Karuizawa Japanese Whisky Labeling


“Packaging” and “rarest Japanese whisky” – if there are two phrases more calculated to inspire excitement in a designer when used together, I don’t know them. And the labeling by Scottish branding agency Contagious for this Karuizawa single cask malt whisky more than lives up to expectation. Before we get into this “pinch me I must be dreaming” packaging, a bit of history.

Karuizawa, Japan’s smallest distillery, closed in 2000, its stock of whisky casks bought up by Number One Drinks Co. One in particular, dating back to 1960, yielded 41 bottles of whisky – these are the ones Contagious was invited to package. And a stunning job they did, too.

Each label is letterpress printed with three colors on hand-crafted, deckle-edged washi paper. A slight pause here as we take in the sheer amount of work inherent in that single sentence. Oh, and let’s not forget the gold foil stamping, nor the large kanji that was handwritten by a Japanese calligrapher, scanned, and then letterpress printed on the label as well.

To cap it off (literally), handmade black paper was applied to the top of the bottle and an imported Japanese Netsuke charm dangled around its neck by a black cord.


“I would add that each bottle was individually named and the gold foiled text was unique to each label, meaning 41 setups for 41 different foil blocks,” says Contagious’ Chris McCluskie.

And that’s not even mentioning the handmade wooden container – modeled on Japanese puzzle boxes – that each bottle was packed inside, nor the accompanying book illustrated with delicate woodcuts by Paul Kershaw.

All of which makes for a truly transcendent experience, whether or not you touch a drop of the antique elixir within.

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Project Details

Title Karuizawa Japanese Whisky Labeling Client Number One Drinks Co. Design Contagious Print Glasgow Press Paper Handmade Japanese deckle edge washi paper

Production Details

Print Quantity 41 Printing Method Letterpress Number of Colors 3: Letterpress White, Letterpress Black and PMS Cool Grey 8 Finishing and Binding Foil stamping

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