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Sneaky Vodka

freezer labelsOf all the hard liquors on the planet, the one variety that needs freezer labels the most happens to be made of one of the world's favorite vegetables—potatoes. While the Irish used 'em for jack o' lanterns and Americans eventually used them to invent potato chips and the Belgians the misnamed French fry, clever Russians figured out that even potatoes could be fermented and distilled into a new type of white lightning.

But we digress. Back to labels! Why are freezer labels ideal for vodka, you ask? Because many people put their vodka in their freezers, with all that moisture and rough ice, to make it more viscous and concentrated. This helps improve the flavor. But it takes much lower temperatures to make it freeze, so forget pure vodkasicles unless you happen to have some liquid nitrogen lying around.

By the way, did you hear the one about the Korean dictator who tried to sneak 90,000 bottles of vodka into his country under an airplane by way of China, but got caught? The punchline is that it really happened in March 2019. Kim Jong Un, despite a ban on sales of such things to North Korea, has brought in $4 billion worth of foreign luxuries since taking power in 2011. Either his own country is too poor to produce luxuries, or else he isn't very patriotic. (But that's just us being catty.)

The goodies he failed to import this time were Stolbovaya 200 mm hip-flask type bottles with, let's face it, some of the least-inspiring beverage labels we've seen in a while. They may as well have just painted the name on the bottles. (That was a well-informed professional opinion.) We may have to call Stolbovaya and offer them our services, especially if they keep selling booze on the DL to picky heads of state.

The smuggled shipment was detected due to some regrettable paperwork irregularities, a surprisingly mundane cause that had stopped in Rotterdam for inspection. Imagine the surprise of the Dutch when a routine look revealed about half a shipping container full of liquor boxes: 3,000, to be precise, each packed with 30 bottles of vodka. Since the bottles were the 200 mil kind, that comes to about 18,000 liters of vodka in rest-o-the-world units, or almost exactly 4,755 gallons in the USA. One imagines that might fill a fairly sizable above-ground pool, or at least serve as the basis of the world's largest Jell-O shot. Just be sure to freezer label it first, Kim!

Who knows what the Dutch did with it, but while they weren't 100 percent certain it was going to Kim Jong Un—they were able to cite only 90 percent certainty—now they're 100 percent certain he's not getting it!

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year… in Iceland

iceland beerHere at Etiquette Systems, we love making beverage labels of all kinds, including the kinds for beverages containing alcohol. While we rarely get to make labels for exotics like seahorse tonic or deer penis wine (and yes, both do exist), we do make labels for more popular drinks, from vodka to whiskey—including quality freezer labels for those who like to freeze their liquor. We're especially fond of beer bottle labels, because who wouldn't be? We North Americans do love our beers, and in recent decades, craft brews and new brewery endeavors have increased the population of home-grown beer varieties dozens-fold.

Although Icelanders are amateurs compared to U.S. imbibers, who drank an average of 28 gallons of beer per capita (!) in 2018, the hardy people of Iceland put away 2.4 gallons of beer per capita to fortify themselves against the tough environment. Plus, they value their beer enough to celebrate a holiday called National Beer Day: Bjórdagurinn. This fine observance marks the day in 1989 (yes, only 30 years ago) when Iceland's Prohibition against beer—instituted in 1915 in a fit of temperance—finally ended. Many nations (including the U.S.) also underwent Prohibition at that time, but most came to their senses in only a few years. Elsewhere, beer—which has a relatively low alcohol content—was usually legalized first.

Can you imagine beer being illegal for almost 75 years? The very idea is outrageous!

Bjórdagurinn falls on March 1, the day the Prohibition on true beer was finally lifted in Iceland. On that day in 1989, the country celebrated in nationally televised beerfests that continued right up until 4 AM. We have to imagine that in the days leading up to the legalization, beer label makers were just as giddy as the celebrants.

Now, beer wasn't completely illegal during Prohibition, so those who made beer bottle labels weren't completely penniless. Near-beer of less than 2.25% alcohol (about half-normal) had been legal for some time, as hadbjórlíki ("beerlike"), near-beer fortified with spirits to bring it above 5% alcohol. The wine prohibition had fallen in 1921, when Spain refused to trade for Iceland's chief export, salted cod, if Icelanders didn't trade for their wines. 

As logic intervened, spirits also became legal to drink… since people were already importing them in mass quantities for other legal reasons anyway, like for cleaning paint brushes (believe it or not). But the nation's teetotalers, at an unusually high 14% or so, kept real beer off the menu for decades, as they believed it was the chief cause of depravity in the country.

Of course, people taught themselves to brew their own, though they focused on spirits, and you could be prescribed alcohol for some medical ailments. And there was always the duty-free shop at the international airports, especially in Reykjavik, where beer brewed in Iceland but not for Icelanders could be bought by the case.

Also, in a cold country like Iceland, where it freezes most nights except in high summer, fractional freezing or "jacking" is easily possible. You just leave your beer outdoors in sealed, accessible containers, and skim off the ice crystals in the morning. Water freezes more easily than alcohol. Basically, you're just removing the extra water the near-beer maker diluted the beer with anyway. The result? Real beer! You'll need some good freezer labels to help keep things straight, though.

All that's mostly in the past, but don't expect to find real beer in Icelandic supermarkets as you can in most Western countries. There's near-beer there, but that's it. That and the high percentage of teetotalers in the population may explain why we outdrink them, beerwise, by 10-to-1. To get a real beer—and Iceland now has plenty of great brews—residents have to go to a Vínbúðin, a state-run liquor store. This concept may seem a little odd, but it's not unheard of even in the U.S. In Alabama, for example, the state runs the liquor stores.

Meanwhile, we'll be happy to make beer labels for anyone, including Alabama and Iceland. Just contact us for a quote, and we'll see what we can do!

