Features

Published on May 9, 2019 | by Alastair Gilmour

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Beer: Every pitcher tells a story

Beer has led the way in bringing a fresh aesthetic to drinks packaging. We know that first impressions count, especially when choosing from a selection we’ve never seen before. But where does the inspiration come from? How and why does it matter?  How can breweries turn a rebrand to their advantage? And how important is sustainability when it comes to packaging?

Does the beer style dictate the surface design? Who comes up with the names? Is it a fashion thing? Is it a collaborative decision or left solely up to the brewer?

We hear from some of the most creative minds in the business.

HEXHAMSHIRE BREWERY

With a new beer brand launching seemingly every five minutes, it’s never been more important for brewers to put brand and marketing at the forefront of their business planning. However, as in most small businesses, they are founded and run by passionate experts, dedicated to producing the best product – but they aren’t always experienced business people and their understanding and confidence with brand can be quite low.

Sarah Raad, business development director at Tent, says: As a company who specialise in working with small businesses, we are used to clients who come to us without a brief and we see it as part of the expertise that we bring to their project to help them reach their goal. We work with them to take a step back from immediately launching into design ideas and to really nail down key aspects such as their values and message, how they are different from their competitors, who their ideal customer is, what their growth plans are, where their products will ideally be placed.

“All of this gives us a firm grounding for looking at the visual brand and important factors such as logo, pumpclip design, labelling, packaging, and key elements such as websites and promotional items.

“Unfortunately, there are many breweries and beer brands where getting the brief right is missing and this is apparent in the end product. Of course, there are also some stunning and innovative branding around brewing which really captures the spirit of the company and appeals directly to the sort of customer they are hoping for – exactly the point of a good brand; telling the right story to the right people.

“In the case of Hexhamshire Brewery, we took their old logo as a starting point to create a brand which still maintained a real heritage feel but had a more modern outlook. Hexhamshire is the oldest brewery in Northumberland, and the company was keen to build on its heritage values and to appeal to serious, mature beer drinkers.

“Hexhamshire wanted their brand to quietly but firmly stand out and away from the more ‘trendy’ and youthful brands and, particularly important at the bar, for the pump clip to maintain a clarity which sets it apart and helps it to attract the eye.

“We deliberately steered away from loud or bold use of colour and worked in grey scale to give a monochrome, vintage feel which stood out from busier, more modern clips.

“Little details like a bolder pull-out of the abv on the pump clip and bottle graphics are the ways in which design can be used to attract attention and push sales. These took and upturn when the new brand and pumpclip designs were launched so the company could see the effect of appropriate branding.

Of course, a brewery will very much succeed or fail largely on the quality of its product – but excellent beers can lurk under the radar for want of a good brand behind them and lesser beers can triumph with an appealing and compelling one.

ANARCHY BREW CO

Daisy Turnell, marketing manager at Anarchy Brew Co emphasizes the value of working with smaller design studios and the individuality the can bring to a brief. She says: “Since launching in 2012, Anarchy Brew Co has commissioned a series of artwork updates to reflect the brand and direction of the brewery and its beer range.

“We’re currently working with Josh Tinsley at Studio Tinsley and the new designs have been really well received with customers, standing out in both the keg and cask badges, as well as the new 440ml format can.

“It was important to Anarchy Brew Co owners Dawn and Simon Miles that the artwork not only represented them and the brewery, but was created by someone only working with one brewing company to avoid any brand confusion. We wouldn’t say we’ve ever ‘rebranded’ per se; it’s been more of an organic progression of our beer range alongside our design.

“Studio Tinsley is the multi-disciplinary creative practice of Josh Tinsley, focusing on graphic design for print and web. Josh works across a number of fields from brand identity and art direction to editorial, retouching and artwork.

‘He has worked with brands such as Adidas, as well as a host of successful start-up brands and describes himself as having an artist’s imagination with a commercially astute mindset.

“So, how do we choose what ends up on our cans and keg badges? It’s a bit of a group effort – throwing name ideas around, then it’s over to Josh to work on a design that represents the name as well as the Anarchy brand.

“After a few tweaks back and forth, and a decision on which elements to use, such as the foil highlights on the cans, the artwork is complete.

WYLAM BREWERY

Wylam Brewery director Dave Stone takes the long view when it comes to graphics, highlighting some interesting angles.

Dave says: ‘Design inspiration comes from the life journeys of our team here on the brew floor, from music, from laughter and from drunken nights out. We actually rate how good a night has been by the number of beer names we come up with on the night. Five names means we’ve had a belter.

