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How do you give the drinks of yesteryear a modern twist?

Published:  13 March, 2020

Rowena Curlewis, CEO of drinks design specialist Denomination, on why legacy brands are enjoying a new lease of life.  

Take a few moments to browse through Instagram or Pinterest and you’ll soon find countless examples of the new enthusiasm for retro aperitifs and cocktails. What could be more Insta-worthy than a Flaming Sambuca in a dimly lit nightclub, or an Aperol Spritz in the foreground of a Venetian sunset?

Aperol (created in 1919 by Luigi and Silvio Barbieri) has been the drink of the summer for a few years now. Sambuca (Luigi Manzi, mid-1800s) is finally shaking its reputation as a key ingredient in dubious shooters like, 1980s favourite, the Slippery Nipple. Even the ancient drink pulque, tequila’s 2,000-year-old ancestor and the stuff of legends, is enjoying a revival. The list goes on.  

They are all being ‘discovered’ by modern consumers and imbued with fresh energy and interest. Yes, you can point to aggressive marketing campaigns (following Campari UK’s ‘It starts with an Aperol spritz’ messaging, Google searches for the liqueur went up by 50%), but there’s more to it than that. These drinks are interesting. As well as tasting delicious neat or as part of a cocktail, they’re beautiful to look at, and fun to share on social media.

A big part of the phenomenon is that people like their drinks preferences to say something about them. As you raise a glass in a selfie, your choice of tipple can communicate so much – you’re well-travelled, knowledgeable and aware of current trends. Enjoying a Porto Tónico with a sprig of mint, for example (a fresher and lower-in-abv alternative to the ubiquitous G&T, ice and a slice) is more of a talking point.  

So how can brand and packaging identity support this interest and help brands capitalise and grow? How do you make a drinks sector that is firmly entrenched in the past relevant to modern generations without losing the depth, heritage and integrity that comes with history?

Old meets new

It starts with respecting that the old and the new both have an important role to play, and then striking the right balance between the two.

Port is a great example of an old drink making huge headway today. For many years, it’s been regarded as being deeply rooted in tradition – think of a typical Port drinker and most likely an older male comes to mind. Part of the reason for that are the many antiquated and baffling rituals associated with the stuff. (How many drinks demand to be passed to the left, or that, when the decanter stops moving, the inattentive guest is asked if he knows the Bishop of Norwich?) People fear getting them wrong and perhaps abstain to avoid embarrassment. And for many, these perplexing traditions no longer have a place in modern society. 

But white Port has changed the game over the past few years, and is encouraging increasing numbers of consumers to see the fortified wine in a whole new light. When Madonna announced to the world recently that it was white Port that had been helping her get through her gruelling Madame X tour, her words only served to emphasise its growing popularity. 

Bringing the past into the future

Quinta da Pedra Alta, a vineyard located in Portugal’s Douro Valley, was keen to capitalise on this new verve, and recently launched Pedra No 3, a white Port, in response. Our main challenge when it came to the brand and packaging identity was to strike the perfect balance between celebrating the Quinta’s long and fascinating history, while making it totally relevant to a new generation of drinkers. 

This old winery is home to three of the original granite markers – ‘feitora’ – that were put in place in the 18th century to demarcate the best Port-producing regions in Portugal. So we took these signifiers of heritage and expertise and made a feature of them on the label. But rather than using evocative images, they appear as diecut graphic representations, creating a modern reference to the past. Similarly, an illustration of the botanicals that have existed on the estate for millennia has been heavily embossed into the label using the latest tech, and can be fully appreciated when held up to the light.

It’s important to recognise that, while people want exciting new drinks experiences, they still want them to tell an interesting story and have a sense of tradition and truthfulness.

The spritz blitz

Our renewed passion for liqueurs, aperitifs and legacy drinks shows no sign of slowing down, with British people consuming just shy of 50 million bottles at home or in pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants. But the brands that will really ride the zeitgeist are those that, while responding to modern social mores, make sure not to lose sight of who they are deep down, and keep celebrating that in equal measure.