Back in 2011, food research consulting firm Technomic released a report claiming nearly a quarter of all vodka consumed was flavored. Manufacturers took notice, and over the ensuing half-decade, liquor store shelves exploded. What was once considered a comparatively benign liquor now encompassed a diversity of flavors ranging from fruit-based to dessert-infused to abominations such as fresh-cut grass, tobacco, and sriracha. Pinnacle Vodka now boasts more than 40 “playful” varieties, up from 30 in 2013. My own local store carries five different types of coconut vodka alone.

As one would expect, this trend spilled over into other categories of booze. Though lacking the insipidness of vodka, liquor producers found creative ways to appeal to the flavor-seeking niche. Jack Daniel’s introduced honey and cinnamon whiskies, Hoxton gave us iris-imbued gin, and just recently, tequila manufacturers debuted a host of flavored varieties.

This, of course, has lead to the overcrowding of the liquor store shelf, which in turn, has lead many brands -- flavored or not -- looking for ways to stand out, most commonly through an innovative design of either the label or the bottle itself. And it works. In December, Nielsen documented how consumers buy alcohol (the study is based on wine purchases, though the principle remains the same) by label and packaging. 

To be clear, design as a means to catch consumer eyeballs is nothing new. Marketing Magazine wrote about the issue back in 2002, but the advice seems to be more relevant now than it was 10-plus years ago.

Yet, with so many liquor manufacturers attempting to standout, which ones truly, well, standout? Below we’ve made our picks for the best designs in each of the six major categories: tequila, rum, vodka, whiskey, gin, liqueur. And as an added bonus, we threw in absinthe, because what’s a party without the green fairy?

Tequila: 1800 Tequila Essential Artists 


Source: 1800 Tequila

This tequila earns a lot of praise for its bottles inspired by the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead, but it is its 1800 Tequila Essential Artists collection that truly honors the vibrant culture. Though the bottle still features the gimmicky “Shot Top” that rarely -- if ever -- works, its inspired designs created by artists worldwide more than makes up for its constructive shortcomings.  

Rum: Khukri XXX Rum


Source: Khukri Rum

For obvious reasons, rum manufacturers like to experiment with pirate imagery. Captain Morgan recently debuted the cannonball-shaped Cannon Blast. Kraken’s bottle invokes the legendary sea monster. Sailor Jerry’s markets itself as the outlaw’s alternative. But none evoke the feeling of sailing the high seas as much as this Nepalese rum.

Vodka: Shadow in the Lake


Source: Behance

Said to have the body of a snake and the head of a bearded goat, the mythical creature Ogopogo stalks the waters of Okanagan Lake in British Columbia, Canada, where it hunts humans for sport. Or so the legend goes, anyways.

Inspired by the local folklore, the aptly named British Columbian-based company Legend Distilling created this clean bottle design with the goal to encourage visitors to go to Okanagan Lake to “sit on the shore and sip this handcrafted vodka.”

Whiskey: Whyte & MacKay NYC Edition


Source: Packaging of the World

Apparently the Glasgow-based Whyte & MacKay believe Americans to be a little less sophisticated when it comes to our alcohol consumption. So when it created a New York City edition of its signature whiskey, it packaged it in a brown paper bag. You know, for discrete drinking on the street, as we Yankees tend to do.   

Ah well, it’s really cool.

Gin: Oola


Source: Men's Journal

Back in the day (and apparently still now), gin was lauded for it’s medicinal purposes. Probably because it tastes like hell fire, and as we all know, if it’s burning, it’s working. But at any rate, Oola’s design harkens back to the days of medical pseudo-science, complete with a breakdown of the chemical components of the liquor right on the label to make it seem all the more legitimate. So, there's really no guilt in having another. It's healthy! 

Liqueur: Jago’s Dairy Cream Liqueur


Source: Behance

When Distil re-launched Jago’s Vanilla Cream Liqueur in 2014, it opted to create a sleeker, more feminine look, featuring a boldly colored purple bottle accented by a white design intended to invoke the creaminess of the liqueur inside. A success, the brand branched out into other flavors, keeping true to the redesigned motif.

Absinte: Baba Yaga


Source: Hired Guns Creative 

In Slavic folklore, the Baba Yaga is a malevolent person possessing supernatural powers found deep in the woods. Basically, a witch. 

A story told in layers, the liquor bottle’s label invites drinkers for a walk in the forest, but once accepted and the label peeled back, the grinning smile of the Baba Yaga is all that remains. You realize you’re in too deep. And as the makers warn, it’ll “get you.” I can't think of a more perfect metaphor. 


Originally published Mar 14, 2016 9:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017


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