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Any colour as long as it’s copper

Brand design is changing to reflect today’s emphasis on provenance and small batch production; and key to this change is copper. But beware! Warns Mary Lewis, creative director, Lewis Moberly

Mary Lewis Lewis Moberly

Distilling is a little like a fairytale:  pour in a potion, heat it up, and out comes something magical – and, in the case of the best artisan spirits, something particularly delicious. The magic wand in this enchanting transformation is the copper still.

It is no coincidence that copper is an exceptionally beautiful metal. In fact, as competition heats up for ownership of all things artisanal, it may very well help.

The move towards craft is a move away from bling: from get-rich-quick instant gratification to patience, knowledge and dedication, in short from show to know.

In a post-recession world, we care more and more about the small producer, with their emphasis on provenance, small batch and attention to detail. Brand design is changing to reflect the market’s new priorities. A key element for change is copper.

Many spirits are made in copper stills, so there is a risk here of a ‘copper rush’ in which every artisanal distilling company races to associate itself with the elegant authenticity of the metal they rely on. It’s a metal we all rely on too: every living organism needs tiny traces of copper to live. And as it is such a wonderful material to work with, it’s surprising that it has taken a while to become sought-after.

More subtle than brass, and more malleable than bronze, copper has a natural radiance and iridescence. When heat-treated or oxidised it develops a spectrum of hues from pink, red, orange and yellow to green, blue and purple. And by mellowing with age, it beautifully reflects the vintage spirits and oak-aged beers that it helps create.

No surprise that designers beyond the drinks world are enamoured – Tom Dixon’s copper-themed Mondrian Hotel on the South Bank is a powerful example, with a wave of solid copper above reception. And over in the mainstream, Dulux Paint Colour of the Year is naturally called ‘Copper Blush’.

Drinks packaging designers are too looking to copper to channel the magic that makes the product inside, into a beautiful and alluring exterior.

Absolut Elyx features copper packaging in honour of the 1921 copper still that creates the purity of its vodka. The bottle also has a 53cm copper pipe which creates an eye-catching dispensing ritual at the table.

Sipsmith, which created the first copper distillery in London in nearly 200 years, underlines this with a copper background on its packaging – and by giving the stills names, reflecting the painstaking nature of craft distilling: Prudence, Patience and Constance.

Ballantine’s celebrate the role of copper by creating a limited edition of whisky-related artifacts that stack to create a magical sculpture called Ballance. Of the five components, two, a bowl and a spoon, are bright, glowing copper, offsetting the clear tumbler and water jug, bringing the remarkable design alive.

As designers and marketeers bask in copper’s glorious warmth, there is a need to be mindful to rise above colour. You cannot own what others share. What follows copper? Beware the tarnished shelf ……

16 March 2015