Would You Eat Meat Grown in a Lab?

lab grown meat labelsI once read a satirical "report" about a GMO tree that produced long ears that split down the middle when mature, to reveal a meaty interior surrounded by a thick, bready rind. If you didn't want to wait that long, you could break off one of the unopened "ears" and deep-fry it, producing a thin golden-brown cornbread-like rind over the meat. Sound familiar?

You guessed it: it was a hot dog tree. The deep-fried ears were corn dogs. Of course, the result confused vegetarians, since the meat didn't come from animal's suffering... though it was genetically and functionally meat. How do you handle meat when the rules you live by no longer apply? Is meat grown on trees vegan? Can it be kosher or halal? What kind of meat labels would you use to brand it? Would it even count as meat, or we have to label it as meat substitute? If it tastes like a duck and comes from a duck, isit duck? 

Those question may sound silly at first glance, but non-traditional meat sources are closer to market-ready than you might think. And no farm is required: just a few animal donor cells and a vat full of nutrient solution. The results have variously been called "cultured meat", "in-vitro meat," "shmeat" (short for "sheet meat") and "clean meat." 

So far, the path toward creating lab-produced meat has been expensive. The first cultured-meat hamburger cost $300,000 to produce. The lowest its producers have been able to get the cost down is to about twice the cost of slaughtered meat. Some people would be willing to pay this, but most wouldn't; and at those prices, they'll never be able to get it to the huge populations all over the world who can rarely afford meat. Then again, 20 years ago a portable DVD player's UPC label carried a price of $3,000. Today, you can get the same device for $30. New advances and economics of scale may bring the price down for clean meat, too.

But what happens to the livestock industry if shmeat becomes common and cheap? Unless it finds a way to compete humanely, Big Meat's probably going to see the same kind of disruption, failure, and consolidation that book publishers saw after ebooks and their readers exploded on the market. The ranching industry won't cease to exist, but it'll get smaller and more specialized. With less need for cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, and the like, we won't have to raise enormous herds that pollute groundwater, consume much-needed resources, or emit climate-changing amounts of greenhouse gasses. We can expect herds to decrease significantly, though there will always be a market for "real meat" among connoisseurs. No word on where ice cream and milk will come from if shmeat happens, so cows probably won't go extinct anytime soon. 

Clean meat enthusiasts anticipate a large market for the products, since no one really likes where our meat comes from and how it's produced. Even better, consumers will no longer have to worry about injected growth hormones or excessive use of antibiotics, which breeds resistant super-microbes. By all accounts, clean mean will be better for the Earth. 

That doesn't mean everyone will be willing to eat it. There's always the abiding fear of "Frankenfoods," as some people call GMO products. Clean meat advocates also hope to tempt back vegetarians of all stripes once cruelty-free meat becomes common. That may get some traction with those who eschew meat because of exploitation of animals. However, many vegetarians say it's not that simple: they don't justavoid meat just because of ethical reasons. They simply don't like the taste and texture. Also, it's a well-known phenomenon that after going full vegetarian for a while, you can completely lose your taste for meat. Indeed, meat makes some who backslide or abandon the lifestyle ill. Their systems can no longer handle it. 

It's a fact that few things pack as much protein into as small a package as meat, and protein is a necessity for good nutrition. We applaud the effort to help save the Earth and provide a greater variety of nutritious food. But we doubt clean meat will be the panacea its advocates claim it will be, any more than the Segway changed the planning and layout of cities, as its advocates claimed it would. So we'll wait and see what happens—while being prepared to provide meat labels for anyone who asks, whether for traditional or cultured meat.


Everything But the Kitchen Sink: Truly Odd But Tasty Beers

craft beer labelsSometimes, it seems like microbrewers will use everything but the kitchen sink as ingredients. Given the way people make homebrew in some countries (we're looking at you, Great Britain), it's not all that unexpected that some beers might be made in the kitchen sink. After all, it'll probably hold a good five gallons of brew, which is about two standard cases. But given the human tendency to experiment—which has resulted in delicacies like baluts (fertilized duck eggs) and deer penis wine (self-explanatory)— we suspect some misguided soul, somewhere, has tried to add even the sink to produce a smooth, metallic finish to his final product.

And yes, it's almost always a "he."

All you really need is malt, hops, water, and yeast. But it seems that anything even potentially edible (and possibly sometimes not) has gone into beer recipes at some point. Brewers have been known to use everything from fruit to triple-strength spoiled stout (the big secret of Guinness!) to stone crab legs, pizza, oysters, mustard seed, spices of every type, coffee, donuts, bacon, marijuana seeds, hot peppers, chocolate, crushed burnt bread (an ancient Sumerian specialty recently rediscovered), and, perhaps most disturbing, a strain of yeast found in a brewmaster's beard. Yes, it's called Beard Yeast. 

Some of these beers we've actually tried, and they taste delicious! Others we've heard are pretty great, and they sell well for their brewers in quantities large and small.

Now, we're not judging, but some of these beers we haven't tried...? They'd be like armadillo meat to us. In other words, the only way we'd ever try 'em would be if someone didn't tell us what was in them first. Especially Beard Yeast beer (beard beer?). We might even keep drinking them if they didn't taste too bad. But even if we wouldn't drink a beer, we'd love to provide the labels for it—it would be fun just listing the ingredients on those craft beer labels!

We wouldn't be surprised if there's a Stone Soup style beer out there, where a clever brewer convinced someone to start the wort (the deliciously strong-smelling boiling brew mix) with just a stone, and then suggested the occasional additional ingredient here and spice there that would add to the flavor, until voila! A Whatever Was In the Pantry beer was born. 

Hey, if it worked, more power to 'em!

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