Humboldt’s Finest: A Specialty Spirit With ‘Unique’ Botanical Character

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Humboldt Distillery, located in Northern California’s Humboldt County is the first micro-distillery on the North Coast to produce award winning, certified organic spirits. The distillery produces Organic Vodka, Organic Spiced Rum, Organic Original Rum and the newcomer to the party … Humboldt’s Finest, a Cannabis infused vodka.

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Yes, we said Cannabis, but no, it’s not what you’re thinking. You see, Humboldt’s Finest uses the Cannabis sativa plant, commonly known as hemp. This THC-free cousin to the more infamously known Cannabis indicia plant is a legally grown, FDA approved, food grade plant, typically used to make hempseed oil for cooking.

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The largest Cannabis-producing region in the United States is an area comprised of three counties and known as the Emerald Triangle. Because Humboldt County is in the heart of this region founder Abe Stevens was continuously reminded by trade acquaintances and consumers that making and marketing Cannabis vodka would be a natural, local fit.

“As the vodka has grown in popularity I’ve found more and more consumers asking us to add some of the ‘local flavor’ to our alcohol,” Stevens said. “That obviously wouldn’t be legal for us to do, but I couldn’t ignore the consumer demand. My solution was to come up with a compromise that captures a bit of that character without breaking any laws.”

Tony Auston, owner of Auston Design Group, who designed labels for Humboldt’s three other products, was asked to create a label for the new vodka. “We’ve been working with Humboldt Distillery since its inception. Given its remote north coast location, we developed the brand image and line of packaging around Humboldt County’s rural coastal lifestyle; rustic, bold, funky – anything but precious.”

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Challenged with evoking the essence of the local Cannabis culture without any of the obvious visual cues, Auston decided to go for a subtle use of a hemp burlap sack texture in the background and a cluster of vegetation that “kind of” resembled the Cannabis plant. The first illustration created and submitted for Federal approval, included ambiguous, Cannabis-like leaves and flowers amongst the other botanicals. The design was rejected because the copy on the label included the words “Cannabis Vodka.”

“We weren’t allowed to call it Cannabis Vodka, though that is the scientific name for the plant that produces the hemp seeds. We replaced it with “Humboldt’s Finest” which, for local folks in the know, refers to a local product other than the vodka.

Auston found the designing the packaging for Humboldt’s Finest an interesting challenge. Aside from the usual built-in labeling law limitations that go along with packaging alcohol, Federal labeling laws strongly prohibit depicting anything related to illegal substances on alcohol packaging.

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For the label paper, Auston specified ESTATE LABEL® by Neenah Packaging. “This is our go-to label stock. The toothy feel of this uncoated substrate is great for evoking an elegant, handcrafted look, and it handles embossing well. There is a lot of embossing on this label and our printer, Vintage 99, did a great job with it. The background, burlap bag texture is raised up to a level one emboss. The brand mark and botanical illustration are bumped up to level two. We left the red stamp at paper level to imply that the pressure of the stamp flattened out the background, burlap bag texture,” said Auston.

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Auston says there was a lot of experimentation and taste testing in developing the product. The final result is a delicious formula with a unique botanical aroma that drinks more like a floral gin than it does a flavored vodka. Humboldt Distillery even created some cocktails recipes for this specialty vodka, check out their site to find out how to make a High Thyme or a Green Gardens.