Friday, October 3, 2008
Liquor Labels as Art
A cocktail can be a work of art if executed correctly. A glass of wine can be a work of art if the winemaker has brought all the elements of viticulture and vinification to bear on his creation. But one of the most beautiful aspects of the Le Monde d'Alcohol, it must be acknowledged, lies it the packaging of the industry's various intoxicants. You may call it simple advertising. I call it a glorious backdrop that converts the mirrored, backlit wall behind every bar into a mosaic of graceful and exuberant illustration and graphics.
In this field of endeavor, I think the Italians take the top honors. You can say all you like about the simple, history-honoring austerity of British gin labels, the folksy 19th-century air of American Bourbon bottles or the filigreed Art Nouveau touches of some French containers. But the Italians, as ever, live and breath style. I brisk survey of the amaro and liqueur sections of your local liquor store will affirm this.
Averna's golden front shines like a newly burnished relic of Roman loot. Ramazzoti amaro has the bold, heavy vibrancy and riot of fonts of a poster advertising an opera at La Scala. Aperol's yellow lettering looks like it could have raced up the Via Veneto in the 1960s. it's square of lime green is beautifully framed by the ruby red of the liquor. Cynar, meanwhile, may possess the most splendi label in the booze world, an Art Deco wonder in which the "C" nearly swallowing the "-yner" against a blood-red, the profile of an artichoke at its center. The Cynar label should be in the MoMA collection.
The bottle at the bottom may be unfamiliar to you. It's a Puglian amaro I picked up during a recent trip to Italy. Padre Peppe has been made by Franciscan monks since 1832 and derives its flavor from green walnuts and various herbs. It clocks in at 42% alcohol, so the dark brown, syrupy stuff packs a punch. I imagine it being good with coffee or over ice cream.
Anyway, the deep green label is a beaut with its slanting letters and various fonts (I could eight). There are also versions using a red and a nut brown label.