To fly off the handle

Anna Filippova, August 19, 2014

Ethical principles of some illustrators don’t allow them to deal with alcohol brands. And many hard drinks producers refuse to use illustrations as a part of design of the products. They are all men of highest principles, but today we are not going to discourse upon them.

According to the rules of drinking alcoholic beverages, let’s start with the less strong ones. There have been numerous way of beer package design since the 16th century, for example.



Since canned beer appeared in 1935, it has become easier to draw on the packages. Despite the distrust of the new format at first, the beer cans have even become objects of collecting, so the manufacturers try to think out interesting illustrations for them.


It’s not that easy with wine. At first there was no illustration for the labels on wine bottles, as soon as they were used to inform the consumers about the harvest year, the province where the wine comes from etc. The design of the labels was also strictly regulated, and the company could lose its license if it broke the rules. All the wine encyclopedias cautioned the consumers against buying product if there were more than three colors used in the design of its label. However, fantasy and commercial wit finally superseded inflexibility. The first illustrations were rather sentimental: for example, if a wine-maker devoted the great harvest to his beloved daughter, it was necessary that everyone could see that her beauty deserved that honor.


It has become popular to illustrate the labels of wine bottles since Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s mother ordered to embellish the bottles of Shatea Malrome with fragments of the artist’s works. Even now the product of that vineyard is produced with Lautrec’s pictured on the bottles.



Baron Philippe de Rothschild was another bottles illustration trend setter. Picasso, Dali, Warhol, Shagal and many other artists created labels for famous wines from Shateu Mouton Rothschild. Ten boxes of wine is said to be the traditional honorarium for the work.

Finally illustration settled in wine-making business, which can’t be said about whiskey producers. Serious distilleries still don’t take the liberty of using illustration but emblems and clan pictures. However, some young companies disguise the lack of traditions with the colorful labels.


That was all about France and the UK. In other cultures alcohol-making process has never been a mystery, so things were easier with the labels, too. For example, Russian alcoholic beverage industry has never neglected illustration.


But it was a company from Sweden that granted a place in the history of design for vodka. “Absolut” was established in late 1970s, and the brand has realized in its campaigns the craziest ideas of the artists from all over the world for about 30 years. One of the first ones, who took part in the forming of the global graphic concept of the product, was Andy Warhol with his famous “Portrait of Absolut vodka”.


That’s how it started. Not only prints made by famous artists, they also produced some limited lots with special design every year.


Artists series

Cities series


The bottle of “Absolut” has become an area for artistic manifesto. For instance, in 1990, when all eyes were on the USSR, Gorbachev and Perestroika, the brand ordered a design for the line “Absolut Glasnost”.


There are also lots of mocks:


Absinth has always been thought of as a drink which stimulates the creative process. That’s why it was so respected by the French artistic circle. Psychedelic effect, “the green fairy”, crazy trips with cut-off ears and all that stuff lead to that special design of the bottles, when nothing can surprise you.


And modern manufacturers also try to stand the pace.