Standing out on shelves is vital for brands to appeal to consumers, so getting design and packaging spot on is crucial. Luckily, many producers are excelling in this arena, as our competition shows.
They say the first taste is with the eyes, meaning appearance is everything if you want to stand out in today’s competitive spirits market. A bottle’s aesthetic can make or break that all‐important first sell – and with a consumer audience paying close attention to sustainability, a product’s eco‐friendly packaging is of high value.
This year’s Design & Packaging Masters took place with all the necessary physical distancing measures in place, in line with government guidelines. In London, Bryan Rodriguez, wine and spirits buyer for Harvey Nichols, joined me, Melita Kiely, editor of The Spirits Business and chair of the event, at the Novotel London Bridge. The second half of our judging team joined us virtually over Microsoft Teams from Portugal: Catarina Costa, product designer at Amorim Top Series, and Hugo Mesquita, sales and marketing director at Amorim Top Series, which sponsored the competition.
Our challenge was to assess each entry based on its aesthetics, functionality, sustainability and overall quality. The competition began with a flight of Vodka that delivered a strong set of medals. This round also presented the first Master medallist of the day: Kástra Elión Vodka. “I really like this design, it’s very contemporary,” said Costa.
There was no shortage of Gold winners in this flight, either. Eight Gold awards went to: Belvedere Cutting Board, Nemiroff The Inked Collection Wild Cranberry, Nemiroff The Inked Collection Burning Pear, Nemiroff The Inked Collection Bold Orange, Seven Three Distilling Vodka, Snow Queen Enigma, Belvedere Heritage 176 (a malted rye spirit drink), and Monk Isadore Vodka.
Commenting on the Nemiroff entries, Rodriguez said: “They’re a bit rock ‘n’ roll; a nice size, the glass stands out, and I like that they’re 500ml. Sometimes 700ml or 750ml is too much. Once you’re done you can reuse that bottle, it’s pretty cool.”
Mesquita was equally impressed by the range. “Embossing detail is not an easy feature to get; they’ve gone to a lot of detail to stand out,” he said. “They did the work on the labels, they wanted to stand out for different reasons and this looks to me like they’re speaking to consumers through their labels; those little details on the printing are like hidden messages for consumers.”
Snow Queen Enigma, with its slender, tall blue bottle decorated with white patterns, was also highly celebrated by the judges. Costa said: “The detailing on the bottle makes me think about glass crystals in the snow. If you asked me for a beautiful bottle, I would recommend this one.” Six Silver medals completed the flight.
Reflecting on the standard of vodka entries this year, Mesquita said: “I’m positively surprised by the quality of samples we had in this contest; it can be a dull category. I’m much more excited about the images I saw today than I’ve ever been before. There’s a lot of work being done on functionality, making sure consumers are attracted to details on labels, materials, so these are all very good signs.”
The Gin flight proved to be a strong category for Master medals. The first of six Masters went to Ben Lomond Gin, with its “good‐looking blue glass bottle and big proud wooden stopper”. “I like the GPS coordinates adding a bit of adventure to it,” noted Rodriguez. Comte de Grasse 44°N also won a Master for its “embossed texture that looks like the sea” and its “perfume bottle” appearance. Mirabeau Rosé Gin also received a Master. “The texture, the shape of the bottle, everything is amazing,” noted Costa. “It’s unique in the drinks and spirits world. The simplicity and elegance is there, and you don’t need any more for great packaging.”
Berry Bros & Rudd also received the top award for its No.3 London Dry Gin, with its “almost Aston Martin‐green embossed glass”. Twisted Nose Gin joined the Master ranks thanks to its “brilliant” design, combining an “ombre green effect and twisted glass”. Rodriguez also noted “nice information on the back about the product and its ingredients”. The final medal in this flight went to the “amazing, stylistic” Junipero Gin.
Agave‐based spirits are some of the hottest products in the spirits world right now, loved by both the trade and consumers. In terms of packaging, the category is delivering strong offerings, as each Tequila entrant into this year’s competition took home a Gold medal. Fraternity Spirits picked up five Gold medals for its Tequila entries: Corralejo Blanco Tequila, Corralejo Reposado Tequila, Corralejo 1821, Corralejo 99,000 Horas Añejo and Corralejo Añejo Tequila.
Rodriguez said about Corralejo 1821 in particular: “A very cool‐looking tall and standout bottle. It looks like the super‐ premium Tequilas that tend to cost over £100, like a ‘pride of place bottle’.”
Sticking with agave‐based spirits, and a respectable Silver medal was awarded to Xiaman Mezcal, which had a jaguar head for a stopper. “I love the jaguar head on top,” said Rodriguez. “It feels cute and symbolic.”
Often critiqued for its lack of premiumisation, rum proved it is very much a contender in the spirits sphere, cleaning up with five Master accolades. Taking home two Master medals was Colombian brand La Hechicera. The brand scooped the coveted top award for its La Hechicera Serie Experimental No.1 and No.2 expressions. “Everything about the bottle speaks high quality,” said Mesquita. “All the elements are well done. The emblem they’re using is really interesting, inviting us to the old way of sealing letters, and the label drawing of exotic provenance takes you to Colombia.”
Don Papa won a Master medal for its Sevillana, Rye Aged and Masskara bottles, which had a “fantastic level of detail on the labels” depicting the “history behind the Philippine rum”. Merser & Co Double Barrel Rum also ticked all the boxes of a Master medallist, with its textured bottle catching the judges’ eyes. “The bottle really stands out with its dimpled glass, which almost looks like a golf ball,” said Rodriguez. “It has a wooden stopper, cork and a smart, clean paper label. It looks very English, which represents the brand.”
