The Design & Packaging Masters 2016 results

8th December, 2016 by Kristiane Sherry

To encourage consumers to taste their products, brands have to get the look right first. The Design & Packaging Masters 2016 shines a light on the labels, bottles and boxes that make drinks stand out.


Brands need to communicate heightened positioning more than ever before

It is often said that while the liquid in the bottle wins the second sale, it is the packaging that secures the first. This rings true, especially in congested categories like gin where the ability to stand out has become critical. And with spirits consumption declining, the shift to drinking less but better means a bottle or box needs to communicate that heightened positioning more than ever before.

With that in mind, the judges for The Design & Packaging Masters 2016 met in London’s Copa de Cava to discuss this year’s contenders. Their job was to collectively decide which products deserved Silver, Gold and Master medals, based on the effectiveness of graphic design, production quality, and how they combined in the eyes of consumers. Stepping up to the challenge were Mike Axford, director at The Brand Foundry; Nicky Forrest, managing director at This is Phipps; Ben Manchester, bar manager at The Kensington Hotel; and Greg Dillon, luxury brand consultant and writer at The meeting was chaired by myself, Kristiane Sherry.

mastersWhere better to start than the all-important gin category? Witnessing astonishing growth in the super-premium-plus segment, Euromonitor forecasts global value sales to soar 4.8% and exceed US$13 billion in 2017. But with new entrants near-constantly entering the market and an increasingly educated consumer, it’s more important than ever for brands to use best-practice design and packaging techniques to stand out.

The judges found an impressive number of brands operating at the top of their game, with five Master medals selected from a strong field. First to secure the top accolade was Von Hallers Gin. “It’s got a great drawing,” praised Axford. “The print is good, and the over-varnish is a change of pace in the colour on the front. The bottle is great.” Forrest also praised the bottle shape: “If you’re working in a bar, it’s grippy.”

Vidda Tørr also impressed to Master standard, and was particularly celebrated for its evocative design. “I love the illustration, and the copy has a sense of humour to it,” said Manchester. “It’s very different to other gins on the market.”

Described as “stunning”, the panel was transfixed by Isle of Harris Gin. “It’s so clever,” remarked Axford. “The hint of the blue is like the colour of the sea, the bumps [in the glass] are like the beach.” Forrest was likewise enamoured: “It’s so beautiful it makes me want to cry – it has a real emotional response.” As such, it too picked up a Master.

Fourth in the Master group was Benham’s Gin, celebrated for its quirky blend of old and new. “I love the story on the bottle, the bespoke embossing, the structure and the copper detailing on the neck,” said Dillon. It also creates an optical illusion: “I love the perspective – you’d swear there was a ridge in the glass but it’s just the detailing on the label,” noted Forrest.

Boatyard Double Gin completed the Master-winning quintet. “It’s really well-put-together,” felt Manchester. “The cork is lovely and the nautical style comes through without it being too much.” Axford agreed: “They’ve indicated the quantities of the botanicals on the pack, which is very cool – as is the huge lip on the bottle.”

Notable mentions also went to the Gold-medal winners in the gin category: Ponet Bishop’s Gin; Hermit Gin; Newmarket Gin; and 1897 Quinine Gin. “You can tell the ones that have invested in design,” Dillon said, summing up the exceptionally strong range of gin entries.

For Manchester too design is an essential element for a new player in the segment. “For a gin to become widely known you either need very good-looking bottles or a brand ambassador that will go round the bars and sell it on the liquid. If you have an average bottle and don’t have anyone it will be very hard.”


Moving on from gin, the panel explored the visual qualities of the vodka contingent. It was immediately apparent that the sector was playing second fiddle in white spirits, despite the significant number of entries.

Three did rise to the top, however, with Altia’s Koskenkorva Original Vodka the first to scoop the prestigious Master accolade. “It’s got a real Scandinavian feel to it,” said Manchester. “I love the oversized cork, even though it’s actually a screw cap.”

For Dillon it was impressive that “for the category and price point, the product still feels ‘craft’. It’s the first vodka I’ve seen in a while that doesn’t use a gimmicky thing to stand out – and the debossing on the structure is really nice.”
U’Luvka Vodka made a similarly strong impression in the panel and was also awarded a Master. “It’s a weird but very cool bottle,” said Manchester, with Forrest praising its understated, elongated elegance. “It would stand out on a back bar with that height.” It was U’Luvka’s wider pack that most impressed Dillon: “The booklet that comes with it is very cool and quite interactive. It has recipes and details of the Facebook group and Twitter handle.”

Benham’s sibling vodka product completed the trio of Masters, led by the same design cues as its gin relation. But the excellence was not limited here: Black Cow Vodka was praised as “a really good example of vodka packaging”, and won a Gold, as did Purity Vodka 34 for its “ultra- modern bottle shape”, and NEFT Vodka for its “talking point” packaging, described as “gimmicky done well”.

“There’s just not as much innovation as there is in gin,” opened Manchester. “Vodka just doesn’t seem to play up to the class of the drink.” Forrest said there were attempts at innovation – but many missed the mark.

