Reading the label

In a new series whisky writer and label expert Hans Offringa will look at the evolution of branding and labelling from several distilleries.
By Hans Offringa
In the 19th century, customers would take their jugs and fill them straight from the cask at the distillery, pub or wine and spirit merchant. The ones who could afford it bought whisky by the cask and had it delivered to their homes. Only when glass became affordable, around 1870, could whisky be bottled and the need for distinguishing among brands on the shelves rose. At first the names of the producers were hand blown into the bottle, but soon paper labels were produced. Initially labels were only printed in black and white and blends were among the first to use the new marketing tool. An old one was called Acorn Brand, from Henderson & Turnbull. This might have been a reference to the very source of the cask. It reminds me of a quote from a famous whisky maker from the Northern Highlands, talking about wood management: "If need be, we will even go back to the acorn." Since an oak has to grow at least 80 years before it can be turned into a cask, said distiller would have to outlive many of his friends.One of the oldest, if not the oldest, is Teacher's. A damaged example survived on an old bottle u. The glue on the label was examined and dated late 1860s. One of the first single malts appearing in labelled bottles was Glenfarclas - The Spirit of Independence. The first example is from around 1880 and excels in simplicity. Note the name of the bottler v. At the time the bulk of the production was sold to independent merchants and bottlers. (That is unthinkable today, since Glenfarclas now fiercely protects its name and does not allow others to bottle their product anymore). The suffix Glenlivet was still common as can be seen on a label from 1910. Added is an aerial of the distillery. This might have been done to emphasise the growth of the brand or to point out the reconstruction of the distillery that had taken place at the turn of the 19th century w. When Glenfarclas introduced the distinctive pagoda to the label is not exactly known. According to John Grant it is the second oldest in the industry, only surpassed by the one originally crowning the Dailuaine kiln. For a considerable time the Glenfarclas pagoda was placed on the top of the label but recently it was moved to the bottom and integrated in a simple but effective drawing of the skyline of the distillery x. The colour of the name usually is red, but sometimes appeared in gold, for instance on two labels from 1980 and 1987. The 105 is still made, but the 104 was discontinued in 1995. At the turn of the 20th century Glenfarclas decided to produce a unique series to celebrate the Millennium. They named it The Scottish Classics. The labels were created by a small group of Scottish artists, who found their source of inspiration in Scottish literature. The result is a beautiful series of miniature art works. Examples show Ivanhoe (Sir Walter Scott) z, Tam O'Shanter (Robert Burns) {and Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson). Not surprisingly the series turned into a collectors item. There are 30 different labels, so you have to have deep pockets to gather them all.Over time Glenfarclas experimented with many different colours, varying from crème-coloured, light grey, light blue and ochre to black |. The packaging has seen all colours of the rainbow in its time. Recently the design has become quieter and I actually prefer that. This is a whisky that doesn't need screaming colours to be noticed. The quality of the whisky takes care of that.