How Insite Design Crafted the Perfect Details of Dillon’s Small batch Rye Whisky

Canada has welcomed a new 100% Rye Whisky for the first time in decades. Dillon’s is is copper pot distilled from 100% rye mash, produced to the Canadian tradition, and has the memorable packaging design to match. We spoke with Barry Imber at Insite Design to learn more about their fine-tuned design process, creating something that celebrates a legacy while stands out amongst competitors, the intricacies of the illustrations, and more. 

Walk us through the design process that you went through for this project.

Insite Design: In every project we’re involved in we tend to overthink and intellectualize the beginning stages because giving it that extra time of conversation and hard thinking always seems to make the later stages of a project easier as well as the outcomes that much richer.

1. Thinking and Purpose

We always start with thinking about the core value and purpose of a product to both the audience but also the client. We ask loads of questions.

Some products are as much expressions of ideas for the creators as they are purposeful consumable goods. This product—a 100% Rye Whisky—was the culmination of years of learning and experimentation for distillery founder Geoff Dillon as well as combined Dillon’s and Insite’s planning and thinking about the big picture of Canadian Rye and how Dillon’s would be part of encouraging a revolution to re-establish the legacy of fine Canadian Rye making.

So it was clearly a big deal for Geoff and we needed to step it up.

2. Conclusions & Opportunity

So we concluded that this rye needed to be a communication piece that could begin the long conversation about Canadian Rye in order to help Dillon’s define the space they wanted to fit within the Canadian and global whisky market place.

3. Goals and Messages

We then identified key cues to tell the foundation of the story while we created a breakdown of communication goals which were—to passively educate and be transparent about sense of place in Canadian Rye, to be gently honest about how some rye is being made versus how real rye should be made, to show the industry how real rye can be made using all Canadian ingredients and rye purists' processes, and to show that this pride of doing it right can be elevated to a Canadian level of ownership and pride once again.

4. Planning and Execution

Next we summarized that the package would have to be illustrative and beautiful with both heritage elements juxtaposed to contemporary visual cues such as the illustration.

We decided the bottle needed to present a similar silhouette to the in-market Dillon’s package line but could benefit from a more refined bottle silhouette that spoke more to craft whisky than many other competitive clear craft spirits brands that have gravitated to the Dillon’s bottle shape since we created the brand line in 2011.

We concluded we needed make a confident whisky package that communicated some visual whisky cues while keeping with the soul of Dillon’s packaging and avoiding typical legacy whisky packaging cues that are prolific in the market today.

Finally, making this whisky was expensive for Dillon's and as a market newcomer to aged brown spirits, we knew it could be difficult to fetch the necessary ultra-premium price points if we didn’t get it right. And considering that Dillon’s audience were younger and could be more price sensitive than older whisky drinkers the team would have to figure out a way to make the product price accessible. The decision was made to package within a 500ml bottle that would allow the purchase price to be attractive while still premium as a message to the audience.

What was one of the biggest goals you set out to achieve with Dillon's packaging and how did you accomplish it?

Insite Design: Firstly we needed to create a package that drew attention to this new Canadian 100% Rye Whisky; to be seen as something different than the norm and worthy of purchase for trial as well as posing questions about the legacy and current state of Canadian Rye itself.

In this we wanted people to take a fresh look at Dillon’s as an aging distillery since most of their audience had only experienced the brand’s spontaneous, seasonal batched products.

And we needed to position Dillon’s Whisky’s as deserving a premium price point.

We achieved this by designing a package that, instead of chasing conventional whisky packaging looks, kept the soul of Dillon’s visibly identifiable package system but which introduced more premium cues. In addition we exaggerated the product category as the name which is a subtle concept in all Dillon’s products but one which we went for in this solution. We wanted to drive home that this was RYE and if so boldly stated perhaps it’s different.

Then the mixed materials and premium visual design cues such as the illustration and classic type did the work to suggest that Dillon’s had outdone themselves on this proud release and it should be worthy of a price premium. 

What was the most challenging part of this project?

Insite Design: The most challenging, though not painful part of the project was working with the bottle’s silkscreen decorator to adjust their typical tolerances to accommodate the size and coverage of the illustration as well as its fine line-work.

This meant encouraging the manufacturer to root for us; to see that this package was not a commodity rather it would be appreciated by newcomers to whisky as well as seasoned collectors. To achieve what we needed they would have to create special tooling as well as run slower speeds but all toward a finer outcome.

This resulted in higher than typical printing costs for this supplier but it was worth the effort as people would appreciate the confident and detailed outcome. 

What elements did you focus on to situate Dillon's as a premium offering in the market?

Insite Design: In our experience audiences appreciate a brand’s attention to detail as it tells a bigger picture story of pride, care and quality. This appreciation nets out in pulling the attention of the viewer closer to the product and elevating the tactile experience.

Mixed material elements suggest a more hand involved and considered product in the making—a copper metallic neck band, wooden closure, paper handwriting inspired label, crisp clear glass, silk screen ceramic illustration, a folded paper hang tag and finally classic serif typefaces mixed with contemporary illustration all lend their efforts to the detail and premium cues.

How did you go about creating the unique illustration on the bottle?

Insite Design: The underlying concept or takeaway of the illustration needed to be that Dillon’s was involved in the whole rye making process and once the mash was onsite at Dillon’s, all of the remaining processes occurred at the distillery—this is a big concept for Dillon’s since this isn’t the norm in the industry.

So therefore on the surface the central theme of the illustration would be Dillon’s intimate relationship with the process of making rye.

The studio identified and listed all key stages of Dillon’s Rye making process starting from the farmer growing the grain through all the steps.

Next, we did a rough type and element layout of the face of the bottle to delineate space and plan the package’s shelf facing features.

I then doodled a few of the stages to paper to get a feel for personality before taking a deep breath and jumping into Adobe Illustrator to 'one time’ the illustration across the template. Thanks to good planning and a very appreciative client, no edits were necessary.

If you could pick one aspect of the finished design that you like the most or feel especially proud of, what would it be and why?

Insite Design: As an illustrator and designer it’s difficult to see a finished product objectively since you have been so involved.  Perhaps it’s akin to looking at your own children or pet—you kind of just see joy, time, effort, flaws and ideas and never get to see what others see.

However what I do really appreciate with this solution is the way the mixed materials seem to make sense and co-exist together in a way that feels confident and sophisticated while hanging on to Dillon’s hand made low key aesthetic.

Share one lesson that you learned while developing the finished product.

Insite Design: A repeating lesson proved itself again on this project—go for it—don’t let hesitation of budgets, schedules, technical constraints or parameters of the status quo get in the way of what you are dreaming and know what’s best. Dive in and take a risk with your time investment and do it for the love of what you do and of what your clients do. This ideal hasn’t failed us yet.