Capturing lightning in a bottle
When the economy took a dive in 2008, Duston Evans was looking for a change from his many years in the construction industry. “Something that fills me back up every day,” as he put it. That thing was craft spirits.
But it wouldn’t be fully realized until Littleton, CO, passed a law allowing micro distilleries, microbreweries and wineries in 2013. “I just fell in love with the industry,” Evans explains. “Craft distillers are mavericks, entrepreneurial people.” Much like the man himself.
No stranger to running his own businesses, Evans applied the business acumen and self-employed spirit he cultivated over the years to break ground on his new venture in 2015 – Rocker Spirits, a distillery and taproom, converted from an old mechanics garage in downtown Littleton.
Evans rounded out his team of what he calls “killers.” Hardworking, creative, resourceful, passionate people who “kill it” in their area of expertise: Nick Hutchinson, distiller, and John Stefanski, beverage director. Together, they have forged what is known as the Rocker Republic, a following of customers as passionate about the Rocker Spirits experience as they are. Evans describes the distillery as a “cool place to visit with family and friends where you can taste our product and immerse yourself in our brand.”
Rocking the bottle design
The journey to founding Rocker Spirits and building Rocker Republic, however, was measured and methodical. Much like the process of crafting finely aged whiskey, vodka and rum, which takes three years of aging in barrels before bottling.
Evans’ plan for success started with the bottle. “I knew if we were going to enter this market, we couldn’t be just another square bottle. It could take 10 years to establish a brand. But we wanted to stand out right away. And the bottle was going to be our differentiating point, so we invested in the bottle first.”
The unique design of Rocker Spirits bottle was inspired by Evans’ love of industrial design and picking through junkyards for vintage treasures. He explains, “I grew up in Montana from humble beginnings. I had to make my own toys and use my imagination, so the industrial era really speaks to me. It was a time in American history when we made things with our hands. Things had style.”
On one junkyard treasure hunt, Evans came across a rusty old automotive oil can with two handles that rocked back in place after you used it. That discovery provided the creative spark for Rocker Spirits award-winning design. It took numerous design iterations to achieve the perfect balance of art and science that Evans’ team sought. “The bottle embodies the name and the experience. It rocks back into place after you pour it. You see that once, and you never forget you’re having Rocker Spirits,” Evans says. He credits O-I Glass, the bottle designer and manufacturer, for bringing his vision and brand to life.
Completing the package
With a rockin’ bottle in hand, the next challenge was developing a label that stayed true to the vintage style of the spirits’ vessel. Again, Evans and his creative team turned to industrial design for inspiration. “The front face on our bottle is round, so we took creative cues from old automotive gauges,” he explains. “Speedometers, tachometers, oil pressure gauges, temperature gauges.”
Turning the label designs into works of art on par with the bottle design required a printer up to the task. “When I first spoke with Evans, it was very apparent how passionate he was about his product and his new venture,” says Jennifer Adams, sales representative with Columbine Label. “Duston came to us with very high standards.” After spending so much effort and creative capital on the package, he wanted the label to be of equal quality and uniqueness.
Evans says that in the early packaging development stage, before working with Columbine Label, they had considered direct-to-bottle screen printing, known as Applied Ceramic Labeling (ACL), with another printer. But Evans determined that process was too costly and too restrictive to pursue. He recalls that when he broke the news to the printer rep and told him they were going with a more traditional paper label, she replied,” You’re going to put a bumper sticker on a Ferrari??”
Evans still gets a laugh out of that story, but he knows the choice was the right one. “Paper labels fit the vintage style and feel we were going for.”
Adams says, “We sampled almost every material on the floor and played with different colors and different printing techniques to get it just right.” Evans admits, “I had a vision, but it wasn’t clear. I had to put them through the rigors of process to achieve what I wanted.’
But the process was worth it. “Jennifer was instrumental in helping us plot our course. She and the Columbine Label team brought clarity to our vision and reaffirmed our decision to go with paper labels.”
Savoring the success
The final designs of Rocker Spirits labels feature two different foils and embossing on a textured paper substrate. “It’s a very technical run,” explains Adams,“ requiring multiple passes through our equipment.” Columbine Label was able to provide Evans and his team with digital proofs that simulated the look of the foil and embossing techniques before investing in the final tooling.
Rocker Spirits labels are not only a great source of pride for the distiller, but also for Columbine Label. “Any time a customer wants to see samples of our work, we show them Rocker Spirits,” Adams says. “Their labels showcase our capabilities and the creativity you can achieve with special effects.”
Like his other partners on the Rocker Spirits journey to success, Evans gives high praise to Adams and Columbine Label. “Jennifer was willing to put up with our struggle to achieve what we wanted. That means a lot to us.” He continues, “You’re only as good as your employees. And the leadership and staff at Columbine Label are what makes them so good at what they do.” He adds, “There are so many faceless companies right now. But we like seeing and talking to the people helping bring our brand to market. We’ve found that with Columbine Label.”
That makes for kindred spirits that rock.