How the design of a bottle label changed the history of Iceland’s most iconic drink
Some years ago I met a group of friendly, and good looking, people from Iceland. They bragged about their pure water resources, wild horses, volcanoes, and beautiful country, while I bragged about Costa Rica’s nature, wild monkeys, volcanoes, and beautiful country. During our time together we shared and compared different parts of our culture: photos, believes, legends, food and drinks. Conversations turned into a passionate fight of Tuleviejas vs Trolls, Gallo Pinto vs Hakarl, and Guaro vs Brennivin.
Brennivin, that’s the name of Iceland’s famous drink, a liquor made out of potato and caraway (and don’t ask me what caraway is) that contains 37.5% alcohol, therefore its nickname “Black Death”. Design legend has it that around 1935 the government tried to make the bottle label less appealing in order to dissuade Icelanders from consuming alcohol. Their new black and white redesign caused the total opposite: sales skyrocket and, to this day, the drink with its beautiful and simple label still gives people the worst hangovers.
As a passionate designer, I kept the bottle as a souvenir of the great time I had, and as a reminder of the power that design has over a product, brand, and even the collective conscience of a country.
Cheers to good design and delicious Brennivin!