Inspiring Drinks Labels: Positive Reasons for Turning to The Bottle

Inspiring Drinks Labels: Positive Reasons for Turning to The Bottle

It makes sense that if you’re designing a website, you take inspiration from other websites. This explains the popularity of so many web design and CSS galleries. Sometimes though, getting inspiration from the same sources can get a bit … uninspiring.

It can be well worth looking beyond our own industry for new ideas. This article takes a look at sources of possible inspiration from drink labels. Drink manufacturers know that when scanning labels in the supermarket aisle or bottles lined up along a bar, the average customer doesn’t know the difference between one bottle of wine and another. Very often the decision on which bottle to buy is based on the label.

Inspiring Drinks Labels: Positive Reasons for Turning to The Bottle
Image credit: Edwin Land

Drink companies know the importance of their labelling and the work put into branding of alcoholic drinks is probably greater than any other food or drink labels. This makes them a great source of inspiration for designers.

These are big generalisations, but over the years alcohol has played a significant part in historical events and shaping current thinking and opinions. These historical associations continue to be used in many drinks labels to identify their drink within a particular genre and encourage drinkers to buy into the lifestyle suggested by their branding. The history and public awareness of drinks labelling makes them a great resource for designers.

Note: Links have been provided wherever possible to the website for each drink, but if you’re under the legal drinking age in your country you might not be allowed to access them.

Bourbon Whiskey

Bourbon originated in Kentucky during the 18th Century. Kentucky was a home for cowboys at the time, and bourbon whiskey brands like to maintain this association today. Bottle labels tend to be earthy browns and blacks with woodcut and western style fonts. Many labels will also try to achieve a worn and aged look to simulate that hard-lived outdoor feel. If colour is used it will often be red, derived from the confederate flag.

Rebel Yell, Bulleit Bourbon, Buck

Bourbon Whiskey 1

Slate, White Dog, McKenna

Bourbon Whiskey 2

Rum

Rum was first made in the Caribbean from sugar cane and brought back to the west in the 16th Century by sailors. Rum became a staple drink for sailors and the maritime association is still reflected in its branding. The most traditional imagery is ships wheels and anchors, but brands have explored further with references to pirates and the sugar plantation slaves who first discovered the process for making the drink.

Black Tot, Blackheart, Kilo Kai, Mahiki

Rum

While rum is claimed to be a great love of sailors, their great fear, according to legend, is the Kraken. An enormous and violent monster based on the Giant Squid. Kraken rum uses this theme for an original branding concept for their drink – interestingly, they use a Victorian steam-punk style of artwork, presumably making reference to Jules Verne who mentions the monster in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Kraken Rum

Kraken Rum

Vodka

A traditionally Russian drink, this lineage can still be seen in the labelling of many brands. These labels use the recognisable red and the star of communist Russia. Mostly they are resolutely masculine labels with bold serif letters, images of soldiers and party crests.

Smirnoff, Pyccknn CtahAapt (Russian Standard), Imperia, Ruskova

Vodka 1

However, vodka is no longer a resolutely male drink. The Kin Group has bottled their vodka with far less imposing designs but, importantly, keeping the link with its history through the Russian doll (Matrioshka) design bottle.

Graphic designers ELO take a contemporary twist on the vodka bottle with their concept for Russ vodka – but the Russian heritage is still a key part of the design.

Red Army Vodka is seemingly not available any more, but the distinctive red tipped missile style bottle is a powerful contrast to the more traditional labelling on other vodkas, but still retaining an obvious Soviet connection.

ELO

Vodka 2

Absinthe

Absinthe was the drink of choice for writers and artists in 19th Century Paris. The art movement of the time in France was Art Nouveau and the drinks labels are often reflective of this style. The drink’s strong green colour is also often reflected in the labels. The Art Nouveau style designs, combined with strong colour and pattern, often make the labels look fun and playful. Many labels however – particularly the modern brands – have an interesting twist, with references to the darker side of a drink that was believed to cause its drinkers to suffer mental illness.

