Case Study – Branding the Spirit of BC


Branding and marketing in the alcoholic beverage industry is full of superficiality. More often than not, marketers are given a bland, generic product and are charged with giving it excitement and sex appeal. A lot of the time they answer that call very well.

rt Strategy was delighted to be asked to work with craft distillery Urban Distilleries during their start-up period in 2010 & 2011 – primarily because we were asked to help create a truly genuine brand. Sure, the product needed shelf appeal. But the story behind the product also needed to be told, and the product itself needed to live up to the promise of the brand.

The Brand Promise

Use of premium ingredients, locally sourced whenever possible; entirely natural traditional distilling and infusing methods with no artificial colours or preservatives; unique recipes; BC mountain spring water; the world’s finest distilling equipment including copper stills. These all added up to a simple message – that Urban Distilleries is ‘Crafting the Spirit of BC‘ – and this was brought to play in the distillery’s tagline.

With the Spirit Bear line, the master distiller’s love of nature and wildlife was brought to the forefront with a premium line of products. A portion of proceeds from the sale of each bottle of this line of spirits would support the work of charities that fight to protect the habitat of the Spirit Bear – BC’s official animal.

Product Development

A task that rt Strategy was more than happy to help with was product development. With the distillery’s first product, Spirit Bear Okanagan Gin, a unique recipe was to be created that would reflect the regional agriculture of the Okanagan Valley and bring a true differentiation. The recipe that was developed included, uniquely, lavender and apple peel as well as 10 other more common botanicals. However some often-used ingredients were dropped completely in order to give Spirit Bear Okanagan Gin a more fruity, floral flavor with less wood and spice than many consumers would expect. 15 recipes were tried and tested in total before all concerned were happy that a product reflective of the brand promise had been developed.

With Spirit Bear Vodka the ball was hit out of the park on first swing. Blind tastings of the first batch (with Spirit Bear Vodka pitted against Belvedere and Grey Goose) came back with stunning results: a 1st place for Spirit Bear, a close 2nd for Belvedere and Grey Goose (which the majority of participants expected to place first) running way behind in third.

With Spirit Bear Espresso, local roaster Cherry Hill was selected as the supplier of beans and a naturally infused, unsweetened product was created.

Logo & Packaging

The Spirit Bear logo includes an iconic illustration of a Spirit Bear – simple, strong and adaptable, as well as a handtooled typeface giving a timeless look.

For the bottle – an absolutely mission critical component – an elegant shape was required; a shape that would not look out of place when displayed in high-end bars & restaurants, but equally, a shape that represented enduring style, not trendy fashion. After multiple trips with the client to manufacturing plants and gathering market opinion on short listed bottles a shape was selected and design commenced.

Bottle designs for the clear products – Spirit Bear Vodka and Spirit Bear Okanagan Gin – included frosting with a clear window, through which an illustration of mountains is visible. Colours were chosen to represent the apple flavors in the Gin (green) and the cool mountain spring water in the Vodka (blue). For the Espresso Vodka, the frosting was dropped, allowing the rich colour of the coffee infused spirit to shine. A nod to Cherry Hill Coffee was given with the use of a red coloured product band.

The Roll Out

In addition to our work in developing the brand, rt Strategy also worked with Urban Distilleries on media & community relations, on-site sales environment design, event planning & promotion, merchandising and display materials. We also created the ‘Save a Spirit Bear’ brand to help bring structure to the distillery’s philanthropic efforts.

Portfolio Links

Please see:
Spirit Bear – Bottle Design
Spirit Bear Gin & Vodka – Banners
Urban Distilleries – Rack Card
Urban Distilleries – Tasting Room
Save a Spirit Bear