Q&A with Aloha 65
In this edition of packaging newsletter, we chat to Nick Hassall the Executive Chairman of vibrant, flavoured spirit company Aloha 65. He shares with us how the spirit company came about, the inspiration behind their eye-catching retro packaging and why they are supporters of the environmental movement Plastic Oceans.
1. Tell us a bit of history about the Aloha 65 and how it first started?
British ex-pat, barman, surfer and chef, and our founder Stephen Thorp came up with the first home-made version of Spirit of Aloha 65 about thirty years ago. Using his culinary and mixologist background, he infused a neutral spirit with six very special botanicals including pineapple, ginger, scotch bonnet chillies, lemon and a couple of other secret herbs/spices to create a chilled shot to lure famous and not so famous surfers and sunseekers to his beach-side bar in Florida. It was an immediate triumph. From that moment, the bar was always packed for the ritual sundowner.
When Stephen returned to the UK some years later, he set up and ran a very successful gastro-pub in London, The Idle Hour. He continued to serve his home-made nectar to favoured customers, many of whom told him he really should try to bottle the liquid and share his unique spirit with the world.
Fast forward to 2017, and after many attempts (65 in fact) and with the help of Peter Gutierrez, former MD of Jose Cuervo Tequila Company and Sipsmith Gin board member, the first few bottles that met Stephen’s exacting standards and matched that remarkable flavour profile that he had created all those years ago, were produced and Spirit of Aloha 65 came of age. The first few bottles were sold in and around Bristol, where Stephen was living at the time. In 2019, with the help of a new business partner, yours truly, he founded Big Wave Brands Ltd and a second run of bottles, with a new bottle shape and a slightly tweaked label design, were produced.
2. We love the retro packaging, what was the inspiration behind it?
Stephen wanted something timeless, even a little bit nostalgic but something also highly distinctive (and different) that would stand out on the back-bar or the retail shelf, but most importantly a look and feel that reflected both the uniqueness of the liquid (it tastes like nothing else in the market) and the carefree, fun values the brand has at its heart.
Spirit of Aloha 65 takes the idea of ‘good times now’ quite seriously, after all responsible drinking with friends and family is one of the great joys in life, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. We love the philosophy behind “Aloha” which is about kindness and balance, but we’re not here to preach, we’re here to have fun.
Our iconic retro-styled Lola, who is front and centre of our design, encapsulates that idea. It seemed to us that much of spirits packaging today is minimalist, pared-down, and allusive. We wanted ours to be memorably demonstrative and, therefore, very different and hard-to-forget. I know this is a well-worn cliché and I’m showing my age, but we are as ‘Ronseal’ as spirits packaging gets. What you see is what you get. Our drink is tasty, sunshiny and fun.
Setting our look and feel in the past with the retro look talks to the timelessness of our vibe. Is it a bit nostalgic? Yes. Is it a bit kitsch? Possibly, but people have always wanted to ‘catch a wave’ in their lives, and Lola catching hers (with an expression somewhere between joy and surprise!) is an open invitation to ‘jump on, jump up and have a go’. We feel that our iconic retro Lola (and Al, the guy you’ll see surfing the bar-code on the back label) captures perfectly our enduring brand values and what we’re trying to say in a memorable way that we hope resonates with consumers as much as it does with us. She’s a natural, timeless, bright and fun as Aloha 65 itself.
3. In terms of the creation of the packaging, has it evolved through trial and error, or did the team nail it the first time?
Yes, I think evolution is the right term. The predominantly red and yellow palette (representing the scotch bonnet chilli and golden pineapples in our liquid) was present from the start, as was the figure of Lola surfing. The bold blue bottle colour choice was inspired by and meant to reflect the brand’s blue sea, blue skies, blue planet mantra…
The evolutions have focused on simplifying the design to increase clarity and reduce clutter (for example we originally had illustrations of pineapple, chillies and fruit) so that your eye is taken to the elements that matter; Lola’s joy and our evocative brand name, which of course is itself a friendly greeting, and guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Our final choice of Aloha typeface is softer and less “Marvelesque” (i.e. less “Kapow!) than the original. We have also changed the bottle shape so that it is easier to handle and use in a bar environment and fits on the speed rail! It also uses less glass, which we felt quite strongly about.
Another crucial design development has been the limited edition run of our winter bottle, where Lola is seen skiing in the mountains….wooden skis of course! This goes back to the idea of letting the packaging speak for the brand and demonstrate its values including the versatility and adaptability of Spirit of Aloha 65 – we have a hot sauce for goodness sake! We wanted to create something that we could have fun with.
4. Were you able to find a supplier quite easily, how did it come about?
Er…, no. Spirit of Aloha 65 is actually very hard to make. It is much more time consuming than traditional vodka or gin. Like gin or vodka, Aloha 65 starts with a neutral grain spirit base. However, unlike gin or vodka that take just a few hours to make through a fire-based distillation process, Aloha 65 is made by separately and naturally infusing the neutral grain spirit, with our six very special fresh botanicals fresh pineapple, lemon, ginger and scotch bonnet chilli. These ingredients macerate separately and slowly in neutral grain spirit for up to a month naturally steeping the alcohol with their individual flavours. The separate infusions are then carefully blended together, et Aloha! Sunshine in a Bottle. Developing this methodology and finding the perfect blend took a lot of time and, of course, 65 iterations. The process all takes time. For manufacturers, time is, of course, money so Stephen struggled to find a company that would work with him to develop and then the product that met his exacting standards. Finally, Stephen came across Team Products, a subsidiary of de Kuyper, and together with them was able to develop the product to where it is today.
5. You’re supporters of Plastic Oceans, tell us a bit more about that and what the brand's ethos and view is on sustainability?
Well, the team feels very passionately about this issue. There was no debate about supporting Plastic Ocean UK and was probably the quickest decision that we’ve made! From a selfish point of view, the sea is an Alohan’s playground, but of course, the catastrophic damage that plastic that is either dumped or leaches into the sea has to be stopped, so we wanted to support the work of the foundation in any way we could. Anyway, it’s what Lola would do!
6. Are there any exciting plans for Aloha65 we can look forward to seeing?
My goodness, we have so many ideas and plans from new product development, to special editions with different coloured boxes, bottles and labels, gift boxes, international expansion, an RTD can version of our signature long drink, the Alohan, the list is endless.
The one idea that we have managed to execute so far is our Spirit of Aloha 65 “Sun on a Beach” Hot Sauce. Stephen and I were at a chilli and cheese festival in the middle of last year having great fun sampling and selling bottles of Spirit of Aloha 65 and Stephen suggested we try to make a hot sauce with the same ingredients as he thought it would be a hit. I was very sceptical, but we agreed to try and Stephen already new the UK’s chilli products genius and guru, Chilly Olly!, and he worked with him to produce our “Sun on a Beach” hot sauce. It’s amazing! We’ve sampled it at a few trade shows at the end of last year and I had to introduce people to Stephen who tasted it, who just wanted to give him a Paul Hollywood handshake and congratulate him! We’ve also got some other food-related items up our sleeves that we’re working on so watch this space. Lola’s going to be keeping us seriously busy.”