I have to admit, to my embarrassment, that I know next to nothing about whisky. Or whiskey for that matter. A year of wandering the streets of Dublin’s fair city, an Irish surname and a 10 a.m. visit to the Jameson distillery on an empty stomach can’t even change that. What I do know, is who spells it how, and that I enjoy drinking it. Which “it” you might ask? Go easy on me, I told you I’m no expert. The truth is, there is something about drinking whisky that makes me feel a bit more grown-up, sophisticated if you will. I love hearing the clinking of a couple of ice cubes against my tumbler (alright, alright you whisky gurus out there, do not judge. I do know that even the ice vs. no ice matter is a debate of world diplomatic proportions). The good news is, I am not here to discuss the actual drink, but rather explore, what makes someone like me (and there’s a fair amount of “mes” out there) choose a particular whisky over any other on the shelf.
If it looks that good, it has to taste good, right?
I mentioned earlier the way drinking whisky makes me feel. This is not something to dismiss. Far from it. For example, what is your drink of choice, and how much of it being your “go-to” has to do with actual taste as opposed to self and social perceptions? Be honest for a second. You may have developed a taste for whatever “it” is. But at the very core, there is so much more at play, whether we like to admit it or not.
A case in point is Gin. Everyone seems to be drinking it at the moment, with small distilleries mushrooming around the country (sorry craft beer, you had your time in the spotlight). I was at the Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair opening last night, and small Gin distilleries were out in force. The question was not whether we were going to have Gin, the question was which one we were going to try first, and how. I remember Gin being my grandmother’s fav. Well, granny’s feeling pretty hipster right now.
If we are being so frivolous about our drink of choice, following trends, who we drink with and how (jam jars anyone?) how much actual choice do we have in store? Does the packaging reflect our Pinterest life goals and impeccably curated style? Is it Instalicious? Does the packaging make me look like I know what I’m doing? There is no doubt in my mind we are all influenced (to a certain degree) by trends and what we want to be seen drinking. Here’s further proof; studies have shown that a large proportion of people will buy whisky purely based on the packaging. I have to put myself in that lot, too. The right packaging design will reassure the most unexperienced drinker. If it looks that good, it has to be good, right?
Whisky, being a bit like liquor royalty, has actually inspired some of the most eccentric packaging out there, like the Ballantine’s whisky bottle encased in a block of chocolate. Uh, yeah, you read that right. You actually have to break the bottle out of its chocolate case (with a hammer and all) before you can enjoy it. That’s what I call bad-ass packaging.
Chris Lumsden, co-director of Glasgow-based design agency Good explains: “A huge amount of money and effort goes into refining the taste of the whisky and designing the bottle, but these are of secondary importance to most of the people who are buying the product. We are not saying these are unimportant factors, they certainly are to the drinker, but unless the packaging is right then the product will not reach its ultimate consumer.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but they do know a thing or two about whisky in that part of the world. I am not disputing that if the taste isn’t there, you’re unlikely to repeat your purchase. But the key is to hook us whisky flirters and get us to make that first purchase, and then repeat it.
Whisky flirting gone right
A local example of whisky flirting gone right, is the latest Three Ships 10 year old Single Malt, making its debut as a vintage this year. This is kind of a big deal in the local whisky community, which is why the brand gave this sleek player the packaging it deserves. (Disclaimer: I may or may not have started writing this post while sipping on a teeny tiny glass of the bad boy in question. I like to know what I’m writing about.)
Three Ships commissioned Cape Town based agency and packaging specialists Just Design to differentiate the product from the core range, while giving it a more premium look and feel. Like I said, I may be no whisky connoisseur, but the new packaging’s premium cues tick all my designoholic boxes:
Well first, the box’s design definitely makes it stand out on the shelf. Tick.
What really sold me though was the unpacking experience. Every tiny detail of that packaging has been given thought and care, and it shows. From the box’s stunning uncoated texture (that’s our Wibalin, people!), beautiful embossing and gold foil, to the clean diagonal split in the most invigorating royal blue. Tick, tick, tick.
The bottle neck itself and the slit label feel expensive and that makes me, humble whisky flirter, feel good about my purchase, and fancy as hell. Tick.
You get what you pay for
Ok so now the question seems to have shifted from ‘can alcohol brands afford to invest in their packaging to appear more premium’, to ‘how well executed will that be, and will they be more daring, noticeable than their competitors’?
You wouldn’t expect designer clothes to be made out of cheap material. Similarly with packaging, you get what you pay for. You want your product to stand out on the shelf, but not in a used-car-salesman-shouting kinda way (ew.) – I know you want understated style and uncompromising quality (if not, we can’t be friends). And you know why you want that? Because if I, whisky flirter, want to show off what I drink, it’d better match my Pinterest life mood board (hint; it doesn’t look cheap).
How does one achieve this? Glad you asked. Great design is a start. But your packaging needs to withstand the test of time (and tipsy hands handling it, too). That’s why quality materials that can handle intricate finishes, and look good over time, is key. To me, Three Ships got this one oh-so-right, and I am curious to see what the other local players will have in store for us.
Because the truth is, we all judge a bottle by its cover.
Bottoms up! (it’s Friday…)