(painting by Claudia Hammer; claudiahammer.blogspot.com)
We all know there is a beautiful yet scientific process to making bourbon. It is an art form really. The artist, or the master distiller in our case, must have a clear idea of the finished work before he or she begins. They must achieve the desired product from the medium and palate of their trade. The different grain combinations that make up the mash bill, the perfect yeast strain for fermentation, whether to pot still or not to pot still, the char level of the barrels and of course the length of the aging process are all aspects in the design that must be considered in order to create their finest work of art. We know this and, of course, we get to imbibe the fruits of their labor with each beautifully crafted bottle.
But what about that bottle? Not what’s inside the bottle, but the actual bottle. It’s the first thing you see on the shelf, right? It’s what captivates your sense of sight well before the contents inside can quench your thirst. For many, the process of selecting a bourbon (unless you are drawn specifically to the taste of your preferences) starts with the packaging. It’s advertisement in it’s basic form. For the Bourboneer, the more the bottle looks like old west canteen, flask or flagon, promising some medicinal value the better. In my anomalous mind, I rationalize such curative comparisons as being healthy and something that’s “healthy for you.” I mean if it’s in a medicine bottle there has to be a therapeutic benefit…right? Of course, there does! (see my past article: “What Bourbon Can’t Cure, There is No Cure For”). The art of the bottle, whether you realize it or not, has a lot to do with, subconsciously for some, the process of selecting a bourbon. The creativity in the packaging is sometimes lost on offerings from larger distilleries. There is less of a need for the wow factor because their product is a house hold name and has stood the test of time. But some of the smaller and even boutique distilleries have done their homework in conceptual design to get their product noticed. Their bottles hook the consumer and the bourbon either reals them in or releases them back into the market. In this age of bourbon growth and enlightenment, distilleries often just need to get their foot in the door (or bourbon in the mouth) to make their place in the glorious world of brown water.
Here are some perfect examples of how the packaging, the bottle itself, recalls an age of a simple, more independent, yet lawless time in ‘Merica!
American Barrels Bourbon
Bib & Tucker Small Batch Bourbon
Tin Cup American Whiskey
Lusty Claw Bourbon
Bulleit Frontier Whiskey
Angel’s Envy Bourbon
Obviously there are numerous others and the thrust of the matter is clearly subjective. But no matter how creative and unique the design of the bottle, we all know it’s what’s inside that truly counts. The looks can only carry entire package so far, then substance, both literally and figuratively, must sustain the rest. Which is why, for the Bourboneer, there is nothing more aesthetically and delectably pleasing than my personal favorite, Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon. I mean just take at a look at her exquisite beauty. So incredibly smart, seductive, chic, can carry the conversation and tastefully refined to boot! Man I am thirsty!
So the next time you’re in a liquor store or spirit shop, take a moment to look down the bourbon aisle as if you were at a gallery. Wonder at the many artistic renderings. Gaze at the nuances of the label, the embossed or etched glass, the unusual shapes and sizes. Pay respect to accoutrement and the regalia of each offering. Where does it take you? Then once you find out, snap out of it already and buy the stinkin’ bottle! What’s wrong with you!?! Its a just a glass bottle filled with bourbon. Take it home and drink it!
Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Bourbon KSBW, 46.5% ABV or 93 proof (NAS), Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfurt, Ky.