For this guest blog we welcome our good friends down at Baddeley Brothers, a 160-year-old printing company that has retained the classic printing techniques from yesteryear and with whom we've worked with to produce some of our most beautiful labels. Production director Chris Pertwee takes an in-depth look at beer and spirit labels....
There’s an old adage that you should never judge a book by its cover, which might be a little ironic coming from a printer.
The meaning of course translates that you should never judge anything by its packaging. But what about beer and spirits, given that you rarely get a chance to open the bottle and sample it before you buy: can you judge a bottle of alcohol by its label?
Given the time that we spend with designers on labels for beer and spirits, we not only think you should, but clearly you do. The designer’s brief is to create a graphic representation of what’s in the bottle, precisely so that you can judge the contents from the cover.
Look along the shelves of any drink outlet and you'll see a dazzling display of colour and symbolism. Despite the rules on advertising such products, and perhaps without us even knowing, the labels are creating an emotive draw, especially to a new tipple. How good something looks is telling you how good it tastes. That’s just how our brains work!
Even at the lower end of the market, labels are all you have to go on, until you get to taste what’s in the bottle. At the upper end, you’ve got labels that look like they’re carved from a solid or moulded from precious metal. This is the world of hand-fed printing presses.
Classic printing techniques are often used to add a luxurious feel – foiling gives a metallic sheen; letterpress gives a texture that just appeals to the sense of touch, even by looking at it; and the king of print techniques, die-stamping, typically seen on crests and royal warrants, offers texture and detail of the highest quality.
The job of a designer is to make the product ‘look’ expensive because it is. You can’t throw a cheap-looking label on a 60-year-old malt whisky, even if it’s sold out before the label is applied, it just wouldn’t be right. The quality of the label has to match the quality of the contents. A designer’s job is to translate what’s in the bottle to the outside. To sell the taste with a look and a feel. That’s when designers turn to us at Baddeley Brothers, because our printing processes are perfect for bringing out that untouchable sumptuous look.
At Baddeley Brothers, our archive is full of such labels, and as design trends evolve and we get to stretch the capabilities of classic printing, we’re able to realise the vision of a designer in the hands of the customer or on the shelf.
There are many rules surrounding the advertising of alcohol, but the one thing that hasn’t been restricted is the way labels make people feel. And here are some examples:
Splice the Mainbrace
We worked with a rum company Pirate’s Grog to produce a label for their No.13 rum, producing a label that was the epitome of authenticity. We can say that because it won ‘Best Design Effectiveness’ in the 2017 World Drink Awards. Die-stamped with gold ink onto black paper, the label almost looks like it is part of the bottle. But look closely and you’ll see two shades of gold. It’s subtle but effective, lifting out the product name and showing the detail. It required two passes through the press to fully articulate the designer’s message and the effort to make this label as good as the rum paid off. Of course, we share the accolade with the graphic designers, but its effectiveness is such that if I were a rum drinker, I’d pick this bottle up!
Next up is a bottle of Christmas Absinthe. It combines die-stamping and embossing to register for that luxury feel. Now we’ve spoken previously about bottles on the shelf, but this one comes inside a tube, and while equally well-designed, you don’t get to touch and feel the bottle until you’ve bought it. However, there two emotive elements at play here. Once you’ve paid for a product like this, you’re rewarded with the touch and feel of excellence, even before you’ve pulled the stopper and the textures created by these classic techniques make for really good product shots. Right lighting and close-up photography brings out the subtle luxury of the printing techniques.
Adding another Dimension
Embossing is a technique that produces a three-dimensional ‘print’ that doesn’t use any ink. It relies on light and shadow to create a solid look, and this is evident on our labels for Stranger and Stranger’s Compass Box, a 46% ABV malt whisky that needed packaging as strong as its liquor. Heavy embossing allowed us to emphasise strength. Embossing also allows overprinting with ink, and in this case, it took two extra print runs to create emphasis and we added a light shadow with lithography and gold foil highlights onto the design. The label shows the remarkable flexibility of printing with these techniques.
A quick mention too for Hardy’s McLaren Vale Shiraz. Wax seals have long held a symbolism of quality. When wine-producer Hardy’s made a limited edition bottling to celebrate a collaboration with England Cricket, we embossed a cricket bat emblem and overprinted with a matt red circle to give the impression of a wax seal.
Only Here for the Label
And of course, we can’t ignore beer. The resurgence of local, craft breweries across the country has not only increased the level of choice, but it has perhaps also made that choice a little more difficult on the shelf, particularly for new brews.
East London Brewing Company has been around for over a decade and when the time came round to revive their own labels, they knew they needed to stand out. They put their designer on the case who came up with something that not only built on the brewery’s East London roots, but also captured the industrial heritage of the region. Wooden printing blocks, discovered in a local open access studio, The London Centre for Book Arts, provided the historic feel they were looking for. Metal type ultimately replaced wood as it didn’t deteriorate, but the designer immediately saw how the imperfections of this well-worn artefact of printing was to the brand storytelling process and engaged Baddeley Brothers for that very reason.
A Stout Label
Designing for exclusivity means thinking out of the box. Truman’s London Keeper is a limited-edition bottle of stout and a collector’s piece. No label was applied to the bottle, as might have been the case in 1663 when the brewery first came into existence. Instead, a stout card, if you’ll forgive the pun, was attached with string to the wax bottle top and sealed into the design forever, or until you decided to drink this rare edition. It was printed in a single colour letterpress, as would have all labels in the 17th century. Back then, there wasn’t the luxury of choice, and this was the most modern process printers were using. Now we choose it to suggest age and authenticity with a subtle look and feel, and even though this product has no writing on the bottle, it has rarity written all over it.
Twist in my Sobriety
There’s an irony to all this. While Baddeley Brothers are very much specialists in paper printing, at some point in the company's history, it began stamping metal instead. But not for clinky medals to swing around the necks of rum, whisky or port. Instead, examining a metal disc dating from 1878 discovered in the archives and sporting the Baddeley Bros imprint, it reveals itself to be a temperance medal given to those who had overcome the lure of the liquid beneath the labels the company today takes such pride in!
Good things come in threes
It is perhaps the perfect triangle of customer-designer-printer that leads to so many successful and ongoing collaborations. You could say it’s also a triad of passion, vision and execution. Three businesses in the east of London that are working together all with the same vibe. It’s a collaboration that benefits all involved. I’ll drink to that.