With the number of craft breweries in the United States recently surpassing 3,400, the challenge has become obvious: how do all of these new companies differentiate themselves in an increasingly crowded field? For many, the answer has been to focus on what makes them unique, and that usually involves both the quality of the beverages, and the story behind them. Today’s packaging, as a result, has a dual role: visually convey the special quality of the beverage inside, while also engaging consumers with information about the brewery or product. Overall, the packaging is charged with communicating “authenticity,” something especially important to drinking age millennials.


Case in point is AC Golden Brewing Co.’s Hidden Barrel Collection line of handcrafted beers, which brought together premium ingredients and aged the resulting brews in wooden barrels for up to a year. AC Golden, as a result, wanted the label to tell the story of the beer’s meticulous aging process. To do so, it used Avery Dennison Fasson Cherry Veneer labeling material—made with real wood—as the storyteller. “Just as the wood barrels add complexity and illuminate the flavors in the beer, the wood label illuminates the most intriguing points of our brand story,” says Glenn Knippenberg, president and cofounder of AC Golden. “The label reflects our product’s barrel aging process and also signals to craft beer drinkers that our product is handcrafted for a unique experience.”


The craft movement is one of the most important trends influencing upscale beverage package design today, according to David Ceradini, President & Chief Creative Officer of the Brooklyn, NY-based Ceradini Brand Design. “It’s huge where we are,” he says. “Consumers are looking for more things that are ‘real’ and ‘authentic’. And luxury’s communicated in a lot of these products just through pure simplicity and the story. Knowing where it’s from, that it’s local—I think a lot of that is coming through.” The trend, he says, is even impacting categories like juices and dairy beverages, where the traditional glass milk bottle is back in vogue.


Jack Hart, Senior Creative Strategist, for the New York and London-based design agency Pearlfisher adds, “As the world of craft continues to evolve, we are now looking for brands to set radically different premium and upscale standards to create the essential difference that consumers are beginning to crave. The term craft beer has become associated with hipster culture and this trend-led approach has meant that the true meaning of craft is starting to get lost and perhaps become, ironically, less accessible.”


He continues, “As craft has become more homogenized, new marketing and visual expressions are needed to refine its positioning in the market. Brands such as Mikkeller + Bedow and Lomaland Modern Times Beer are responding to what we call craft confusion, by communicating their authenticity through simple, bold and typographic design styles. It is this stunning simplicity and definitive approach that allows these emerging brands to create and craft an accessible and modern heritage.”


But all this doesn’t mean that luxury beverage packaging can’t still have its ‘red carpet’ moments, too. There will always be a market for the flat out luxurious when it comes to higher-end beverages, especially when it comes to expensive spirits and wines, and particularly now that consumer spending is rebounding several years after the Great Recession.


Case in point is the 2014 Beverage World Global Packaging Design Award Gift Pack category winner, Patrón Añejo. To create this limited edition holiday package, Mode Design Group (now Viceroy Creative), partnered with jewelry designer David Yurman. Yurman’s signature gold and silver designs and love for unique and rare objects became key considerations in the design process. The resulting design was a two-toned sword handle bottle stopper featuring elaborate metal carvings inspired by hand guards of 18th century Japanese Samurai swords. The form is die cast in solid metal and electroplated in 24-karat gold and gunmetal. Foil-stamped printing, a full-color, gloss photo backing and soft-touch paper, work together as signals of luxury and unmistakable sophistication—reminders that the consumer is in the presence of something very special. “The collaborations we did between Patrón Tequila and John Varvatos and David Yurman presold, never hit shelves, and went directly to eBay!” says Gabrielle Rein, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Viceroy Creative. Viceroy also recently for SKYY Vodka created the first-ever velvet bottle, and an LED-lit bottle that is responsive to music with the use of a small microphone in the base.


Designs may evolve, but really no packaging material conveys luxury as well as glass. SGP Packaging by Verallia offers a variety of premium bottles as part of its Selective Line portfolio. One of its interesting innovations is internal embossing engraving that is done inside the glass, making for a bottle that feels flat to the touch despite its appearance. Furthermore, the embossed design is not visible when the bottle is full, only revealing itself as the liquid inside the bottle gets poured out. “It’s something people remember, and maybe want to collect or reuse,” says Jean-Pierre Giovanni, vice president, SGP Packaging by Verallia. “It creates a fun user experience.”


Hugh Lenz, Business Development Manager, Beer, Beverage and Reclosure for Avery Dennison, says metallized labels such as those offered by his company also clearly communicate luxury. “Metallic substrates help set brands apart with the perception of premium product and sophistication,” he says. “Such labels can assist a brand in shifting the consumer’s perception of their product up within their segment. Brands can migrate from the difficult middle market to a more premium position as the label’s metallic appearance provides the look of premium and sophistication.”


Lenz adds, “Any time that we conduct studies with consumers on label substrates, we show them materials that range from papers to metallic films; they consistently associate a metallic substrate as being high-end or premium, which then directly impacts their perception of the brand. For the brands themselves, the growing use of foil stamping allows them to add to the effects—in essence, the label substrate becomes their canvas. The stamping process allows them to embellish the labels with special designs and along with embossing, imparts an element of sophistication to their overall package presentation.”