other label solutions, Avery Dennison wanted to promote the link between sustainability and connection, and the physical and digital worlds. Usha gin, included in this project, incorporates an NFC chip in its bagasse-based paper that directs the consumer to an informative webpage. It can also be directed to atma.io, the Avery Dennison Group’s cloud platform for connected products. The label was designed by O,Nice! agency and printed by Grafical in Italy.
Johnnie Walker also intends to use an NFC chip, this time to take customers on a virtual voyage to the world of 2220. The six different bottles in the brand’s Cities of the Future 2220 collection provide a glimpse of the experience through illustrations of futuristic cities created by digital artist Luke Halls and printed by MCC Glasgow on metallized film. A small heel label holds the chip, as well as the bottle number and the name of each city in question—digitally printed, variable data. Butterfly Cannon provided art direction.