“Two of the vodka Masters are playing the gin code,” countered Dillon. “It does speak to generational differences as well. Before millennials, people were drinking and not enjoying the taste, just blending spirits with cola. Now people are drinking less but better; it’s all about the flavour exploration.”

mastersScotch Whisky

In Scotch Whisky, the judges immediately found a Master in the form of Benromach Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky 35 Years Old. “The bottle is stunning – the cuts into the glass are absolutely beautiful and the neck looks like a copper still,” said Axford. While a 35-year age statement says tradition and comes at a price, all four agreed the bottle managed to feel authentically modern without compromising on the distillery’s history. “It ties in with the rest of the range,” noted Dillon. “The drop device is used throughout, and as a Friend of Benromach [the distillery’s customer club] you get a droplet copper badge.”

Two more Masters were uncovered in Compass Box’s The Circus and Enlightenment. The intricate, almost whimsical designs enchanted the panel. “The typography and design is all to a very high standard,” said Axford, “and the bottles themselves are really nice.” “It’s bonkers but it works,” added Manchester. “The artistry and intricacy is incredible.” Dillon agreed: “The detail and the overall design really draws you in.”

Completing the line-up was Gold medallist Ballantine’s 21 Year Old Signature Oak, deemed a good presentation of heritage in a travel retail environment.
Irish Whiskey

Judges then took a quick trip across the Irish Sea to explore The Dublin Liberties Irish Whiskey, a solitary entrant into the Irish Whiskey flight. “It looks like a cask-ale label,” said Manchester, while Axford praised the label and embossing. Overall, The Dublin Liberties won a Silver.

Liqueurs and Pre-mixed drinks

Pressing on to a category often tricky to define, the judges took in a short but sweet flight of Liqueurs, and were not disappointed. Ancho Reyes stirred up excitement with its chilli concept. “I love everything going on with this label,” said Manchester, while for Forrest, “somehow it looks so classy. I’m slightly in awe.” As such, it picked up a Master medal and the position of category design leader.

The quality for Pre-mixed cocktails was just that: mixed. While some entries felt confused, others elicited delight. “I’d buy Tails Berry Mojito. It’s perfect for the train and the detail in terms of glassware and process is great, I like it,” said Axford. The panel agreed the concept deserved a Gold medal. Meanwhile “bonkers” Vodquilla stirred up conversation. “From a purist perspective, it certainly has stand-out,” Dillon said of the striking bottle design. As such, it was awarded a Silver medal.

All in all, the panel felt the category was diverse. “And there’s such an opportunity in the marketplace for more pre-mixed products,” Axford concluded, matching the view that while much of the sector needs to do better, there are some great examples and the only way is up.


(L-R) Ben Manchester, Mike Axford, Nicky Forrest, Greg Dillon and Kristiane Sherry


The pace picked up again with the arrival of the rum entrants. While underpremiumisation is the umbrella challenge for the segment, this was disproved at the Design & Packaging Masters. The panel was delighted with the standard of the entries and kicked off with a Master for Red Leg.

“It feels fun,” said Dillon. “It feels like you’re on a beach in the Caribbean,” continued Axford. “The hand typography is lovely.” Forrest added: “The colours are brilliant. You’d think brown on a bottle of rum would be strange but this just works.”

The Master was followed by Gold medals for Angostura’s international rum portfolio, which was redesigned this year. Angostura 1824 was particularly celebrated and deemed “bang-on”, with the spirograph, embossing and foiling on the outer tube, as well as the on-bottle label particularly impressing. However, it was the premiumisation ladder throughout the line that really drew praise. “You get a trade-up story through the years,” said Dillon, yet, felt Forrest, “even at the lower end of the range the bottle is still lovely and chunky.”


A solid range of Brandies then followed, led by the Master-winning Lamberhurst Fine & Rare from Chapel Down Winery. “As pure design, it’s so special,” said Axford of the strikingly simple bottle design encased in a sumptuous box. The Joseph Barry contingent of VS, VSOP and XO expressions were given Golds, as was Oude Molen XO for its “clearly differentiated” bottle shape.

“The examples we had here showed a real effort to modernise an otherwise tired and forgotten category,” said Dillon. But there’s still work to be done. “I’d like to see more in terms of bringing the category up to 21st century standards, bringing a little bit more quality across the board,” added Axford.

Speciality spirits

The penultimate flight was a medley of speciality spirits from Greece, Spain, Italy and beyond. “Incredibly stylish” Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto, a rosolio aperitivo, was praised for its colour, stature, and “wonderful” stopper, and secured a Master. This was followed by a Gold for Metaxa 12 Stars, with its “classic but uncluttered and contemporary” design celebrated alongside the “really good” storytelling. Domingo from The Water Company was then awarded a Silver for its “fun” style and “sense of place”.

“It’s great that they were all so individual – and fun,” said Axford. “There were some really great designs”.


Tequila brought proceedings to a close. Patrón Tequila Limited Edition 2016 really impressed when it was lit up, with the pewter design praised for its appeal and stand-out in high-tempo environments. Meanwhile, Casa Noble Tequila was applauded for its bottle shape and strength of brand across the range. Both were rewarded with Silver medals.

At the end of a busy day, it was still gin that, despite being the first category to be assessed, which remained the talking point. More widely, “most of the Masters are in bespoke glass which is a shame, but it really does show that the design agencies understand every alcoholic beverage they work with,” Dillon said, adding that the bespoke approach works.

It was Dillon who summed up the success of stellar packaging design best: “Each Master, in its own way, raises a smile.”

Click through the following pages for the full list of medal winners in this year’s Design & Packaging Masters.

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