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Notice the art on your beer bottle?

The drinking experience gets a touch of art as alcohol brands collaborate with designers

Artist-activist Orijit Sen designed a limited-edition Bajra beer series for Great State Aleworks.
Artist-activist Orijit Sen designed a limited-edition Bajra beer series for Great State Aleworks.

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In 2009, Grover Vineyard launched the Art Collection with bottles showcasing works of acclaimed artists like Jatin Das, Paresh Maity and Rini Dhumal. It paved the way for collaborations between alcohol brands and designers, artists and illustrators in India. Over the years, the retail revolution and rise of experiential liquor stores has powered the demand for eye-catching labels. “As the drinking audience is evolving, they are looking for more visually attractive bottles,” says Rohan Rehani, co-founder of Moonshine Meadery.

In 2021, Moonshine Meadery’s rebranded packaging with artwork by different artists claimed two prizes at the Kyoorius Design Awards, a platform that rewards the best in Indian design. From finding the first designer at a Starbucks, through a chance meeting, to receiving over 700 entries through an Instagram advert this year, the story of Moonshine Meadery shows just how close-knit the art and alcohol community has become. Moonshine, in fact, aims to launch one new label with artists every quarter for their experimental releases under Mead Lab.

Bigger brands like Glenmorangie from the Moët Hennessy-Louis Vuitton (LVMH) portfolio, for example, launched limited edition whiskies featuring artwork by an Indian artist for the first time. Artist Aniruddh Mehta, popularly known as The Big Fat Minimalist, was commissioned to create the limited-edition gifting packs for Diwali.

According to Smriti Sekhsaria, marketing director, Moët Hennessy India, their consumer research revealed people prefer vibrancy, which was their design cue. Mehta used vibrant orange and yellow colours to represent Diwali lights.

For artists, working on alcohol labels offers a new canvas and a broader audience. Orijit Sen, graphic artist and designer, who designed a limited-edition Bajra beer series for Great State Aleworks last year, says, “I want to reach out to younger audiences and engage in social commentary through my work. I was creatively stimulated and enjoyed the creative challenge.”

The collaboration usually results in positives for both parties. While labels get a headstart over established brands and competition with offbeat and quirky labelling and also form inroads into the artist and creator community, artists find a new medium and audience to showcase their artwork to.

Internationally, working with artists is a phenomenon that’s been happening for a few years now. Absolut Vodka’s brand identity is broadly defined by working with artists as diverse as Andy Warhol to British-Indian artist Anish Kapoor, among many others.

Then again, there are artists who will draw a line at where their work is showcased. As Sen says, “I am choosy about the brands I work with. I worked on the Bajra series because it helps farmers in dry regions and supports traditional millets.”

Sometimes, certain labels also find it hard to launch in some markets. The Lovers Rum, co-founded by David Cordoba and Arijit Bose, whose label—showcasing a tarot card with a woman holding a glass of the spirit—is inspired by the latter’s love for graphic novels and is available in Goa and Gurugram, Haryana. The label hit a roadblock during its planned release in 2021, when they were unable to launch in a key market.

Clearly, it’s not always smooth sailing for this association between artists and alcohol labels.

Priyanko Sarkar is a Mumbai-based writer covering the F&B industry.

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