Spirits: Message on a Bottle

  • Karyn J. Bilezerian

Grade school librarians may have instructed us to never judge a book by its cover, but when it comes to selecting a sophisticated drink, it’s difficult not to be influenced by the smooth lines and strong curves of a stylish bottle. That’s precisely what spirit makers, particularly those who produce premium vodkas, are counting on when they design their packaging. “The spirit [industry] is moving toward the fashion business, especially in the United States, opening the door for a high-fashion brand,” says Berit Hafstad, general manager of Nordic Beverage As, the producer of Christiania vodka. If your vodka of choice is based largely on eye appeal, we think it’s important to know the messages behind today’s most striking bottles.

Work of Art
According to the marketing machines behind Vox vodka, this brand is all about style, fashion, design, and image. How appropriate, then, that the bottle comes with its own display case. The bottom black band of the Austrian glass bottle acts as a pedestal for the premium drink it contains, says Paige Fender, spokesperson for Jim Beam Brands Co. “Lit on a back bar it looks like something in a museum,” she adds.

Collector’s Item
Jeff R. Smith, founder of Precis Vodka, a Swedish import, says much of the credit for his bottle design goes to his wife, Carolyn, an aficionado of handblown glass.“She told me that the Swedes are great artists; that I should support that history.” Soon after, a Swedish glassblower was hired to hand-blow each bottle from ice-blue glass. Smith says he knew the design was a hit when even bartenders were vying to take the empties home.

Spirit of Nature
There’s nothing subliminal about Rain Vodka, whose name and bottle design merge to showcase the “purest form of nature,” says Rebecca Green, national brand manager for Sazerac Co. Inc. The partially frosted bottle is shaped like a raindrop, and the logo is a reflection of itself in a rain puddle. The bottle, says Green, is made of cosmetic-quality glass (free of scratches, dings, and dents) and is sealed with a cork top, which, like rain, is another pure substance. Vodka, as nature intended.

Wistful Drinking
Remember the summer days of your youth? So does Ronné Bonder, president of Hamptons Spirit Co. and producer of Hamptons Vodka. Each of his individually hand-painted bottles has the look and feel of the sea glass that children spend the season collecting. Also, all of the colors from the beach are rep-resented: gray sand, the turquoise ocean, the deep blue sky, and a red ball of sun. The final touch is the simple curved white lines that represent a seagull. “It’s the kind you drew when you were 2,” Bonder says.

Seal of Tradition
Allegiances to vodkas are often drawn along nationalistic lines, so it’s no surprise that the Christiania bottle—as well as the vodka’s name itself—reflects the pride of Norway, where it is made. The symbol on the front features the seal of Oslo, once known as Christiania, named after King Christian IV. The rest of the bottle, says Hafstad, proffers the crisp, clean image of Norway’s natural fjords, and the bluish green hue reflects the colors of glaciers. “Everything is about being different, but different in the right way,” Hafstad says.

The Real Deal
For the creative minds behind the Belvedere Vodka bottle, the most important message is authenticity. The transparent packaging showcases a three- dimensional portrait of the presidential palace in Poland, where Belvedere is distilled and bottled. The frosted look married with an acid-etched coating also reflects the way vodka should be enjoyed. “Vodka is kept in the freezer,” says designer Bob Upton, “so the cold factor is important.” We think it’s just plain cool.

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