Spirited design work: brilliant liquor and liqueur labels

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99designs does not recommend drunk designing. However, we are absolutely blown away by the design work found on the world’s liquor shelves.

To conclude our series on beverage label design (earlier, we looked at beer and wine), we’ll jump into the most impressive category yet: spirits.

Absolut Vodka‘s standard label, a simple, strong and elegant juxtaposition of script and bold sans-serif typeface, allows for lots of freedom. Their city series includes great illustrations, and in a bold and genius limited edition, they go totally bare. “In an absolute world, there are no labels,” it reads.

Why do liquors and liqueurs make for such a design hot spot? Our theory is that many average consumers wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between one mid-range vodka and another based on taste alone, so label becomes a distinguishing factor and deal maker.

Then, among the super high-tier limited editions, bottles become more a collector’s item than just a beverage. In both situations, excellent design is key. Let’s take a look at some winning approaches.

I. Old School

Many of the world’s most famous liqueurs became prominent around the turn of the 20th century, when American and European bar and cocktail culture was raging. Hence, the design influences of the times — Art Nouveau and Art Deco — are permanently stamped on liqueur label design.

The strong, almost architectural designs for St. Germaine and Cointreau are classic examples of early 20th century styles.

II. Illustration

Many spirits opt for ornate, highly illustrated designs to indicate luxury status. These bottles are not just for holding liquor; they can be proudly displayed in the home and on the bar.

Kraken rum and Peat Monster scotch all have beautifully illustrated labels. The bottles for Michelberger Booze Company (below) take a colorful, psychedelic approach.

III. Background and Foreground

Another common and highly effective bottle design choice is to have a patterned or lightly illustrated background with a strong, clean label for the foreground.

10 Cane Rum‘s label is excellent — an intricate, monochromatic background illustration with an eye-catching orange sticker in front. Flora&Fauna scotch makes a similar move in all black and white, with its label by Dan Hinde.

Two patterned variations of Lovejoy vodka

IV. Minimal

A clean, minimal design that emphasizes typeface or composition is never a bad idea. This is true across the board and liquor labels are certainly no exception.

Alacrán mezcal’s logo by Sociedad Anónima, placed on an opaque white bottle, is an intriguing and brilliant choice for the spirit. Blossa Glögg‘s vibrant bottle, also opaque, is a great example of austere typeface paired with playful design.

R1 Whiskey shows that just a small band, artfully done, will suffice in catching a consumer’s eye. Milk is actually a wine bottle, designed by Emily Hale … but that typeface? We just could not say no to that. 

99ers have produced some seriously awesome spirit label designs that could keep pace with any of the above. Check ‘em out:

This design for Hollywood Dinner Club, by SchmeelyBug, is tastefully ornate

TokageCreative‘s design for Walla Walla gin takes on the not-so-easy task of marketing a gin to women, and does a great job with it.

The design for Green Acres vodka, by 1302, utilizes the background and foreground method with smart typeface

Skittfiske aquavit by Xebeche – minimalism with a touch of illustration

Designs for Egoist vodka, by mrcha (right) and TTOM (left). Minimalism at its finest

Got any spirit/liqueur labels to add? Share them in the comments!

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Alex contributes from New York City on topics ranging from branding and typography to the history of design.