“We work with one designer exclusively. She lives in Bali and is completely detached from the UK beer scene. This works to her and our advantage as she is not clouded or influenced by other brands or breweries.

“We very much try to engage the can label with the name of the beer although we have two very distinctive style directions. One is more graphic the other more interpretive of the name. It’s a global village these days and we think about our beers in that scenario.

“Back in the late 90s/early 2000s it was different landscape. Cask was king and local was the only way to sell it due to cask not travelling well. With the advent of great beer in keg and then the ‘can revolution’ it is possible to sell our beer all around the globe – and we do. Our fans in Beijing and Copenhagen, for example, are not interested in our local landscape, they are interested in the liquid. They think globally and as such we do the same.

“Turning a rebrand into an advantage is an interesting exercise. We feel we have managed over the course of time to move the brand forward without alienating our original drinkers. We have seen other breweries attempt to do it but fail. I guess it’s about belief in where you want to take the brand and understanding where you want to go and how to get there.

“And naturally, sustainability is very important to us. We use 100% recycled boxes when shipping cans; we don’t use yokes and the labels are recyclable too.

MUCKLE BREWING

Muckle Brewing, operated by Tom and Nicola Smith, in Hadrian’s Wall country in Northumberland where it takes much of its inspiration.

Nicola Smith says: “Tom and I had a clear image from the beginning of how we wished the design on our labels and pump clips to represent Hadrian’s Wall country where we live. The brewery is actually based in our garden.

“The ‘label’ pictured is the initial hand-drawn image we did and sent to designer Daniel Teague to work on. Hopefully you can see our original hand drawing in the final product. It represents the view east along Hadrian’s Wall of it winding into the foreground around Crag Lough and the great whin sill.

“Whin Sill Blonde is one of our beers and is now brewed with hot whin sill rocks in the boil. So not only is it named after the local landscape, it is also brewed with it.

“The beer’s names take inspiration from the Hadrian’s Wall landscape and on each beer’s label is a description to explain the concept. For example, Muckle Buster Red Ale describes the views from the highest point on Hadrian’s Wall (Whin Shield’s Crag). We also have Pride of Park (celebrating Northumberland National Park) and Muckle Magic Star Light Ale, insired by the Northumberland Dark Sky Park.

“We had to have a detailed contract with the National Trust to be allowed to use the wall for product advertising. Our fully-recyclable packaging includes gift packs with a wrap-around image of Hadrian’s Wall, Whin Sill and Crag Lough. We reuse our 12-bottle boxes and request bottle shops to return them to us for this purpose. Our bottles are made from 55% recycled glass.

“The imagery used at Muckle Brewing, in the graphics, photos and descriptions tie us into the local area. This is really important to us and to many of our customers and our branding is greatly admired. We feel passionate about Northumberland and are proud to do our little bit to represent it.”

CHASING EVEREST

Music plays a big part in the creation of Blyth-based Chasing Everest Brewery’s beers and presentation, as Zack Nolan tells us. The name is linked to music – one of Zack’s favourite albums is called My Everest by Michigan-based punk rock band The Swellers and he was also in a band called Chasing Everest.

Zack says: “We are huge fans of the outdoors and also punk music. Our beer names are most often taken from songs we like, or were listening to at the time the beer was being brewed. For the actual artwork there will almost always be an image from the outdoors that we layer and manipulate.

“All artwork is done in-house, and final artwork is agreed by the full team before we use it. Aaron who brews with us, is a photographer and works well with Adobe Illustrator.

“The colours we use have to link to the beer style for us, more than the name itself. We wouldn’t go for an aggressive, dark scene for a light beer or a pale ale – that said, we want to push the boundaries on the artwork relative to the style.

“There is so much stand-out artwork around at the moment and as a consumer myself I can often be pulled towards the look of a can or a beer clip before I even read what they are.

“As for rebranding, if it’s not broken don’t fix it. For core range beers, the artwork needs to be a symbol of that, something that people instantly recognise. If the beer is of a high enough standard still I wouldn’t really play with it. With breweries producing so many one-off beers, you then have the opportunity to change things up and move forward without it being seen as a full rebrand of the brewery. If those beers are good, people will try the core range ones too.

Sustainability is huge for us as a small brewery and also a really big headache. We want to keep single-use plastic down to an absolute minimum. KeyKegs and EcoKegs are recylable, but we would much rather use the same containers over and over instead of buying more and more plastic and there is no guarantee that a pub or bar will recycle them. When cans become part of the programme, we would again be looking at ensuring they are fully recyclable.”

