The Colorado Bourbon and Rye Collectors, a private whiskey club known for single barrel picks from well-known and craft distilleries, was preparing to do its first private label bottling of some procured single barrels, and needed a label system that would not only convey the fun and adventurous spirit of the group, but would allow for future modifications to reflect barrel picks down the road.
I created a professional, fun label that so far has had three variations made; a standard bourbon, a 15-year Kentucky bourbon, and a standard rye. The labels were approved by the TTB, printed, and two of the three have been bottled and sold.
Sales within the group were strong. There was universal praise for the labels within the group, and they are set up for future private label releases as new barrels are purchased due to the label system that was set up.
After an initial conversation with the CBRC leadership, it became clear that they were really open to whichever direction I wanted to go in, as long as the result was professional looking and allowed for future customization. I pieced together an inspiration collage from other bottle designs I admired, with the goal of getting a better sense of what general direction CBRC was looking to aim towards. After looking over the inspiration board with CBRC, I determined that they did not want something too fancy or upscale. They were looking for a clean design that was more utilitarian than elegant. Even then, I knew we needed a design that told a story in some way.
One of my initial ideas was playing up the “private” aspect of the brand name, which led me to a Top Secret motif. These images show an early design after starting down that path, but ultimately it did not feel right. I think it was missing personality, and relied too much on appearing like an actual envelope rather relying on the design itself. Other ideas that I ended up abandoning focused on the Colorado aspect of the brand, but in the end I felt that there were already too many craft Colorado distillers also leaning heavily into that “Colorado adventure” aspect.
I eventually started to focus on the aspect of barrel selection itself. The process of picking a single barrel of whiskey to bottle and sell is often a secretive process. There’s either a clandestine meetup at a distillery for a select few, or samples are discreetly ferried across the country. The barrels themselves that are good enough to be offered for single barrel selection are often stored amongst their common brethren, in warehouses only known by the distiller. These thoughts further added to the air of mystery.
All of this reflection on secretive selection brought images to mind of secret societies, hidden vaults, and whiskey thieves. I developed an idea that focused around a key and a keyhole, using black and gold as primary colors to bring to mind wealth and treasure, but the typography used and excess of copy kept the vibe from feeling too luxurious. A hand is seen picking a barrel out of the keyhole, which adds to the story that this specific barrel was truly hand picked. I used information as part of the design, and packed as much informative copy as I could into the keyhole shape. Below are a few iterations of the early design we settled on before the final label was completed.
Along the way, I thought it might be a good idea to also develop a simple logo that could represent the entire project when the full labels could not be used (such as for social media posts). I wanted to distill the motif of the labels into a simple image, and after going through numerous iterations, ultimately ended up with a simplified keyhole logo. I was able to include the logo in the label design as well, and CBRC was appreciative of the extra asset to use. Psst! – Look closely and you can see the hidden Glencairn shapes in the key design.
The final design explores a rich, secretive world of whiskey barrel selection. The front top label is splashed with red to easily differentiate it from other non-bourbon releases in the future. The front bottom label contains empty spots for individual details to be written in by hand, allowing the same label to be used for each subsequent release. The back label tells not only the written story of CBRC, but the icons tell its own secret story.
CBRC was immensely happy with the final design, which quickly received TTB approval. Member demand for the first two releases using these new labels was strong, and CBRC is set up for many future releases using the label system designed.