Absinthe Parisienne poster by Gelis-Didot & Maltese, Absinthe Mata Hari, Absinthe Robette poster by Privat-Livemont 1896

Absinthe 1

The drink has attracted the interest of Marilyn Manson and H.R. Gieger, who have both produced their own Absinthe drinks. Mansinthe and Absinthe Brevans.

Absinthe 2

Beer

This is perhaps one of the most universal drinks. Possibly because it is so easy to make. Although generalised, the drinks already discussed have had direct associations with a particular place of origin. This isn’t quite the case with beer, it has strong associations with many countries, but with variations in each of these countries reflecting its place in the culture.

English Beer

Exmoor Ales, Abbot Ale, Ivanhoe, Perfection

Englishale

In the UK beer has been something of a country pub drink. The labels for many of these drinks are traditional and conservative. Beer (Ale) was brewed by monks in the middle ages and this history is also captured in modern labels with calligraphic lettering and examples of duelling knights of the era. Beer is also often made in wooden barrels and the oak cask is commonly seen in its branding. Gorilla Sushi’s variation on Twitter’s Fail Whale has clearly taken inspiration from traditional beer labelling.

Gorilla Sushi’s variation on Twitter’s Fail Whale

Fail Whale

Mexican Beer

Think of Mexico and you perhaps think desert, cactus, bandits and if thinking back further – the Mayan’s and Aztec’s. Exactly these characteristics are used in the design of these Mexican beer bottles.

Cerveceria Hacienda designs: Andrew Rose, Sol, Desperado

Mexican Beer

Tequila

Also from from Mexico, these Tequila bottles use a similar set of design themes seen in the Mexican beer labels.

Bambarria, Crema Sauza Almendrado circa 1920, Tortilla Gold & Silver (old bottle design shown)

Tequila

Wine

Seemingly one of the most socially acceptable drinks, wine is a sophisticated drink choice – often an accompaniment to a meal and almost a requirement to take as a gift when going out for dinner.

Contemporary wine labelling covers all spectrum’s of design, sophisticated, amusing, clever, eye catching, informative and beyond.

Mint Design have taken the process of buying wine to go with a meal to its logical extension and created wine labels telling you exactly what meal it is suitable for.

Wine Food

To the connoisseur, a wines character can be discovered by sniffing it – these bottles play on this, amusing for most buyers who are unable to tell anything about a wine from the smell alone.

Nice Nose wine: Robot Food, BYO bottle: The Creative Method

Wine Nose

Maybe not so true anymore, but there’s still something of a belief that red wine is for men and white for ladies. These labels play on that suggestion.

Mr. Noir & Miss Grigio, The Killer, Groom & Bride wine

His Her Wine

Jaqk is a wine company run by 1 true wine expert and 2 graphic designers. The whole premise of the company is a focus on design and branding of each wine as much as the relative merits of the wine as a drink. It demonstrates the fact our buying decisions are based on aesthetic choices just as much as product knowledge.

Jaqk

Jaqk

One for the Road

This article has been intended to show some inspiring designs you will find on the labels of drink bottles. A lot of generalisations have been made about the history and themes seen in the labelling of different drinks, however they are not entirely unjustified and show how much richer and more appealing you can make designs by placing them within a context and making references your audience can immediately relate to.

Please share any drinks labels you’ve been inspired by, or work that has been influenced from them in the comments.

More Resources

John Cowen is a freelance web designer based in Exeter. He has 7 years professional experience working online and specialise in producing simple and elegant website solutions. When he is not building websites he can be found either out cycling or on the sofa watching Seinfeld.

Comments

    • Grayson,
    • October 16, 2010
    / Reply

    Wow, it did inspire me with a new concept. But seeing all these drinks make me feel a bit tipsy as well. :P Who say designers and alcohol can’t works hand in hand…

    • Joan,
    • October 16, 2010
    / Reply

    The labels’ effects include giving each bottle a unique personality. I particularly love the Russ vodka’s simple look and the serious but roguish Jaqk wine labels.

