January 8th, 2007
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When we visit my folks over Christmas, we often have a lot of time to kill. This last Christmas visit I took pictures of their liquor bottles. So, why's this interesting? Because the bottles are almost as old as I am - maybe even older.
My folks settled into their habits years ago. My mom drinks a glass of red wine a night and kicks it up once in a while with a glass of white. My dad drinks beer and occasionally a little whiskey or scotch. That leaves out the whole periodic table of liquor.
So, being a graphic designer I was pretty intrigued by these labels. I don't really know how old any of the bottles are - they don't tend to mark liquor "best if drizzunk by 1988!" but it's pretty obvious that some of these bottles are rather, er, old. Today it's all about putting forth the perfect brand identity.
Another goal was to try and see - if these brands and bottlers still exist today - how the label designs have changed over the years...however many that may entail.
So, without further adieu:
Jacquin's White Rum - I love this old label for the fact that it actually depicts a whole scene on it. It looks like a travel postcard from Purto Rico (which, amazingly, is where the Rum was made - oh!). It's a cool label, but even being "world famous" couldn't keep Ron Superior and/or Jacquin's from bowing out of the liquor market.
Yes, it is between my mom's excellent Blackberry jam and a mousetrap.
Sorry the picture's blurry. The other ones are better.
The only thing I could find that Jacquin's currently makes is something called "Rock and Rye" - a mixture of rye whiskey, rock candy, and fresh fruit. Oh yuck. That's too bad. And according to the website it's now under the name "Whiskey Jar" anyway, not Jacquin's...weird. The Ron Superior name visible on the neck label of the old bottle, however, was one of the best known rum brands coming out of Puerto Rico, producing rum from 1909 until 1980. So much for them.
Relska Vodka - I'm a sucker for the old style Soviet design and the heaps of gold medals on this, most of which are captioned with city names and years (Vienna, Paris, Amsterdam, etc), so I don't know if they means they've won vodka awards or are just listing places - it certainly could be an unsubstantiated marketing ploy. The other bottles of Relska I was able to find on the intarwebs had fairly similar labels but were dated from the 60s, so who knows? Not me. Some of the internet leads me to believe that you can still order the stuff, but none of those pages had pictures of the bottles - what gives? I wasn't able to find it in my local liquor store, but that doesn't mean anything.
Above is the old Drambuie, below is the new/current Drambuie
Drambuie - Ah Drambuie, that classy goo. It's a liqueur, not a liquor, so...well, whatever: it's a honey whiskey that, honestly, I keep confusing with Cointreau, which is completely and utterly different. I don't know that I've ever had Drambuie. Maybe I'll have to try some the next time I visit. Anyway, the new Drambuie is commonly available. The label has remained blissfully faithful across the years, with cosmetic changes. The text has gotten a little more marketing and gimmicky, but let's take a little closer look at it. It's interesting to note that the little "necktie" element that was once a "historically relevant" tartan pattern has been replaced by a "brand appropriate" red and gold. Through some research (google), I found that "A Link With The '45" was a reference to Scottish history, something to do with a Jacobite rebellion in 1745, and the Prince raising a resistance army. Okay. You can tell I did my homework. Anyway, I do like the classing up of the new label with the flourishes and the crest - actually pretty nice. A good label evolution.
I lumped these next two together because, well, Grenadine's not alcohol and Creme de Menthe although 60 proof is so super-sweet that I consider it to be in a similar category - sweeteners.
Chelton House Grenadine - How do you not love this old label? Not only does it look straight from the 60s or 70s, but Chelton House sounds kind of like Charlton Heston. So there's that. The little stars and whatnot are great. Apparently Chelton House has left the cocktail accessory market. All I could find from them is organic salad dressings. That's interesting! Not great as a mixer with vodka, but...interesting.
Leroux Creme de Menthe - and their fairly boring bottle are, well, just kind of there. It's another liqueur - very sweet and very minty. Not as dusty as the Grenadine, but what're you gonna do? It's still old. They're still around and kicking strong, it seems. The parent company offers a wide variety of cordials and liquors and such. The logo's stayed nearly the same, but the label's changed drastically...still boring, though.
Old Mr. Boston Gin - well, it's gin. Since being bought by Barton Brands, the label really hasn't changed at all. Very minor tweaks but otherwise no change. Pretty boring. But it's a solidly established brand! I don't know if this means it really hasn't changed in several years, or if this bottle was much abused in the little time it was around. The paper label did seem rather old. Anyone have any information on the label-history of this brand? The current label looks pretty much the same.
Holland House Alexander Cocktail Mix - in case you were wondering (of course you were), an Alexander is a cocktail created with equal parts gin (or brandy), creme de cacao, and cream, topped off with a dash of nutmeg. Hopefully this bottle of Alexander mix doesn't contain any actual dairy ingredients, because it's ancient. Look around the shoulder of the bottle. There's no way a bottle with that kind of detail in the molding would be produced like that today, not for a simple cocktail mixer. It's gorgeous. The brand still exists, but it's lost that weird oldschool charm of the original label above. It looks more like it should be a kid's fruit juice. Lame.
Here's another couple offerings from the old Holland house line and a neat little reminder from a company called "Bar-Tender's" that reminds you that a bartender is someone who...tends the bar. Take that, Applebee's. Are those product shots making anyone else thirsty? And I don't even like whiskey sours. For what it's worth, I love the Bar-Tender's label setup. I think it's just fantastic. The hexagonal inset as a place for all your information, set right on a background that's actually a product shot? It could work great today.
Oh, Finger Power is just there because my parents really do have it sitting on their piano at home. I love that.
Heublein's "extra dry martini cocktail" intrigues me. The label is so very sixties (fifties?) and I've never heard of the brand, but apparently they're still around, at least moderately recently. I wonder what the precise mix of ingredients and flavors was/is in the martini cocktail? At least it was extra dry.
Click for a couple more creme de menthe bottles- one uncolored (green creme de menthe is artificially colored) - but they're not really worth going over.
King William IV Scotch Whiskey - is a great little intricate "flask" bottle. Only $2.99! I think that's a good price but with inflation and not knowing what year this comes from, who knows? But this bottle is at least twenty years old, unless the brand's production continued after they were acquired - which is not at impossible. It's just that mergers and acquisitions tend to be very poorly documented outside of internal legal affairs. What company would really celebrate the fact that they just buy competition out of business? Well, I found out that their bottling company, John Gillon & Co, was a member of a larger distillery conglomerate called the Distillers Company Limited, formed in 1877. This conglomerate was acquired by Guinness in 1986, forming United Distillers, and is now part of Diageo. Diageo doesn't admit to the brand on their website, so it's probably been discontinued. That's a shame. There's always so much personality and dedicated craft that goes into whiskey making. It's a shame when they die out in favor of the awful macro-distilled Jack Daniels of the world. I did find a picture of a little tester bottle of something called just "King William" - no IV - which is stupid if it indeed is referring to the same brand.
So, overall, some very neat labels just from my folks' basement. It's fascinating to see how design theory has changed from making a product look logical and appealing to making it laser-focused and marketed. It's a little insulting nowadays, really. Looking back at these old liquor (and liqueur and mixer) labels was a treat. They're not collectors of "antique" liquor labels by any stretch of the imagination, but they're still older than the stuff at the corner store with that one guy who pops open the flask of Smirnoff once he gets to his truck. I hate that guy.