Eminente Reserva 7 Years Old completed the Master medals, praised for its “texturised crocodile skin and detail on the label”. Six Gold medals were also awarded, including one to Fraternity Spirits’ Ron Prohibido 15.
Two Cognac entries also stood out in the competition. A Master medal was awarded to Pierre Ferrand Légendaire, which has a hand‐shaped door knocker on the front of the presentation box, and intricate detailing on the crystal carafe. “This is just absolutely amazing,” enthused Mesquita.
Camus also received a Master medal for Camus Caribbean Expedition Cognac. “The bottle is beautiful,” said Mesquita. “It tells you a story. This really is very good.”
Moving on to Brandy, and Copper Republic Distilling Co walked away with two Gold medals, one for Copper Republic Zula XO and a second for Copper Republic Honeybush Brandy. Rodriguez noted how he liked the “zebra design” on Copper Republic Zula XO, which “represented its African roots”, while the Honeybush Brandy was a “simple and easy‐looking bottle”.
Two more Masters were found in the American Whiskey contingent, one of which went to “visually stunning” Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition, although all the judges would have liked the red presentation box to come without styrofoam inside. “It’s heavy crystal and looks and feels super‐premium,” noted Rodriguez. “It also comes with a Baccarat crystal stopper to replace the cork one.”
A Master was also awarded to Hanson Whiskey. Mesquita was particularly impressed by the bottle’s appearance. “They did a great job,” he said. “The bottle looks amazing, the shape is very nice.” La Crosse Distilling Co High Rye Light Whiskey, Uncle Nearest 1884 Small Batch Whiskey – V Eady Butler Batch, and Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey were all found to be of the Gold standard.
Irish producer Walsh Whiskey found success in the Irish Whiskey flight with a double‐Master win. Writers’ Tears Japanese Cask Finish and Writers’ Tears Copper Pot both scooped the top accolade for their “high‐end” looks.
“I like the details, the cutting of the letters, the tear, the writer’s script on the label, the closure is well made” noted Mesquita. “They are classic premium designs, without being baroque. The Japanese one in particular, the quality of the symbology behind it, the premium feel of the white colour feels very Japanese and clean.”McConnell’s Irish Whisky secured a Gold medal in this flight.
World Whisky brands also proved they have the design know‐how to compete against more established whisky categories, as the judges discovered two designs deserving of the Master award. Stauning Rye caught the judges’ attention. “This was modern, detailed, with very little plastic,” said Costa. “It had quite a different look for the whisky segment. I like the graphic design they used.”
Master medallist Filliers Single Malt Whisky also impressed: “The product is so beautiful,” Costa said.
Aultmore of the Foggie Moss limited edition Speyside single malt was one of two Master‐winning entries in the Scotch Whisky flight, which Costa described as “total elegance”. Exclusive to global travel retail, the judges wholeheartedly approved of the “foggy” presentation box and “clean” bottle design. “This is an object, a piece of design, and I think people will keep the box. It’s so delicate, quite exceptional,” said Mesquita.
Isle of Arran also bagged a Master in this flight, enjoyed for its “elegance” and “complementary colour combinations”. “The labels look amazing, I love the work they did with the labels,” said Mesquita. “I was talking to someone about brail on bottles for blind people, and this has it. That’s amazing. It’s elegant, different, it’s still Scotch but you can see there is a twist of modernity in it.”
The penultimate flight looked at Speciality Spirits, spanning everything from non‐alcoholic products and ready‐to‐drink expressions to hybrid spirits. A Gold medal was awarded to zero‐ABV ‘spirit’ JNPR. “This looks very much like a gin,” said Rodriguez. “The cute butterflies are copper foil paper, which gives it a premium feel.”
Whisky and Tequila hybrid Whisquila also took home a Gold. Although the judges noted it would “not be to everyone’s taste”, they agreed the brand’s “bold” design would certainly attract attention.
Concluding the judging was a flight of Liqueurs, which resulted in the final Master of the competition: The King’s Ginger. “The bottle has some nice details, the shape is very elegant and the graphic design is also good,” said Costa. “This all combines very well and in a subtle way.” Rodriguez added: “I like the wooden stopper, it adds a bit of class.”
The Master medallist was joined by four Gold winners, including “stylish and smart” Licor 43 Horchata.
Once all the flights had been assessed, the judges re‐examined the Master winners to pick the ‘Best in Class 2020’ winner. With such a high calibre of entries, this was an extremely close call. Just missing out on the title was La Hechicera Serie Experimental No.2, which had a “real wow factor” and offered a “wonderful” continuation of its tropical design from the presentation tin to the bottle.
But clinching the coveted award was Merser & Co Double Barrel Rum, with its “beautifully textured bottle, delivering premium elegance”.
As the judges reflected on the competition, each noted some key trends from this year’s assessment. “It seems that drinks brands are coming to the realisation that shop retail consumers like to buy with their eyes before tasting the liquid,” Rodriguez said. “I see this as a reason for the more intricate designs of bottles and labels popping up. These brands want to stand out on the shelf.”
Mesquita agreed, adding that the “designs put forward for the contest this year were gorgeous”, and noted a trend for premiumisation in all categories. But he also raised an important point about sustainability: “We do still see an excessive amount of plastic in packaging when there are good alternatives, but the design pieces were fascinating.”
Overall, it was evident that a great deal of care is being given to brand packaging. As Costa concluded: “As specialists in packaging design, we know the importance of design and the added value it brings us when evaluating the product on the market shelf. It’s great to have these kinds of events, which promote exactly that and make the teams behind the scenes feel motivated to work every detail thoroughly throughout. “It’s becoming more important for the consumer and for spirits brands.”
Click through the following pages for the full list of medal winners in this year’s Design & Packaging Masters.