    • azul,
    • October 16, 2010
    / Reply

    Oh nice very inspiring list

  1. / Reply

    Dude, you totally forgot about German Beer. :)

      • Morgan,
      • October 19, 2010
      / Reply

      Are you drunk? :)

    • daniel,
    • October 16, 2010
    / Reply

    @Steffen: this article is about good labels not good beer :P

    • Luke,
    • October 16, 2010
    / Reply

    Brilliant list! Gotta love Vodka :D

    • Sebastian,
    • October 16, 2010
    / Reply

    Nice! I have somewhat of a crush on this packagedesign, a swedish light lager. http://lovelypackage.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/sailor2.jpg. Love the tattoo design.

  2. / Reply

    I like Vodka 555+

    Great article Great Share.

    • Scott,
    • October 18, 2010
    / Reply

    It’s definitely all about creating identity, if you think about mainstream drinks like Budweiser, Miller etc instantly recognisable because of their identity created by the labelling. Some (Jack Daniels for example) have even become iconic through their striking label design. Here in Scotland, the simple red “T” icon is instantly associated with Tennents lager and is used to promote all sorts. The country’s biggest music festival for example (“T in the Park”) is named after the sponsor’s logo instead of the sponsor’s actual name. Most of the examples above fall into the luxury category so it’s no surprise that the packaging design is of such a high standard. I know Whisky labelling costs far more to produce than the actual liquid.

      • Morgan,
      • October 19, 2010
      / Reply

      Oh yes…I think producing such alcohol might be quite cheap. It’s the advertising and marketing that cost more. If you market the drinks well enough, you will even if it taste like crap. I have seen very simple drinks label which sells very well too.

    • Tom,
    • October 18, 2010
    / Reply

    Very cool collection. Just to add, Desperados is actually a French beer. Cool design though.

    1. / Reply

      Thanks Tom. Yeah, my error on the Desperado beer. Looking at the entry on them on Wikipedia it seems I’m not the only person to have made this error, which makes me feel a bit better!

    • Bobby,
    • October 18, 2010
    / Reply

    It’s Desperado’s assocation with Tequila that automatically make people think it is of Mexican origin but as already pointed out, is French.

    • Ryan,
    • October 18, 2010
    / Reply

    This is great! Thanks for sharing!

  3. / Reply

    Great, I just spent too much time learning how to prepare absinthe. Kilo Kat rum has a killer logo though!

    • jahoo,
    • October 21, 2010
    / Reply

    Some cool labels ;)

  4. / Reply

    Wow! Really nice collection, thanks!

    • ELO,
    • November 13, 2010
    / Reply

    Thanks for featuring my work

    ELO Designer

    • SeanNY,
    • March 15, 2012
    / Reply

    Great article! Thanks.

    I just wanted to let you know that I printed it in my magazine and got a lot of good feedback, including some requests for reprints!

    But since I left your name out, all the compliments were directed to me. Should I send them along?

    Thanks again!

    SeanNY

    • SeanNY,
    • March 16, 2012
    / Reply

    My prior comment was obviously a joke. I would never use someone else work without respecting their terms.

    I wanted to let you know what it feels like when someone uses your work without permission or attribution.

    The photo you used for your header image is mine. I put it on flickr, and used a Creative Commons license to allow others to use it with attribution. Most people respect that requirement.

    But you used it as if it were your own, which is really unfair, just as unfair as if I had passed off your article as my own work.

      • John,
      • March 22, 2012
      / Reply

      Hi Sean,
      I’m sorry that was a total oversight from me. You’ll see I have provided links to sources for all other images and I’m really sorry yours got missed, it wasn’t an intentional trick to pass off your work as my own.
      I’ll contact the guys who run this blog and see if it can be updated.
      Again, I’m sorry for this mistake.
      John

    • SeanNY,
    • March 23, 2012
    / Reply

    Hi John, thanks for fixing this so quickly. I accept your apology and appreciate that it was just an oversight.

    Please feel free to delete our corresponence, since it’s old news now and would just distract from the discussion of the article, which is a very good article by the way.

    Sincerely,

    Sean (aka Edwin Land)

  5. / Reply

    Hi Sean,

    John contacted me immediately after he realized the oversight. I have thus credited the the link to the image.

    Thank you for your kind understanding, and we wish to assure you that Onextrapixel respects original works and takes copyright issues very seriously.

    Regards.

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