Art Bottle Manifesto
When I walk into a grocery store, whether it be a small mom and pop joint or a large chain, I usually brace myself for the onslaught of; visual pestering, nudging, hoodwinking and the general overall cacophony produced by hundreds of labels screaming for my attention. This can be exhausting and stressful, especially when added to the overall zaniness of our modern world outside the grocery shopping experience.
Much of the time, I find that a large number of these labels are de-personalized. So many products have been put on the market with little regard as to how they will affect our world visually and how they may add to the optical littering rather than add context and understanding to what they represent. So, with all of the visual storytelling at Aqua Vitea, what we have always aimed to do is give added context using the visual playing field. Like great children’s book illustration, we strive to avoid too much redundancy with the text on a label. With a great book for kids, the illustrations don’t just mimic the words but add information and context (world building) that the words can’t. An example of this would be our Elderberry label. On the surface it is an elderberry fruit umbel, simply put. However, with a bit of attention paid you notice the silhouettes of two birds (specifically, Cedar waxwings). These are significant since they are social birds, seen most often in large flocks taking over fruiting trees and bushes. One of the birds is passing a berry to the other, an act of courtship that results in a back and forth with the female finally eating the berry. I’ve always loved watching this and thought it represented so much of what we at Aqua Vitea are trying to do: building relationships and community through healthy endeavors. Sharing, community, as well as social/cultural engagement have been bedrock beliefs of ours since the beginning. This is a way (with a wink) to represent these principles.
Which leads me to our current practice of rotating bulk bottle label designs. As you may have noticed at our bulk kombucha kegerators, our bulk bottle labels change every so often. There is a method to this seemingly random rotation of imagery. We could very easily slap our icon/logo on the bottles and call it a day. However, that would not be our style and would ultimately lead to a dull/static energy settling onto what should be an exciting, engaging space. What we have chosen to do is release four new, distinct label images every 4 months or so, following a loose, thematic pattern. While doing this I hope to also highlight ideas, processes and things that represent how extraordinary this existence is in all its’ manifestations.
Theme 1: Ancient Traditions Modern Techniques
When we brew a batch of kombucha, it is for all intents and purposes the same process that has been practiced for millenia. First, tea is steeped. Then, sugar is dissolved. Ultimately both are added to a culture of bacteria and yeast that is left to ferment. The only real difference is the equipment used to move the liquids around (hoses and pumps) and the final step of using our spinning cone to extract the alcohol that is present in all naturally fermented kombucha.
To me, the idea of representing this by using ancient animals with mechanized innards or accoutrements made me chuckle. Often, this is the clue that I should proceed with something. The most recent label uses the peacock as its’ subject. The peacock personally elucidates a sense of awe at the evolutionary brilliance and absurdity of this creature’s ability to exemplify all that is astounding in evolution while not seeming to make practical sense.
Theme 2: Characters in the mix
You may or may not have experienced the talk on how kombucha is made. For me, hearing how a process works in words only goes so far. I often need a visual guide. Sometimes this can be photographs or actual items. However, given our love of storytelling, we really like to take it a step further. Hence, we’ve created a cast of characters that represent all of the ingredients that go into a bottle of unflavored kombucha. This is the original graphic iteration of our process using these characters:
We have the five main players here. Water, tea, sugar yeast and bacteria. All important in their own way.
A tea and sugar mix in water is added to a culture of yeast and bacteria (some previously brewed kombucha).
The yeast and bacteria proceeds to feed on the sugar and tea, creating organic acids and enzymes along with alcohol and carbon dioxide.
What you end up with in a bottle of kombucha is a result of all the hard work put in by these characters.
Nowadays, we like to place these characters in other situations to help broaden the understanding of who we are as a company and the place that kombucha holds in our broader culture. This specific label also doubles as a Freshketch, a monthly illustration that shares the different passions/projects/hobbies and interests that our employees and community members share. For the last iteration of this theme we set yeastie and bacteria up as climbers. We’ve had several climbers within the company, as well as many in our broader community. By purposefully re-orienting the vertical image to one that is horizontal, I’ve hopefully gotten you to physically engage by turning the bottle. This forces one to shift their perspective, both literally and figuratively, to get an understanding of the image. If we see or hear something in a way we are used to, it is easy to dismiss it as something we already know. It’s helpful to force ourselves out of our comfort zone periodically to freshen up our engagement with the world. Just like getting oneself up on a vertical plane of rock can force you to see/think about the world differently.
For this specific round, we deviated slightly with the Sun-Water-Plant theme. All that we do here depends on that very special relationship between the sun, water and plants through photosynthesis. With our tea and cane sugar depending on this process we think it’s pretty dang important too. Without these you have no kombucha, period (and no us either, or slinkies for that matter…or cowbells, water slides, chewing gum…et. ad nausem). Therefore, we wanted to give a shout out to the cosmic awesome-sauciness of this cycle.
Theme 3: Be Nice to Each Other Out There (People)
These bottles are based on a saying that our late, dearly beloved brewer, Matt Dibley, was known for saying. He was a fantastic human that lived a life of intention and great perception. After November of 2016 this saying gained even more significance and we came up with the first image, using symbiotic mutualism as the framework, of a rhino with oxpeckers to communicate the benefit of working together instead of in an antagonistic manner.
Each iteration of this theme now follows that lead and uses real-world examples of symbiotic mutualism to give us all a reminder to be our best selves out there. This round employs various species of tree frog and bromeliad that exist in central and south america. Specifically, the Bromeliad Tree Frog, Red-Eyed Tree Frog and Golden Frog. The bromeliads growing in central and south america contain phytotelmata (my current “favorite word” front-runner) which are small, water filled cavities in plants that act as little sky lakes (another front-runner term I discovered while reading David George Haskell’s amazing book The Songs of Trees). These little bodies of water, above the jungle floor in nooks and crannies of trees, contain all that is needed for entire life cycles of many species of insect, microbe and animal. Several species of tree frog use these phytotelmata for entire lives (right from the get-go as eggs). Others transfer their tadpoles into these pools after having laid the eggs on plants on the forest floor. The frog subsequently carries the tadpoles up the tree and into the bromeliads. The bromeliad provides shelter, water and food by attracting insects while the frogs provide nitrogen through their feces and insect remains while also bringing in shrimplike creatures call ostracods which also contribute nitrogen. It’s a win-win-win.
Theme 4: Communitea
Lastly, we have our floating theme bottle that this time around is our “Communitea” image. It was drawn last year as a response to the seemingly ever prevalent sense that things are a divisive mess. When you look around at actual people and community, you will see folks that; want to belong, want to help, want to understand, want to be understood, want to engage, want to participate, want to listen if given the chance. These daily small actions tend to get ignored while the friction gets all the attention. However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that there are good people doing great things everywhere without the need for recognition or fanfare.
Hopefully all of this background isn’t necessarily needed to enjoy these labels or our kombucha. But as with most things it helps to add a deeper understanding of where we are coming from and why we do what we do. It represents a world that we at Aqua Vitea hope to see, want to encourage and would like to leave for our kids, nephews, nieces, friends and neighbors. It embodies our collective sense of awe with this universe, and how we would like to poke, prod and propel others to engage with it in a playful, irreverent, meaningful way.
To that, keep it funktional!