S43 BREWHOUSE

When Joanne Durham was taken on board as marketing manager at Sonnet 43 Brewhouse, it was goiung through a brand evolution into S43, driven by managing director Mark Hird.

“We were moving into more hop forward or flavoursome beers, bringing over an American craft brewer to enable us to produce different beers,” says Joanne.

“This new product direction, which was going to be bold and different, needed to have a logo that could bridge the divide from where and what we were known for – a brewery producing traditional award-winning cask ales into a new bold beer direction – into something clearer, crisper and more defined. 

“Our brand is still evolving with the advent of new beer releases, however, the logo needed to stand out to show we are changing and to have a strong iconography within a crowded craft beer environment. This inspired the designers in the graphics and copy on the cans we now produce. 

“This does not happen in isolation and bringing in a good creative team who know and understand your brand is pivotal.

“We wanted to find a team who are as passionate about design and the tone of the brand as we are about producing and crafting new beers. Jordan Brown and Pauly Barton from Stop Being Nasty, the creative team chosen, loved drinking craft beers, are local, and are as passionate as we are about our beer and brand and where they can see the brewery going – quite an easy fit.

Beer names and styles have to work together; it has to be a seamless fit, a marriage of design and copywriting that speaks to our consumers.

“The S43 strength lies within the North East, but we are also engaging across the UK craft movement and our designs and copy need to reflect a sense of humour as if we are talking to you like an old friend regardless of where you are in the country.

“Rebranding isn’t something you take on lightly, you have to ensure you are offering something different from what you have been producing and the USP has to reflect that with the tone and authenticity while you have to ensure you continue to live and breath that daily. 

“But all those elements have to come together to ensure you’re delivering the end consumer one cohesive message.

“In our opinion, packaging has to be sustainable and operate on the same level as the beer provenance. All of our elements are fully recyclable and we try to minimize our carbon footprint in terms of canning and delivery.”

CHEVIOT BREWERY

Neil Baker, one-third of Cheviot Brewery (with Pete Nash and Jonny Hodgson), is the mastermind behind the company’s stunning graphics. A gifted artist and film-maker, he readily brought his talents into the beer sphere.

Neil says: “When developing Cheviot Brewery, long before we had sourced premises and even put our name down on the brew kit we bought from Goose Eye Brewery, we were planning beer names and what the artwork and branding would look like.

“This probably has much to do with the fact that I wrote the initial business plan and my day job is as a filmmaker and artist. Designing beer art was on the bucket list.

“Jonny, Pete and myself wished Cheviot Brewery to be rooted in our local community, and our corner of the region, both with regards our ethos but also with the image we project. We are not North Northumbrian natives but were drawn to the area by the landscape, history and people and so for us, this was the place to start.

“Our beer names and art reflect North Northumberland in that they evoke the landscape and the history of the place. Walking the Cheviot Hills and exploring the rich history of castles, battles, stone circles and the abbeys is what brings tourists to this area, so reflecting this not only roots us in the community and the vitally important local drinkers, but evokes the spirit and image of the place that tourists are looking for.

“Before we opened, we had a cache of artwork for hypothetical beers ready to go. Sometimes it works like that; artwork exists well before the recipe is finalised and a brew made – such as with our new Trig Point IPA. The artwork preceded the brew and the final decisions on recipe. 

“Designs for others is only decided upon post fermentation and tastings, with artwork being drawn that day or the day after, responding to the beer. So in terms of a brief, really I set the briefs and respond to them. Jonny and Pete pretty much give me free reign but I always get approval from them before they are finalised. The collaboration between the three of us works well. When it comes to the beer, Jonny is ‘product’, Pete is ‘sales’ and I am ‘image’ – each supports and informs the other.

“I started working in a more graphic style – very ‘now’ – but felt it didn’t root us and it didn’t feel like it came from the Cheviots. So I went the other way and less in the direction that many other new breweries have decided to head, but more where we wanted to be.

“The label artworks are all created digitally at high resolution so they can stand up as pieces of art in their own right. I also create subtly animated versions for social media promos, which works really well for drawing attention to our brand.

“Importantly for me as the illustrator and designer, the style is one I love working in from a desire to create a beer that I think will taste amazing with an illustration I want to make. We get lots of positive feedback from consumers and other brewers, including some big names with some pretty amazing artwork themselves, which for me is a great buzz.

“We have certainly found that in the ten months we have been producing beer, our artwork has helped us sell it, especially in bottle shops. I love that our art can be what draws people to buy a pint of Cheviot Brewery Ale, but I love it even more when the beer means they go straight back and buy another one.”


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Alastair Gilmour



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