Alcohol has a well-earned reputation for making things look better than they originally appear. But you won’t need beer goggles to recognize the asethetic appeal of Matthew Wyne’s vintage lettering, which he uses to capture the spirit of period-specific, well, spirits.
Matthew’s design project is hosted at his website, Letters & Liquor. Each week, he supplies bits of history along with a recipe and beautfiul illustrations inspired by the beverage. Below are a couple of example images from the website, but we highly encourage seeing it for yourself.
Matthew was also gracious enough to take time from his artistic immortalization of cocktails to answer a few questions about his craft, graphics, and craft cocktails.
What made you first get interested in craft cocktails?
I was just trying to impress my wife. I happened to read David Wondrich’s article on how to make a Manhattan and all of a sudden, this thing that had seemed so mysterious and intimidating felt doable. I decided to surprise my wife and in the process, I got really curious. How do you make vermouth? Where do bitters come from? What’s the difference between rye and bourbon? She liked the drink, but I think she liked the stories behind the drink even more, and seeing her eyes light up as I explained these things set the hook in me. After that I started “researching” pretty obsessively.
Can you tell me a little about the history of craft cocktails with letters?
Design, to me, is every bit as intoxicating as alcohol. I’m just as mesmerized standing in front of a shelf full of bottles as I am in a candlelit cocktail bar. What’s been really interesting to me is all the different ways booze has been represented. You can have serious cocktails, funny cocktails, sensuous cocktails, even ridiculous cocktails, and the design has to communicate all of that in a way that makes you say, “Ok, I’ll take a risk and try something new because it looks like it’s going to taste good.”
Does the precision required to make craft cocktails appeal to you in the same way the precision required to make good graphics appeal to you? Do you see any conceptual crossover between these two interests?
There’s a lot of crossover between cocktails and design for me. If you want to be great at either, you have to know the history and you have to practice relentlessly. On top of that, once you’ve mastered the foundational parts of your craft, you can take inspiration from anywhere. I’ve had songs inspire drink ideas and drinks inspire design ideas. I’ve also done a fair amount of design work with a drink to keep me company, so you could say my work is “under the influence” of cocktails for sure.
What do you think is bringing about the mainstream interest in crafting drinks? Anything to do with millennial nostalgia?
I think millennials gravitate toward cocktails because they’re customizable and they’re photogenic. This is a generation that expresses itself through what it consumes. Cocktails let you choose something really unique and individual to let your friends know what you’re about. And, the fact that this generation shares so much on social media means the more eye-catching the drink, the more appealing it is to order.
What’s your creative process like for deciding how best to design the graphic for each respective drink? What qualities of the drink influence how it’s portrayed?
Authenticity is really important to me. I seek out source material that was designed in the time and place that the drink was created. From there, it varies a lot because each drink is so different. The Bronx Cocktail was actually named after the zoo, not the borough, so I found an old Bronx Zoo ad to reference. The Green Swizzle was invented in Barbados and first served to Westerners at hotel bars there. I just happened to find this beautiful vintage luggage sticker from one in Queens Park. Sometimes it feels like there’s a little divine intervention at play.
Of the cocktails featured thus far, what is your go-to?
I just hosted a birthday party for my Mom and served Monkey Glands in fancy teacups all afternoon. I used Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s homemade grenadine recipe and the drinks were delicious. Everyone laughed at the name and loved hearing the backstory. That contributed to the festivities every bit as much as the gin and the absinthe.