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The art of good beer branding

Why do we buy the beer we drink? What drives us to make each decision? Does the can art and branding factor into our beer buying habits? If so, what do our beer purchases say about us and how we try and portray ourselves to the outside world. Pete Brown looks at how such questions have played a major role in the evolution of beer art, design and branding. The focus of his new book Beer by Design

Pete Brown 

Award winning author, broadcaster, consultant, journalist Pete Brown specialises in food and drink, especially beer, cider and pubs. Pete is currently Chair of the British Guild of Beer Writers.  

The art of beer

Why do we buy the beer we drink? What drives us to make each decision? Does the can art and branding factor into our beer buying habits? If so, what do our beer purchases say about us and how we try and portray ourselves to the outside world. Pete Brown looks at how such questions have played a major role in the evolution of beer art, design and branding. The focus of his new book Beer by Design 

Pete Brown looks at how such questions have played a major role in the evolution of beer art, design and branding. The focus of his new book Beer by Design

Pete Brown 

Award winning author, broadcaster, consultant, journalist & Chair of the British Guild of Beer Writers.  

Why do you drink the beers you love?

It’s all about the taste, right? You’re a discerning drinker. You make intelligent choices based on information and recommendations from people you trust. Sure you do.

But what about when you’re standing at the bar, or in front of the beer fixture in the supermarket, or the shelves of a local bottle shop? How do you notice what beers are there? What leaps out? If you spot a beer you’ve never seen before, what makes you home in and take a closer look? And if it’s already one of your favourites, how do you recognise it?

I write books partly because I’m passionate about beer. But I write mainly because I’m fascinated by what makes people tick. Everything I’ve ever written has, in some sense, sought to explain what makes us who we are, and why. This is very much the spirit of my new book Beer by Design.

Why do you drink the beers you love?

It’s all about the taste, right? You’re a discerning drinker. You make intelligent choices based on information and recommendations from people you trust. Sure you do.

But what about when you’re standing at the bar, or in front of the beer fixture in the supermarket, or the shelves of a local bottle shop? How do you notice what beers are there? What leaps out? If you spot a beer you’ve never seen before, what makes you home in and take a closer look? And if it’s already one of your favourites, how do you recognise it?

I write books partly because I’m passionate about beer. But I write mainly because I’m fascinated by what makes people tick. Everything I’ve ever written has, in some sense, sought to explain what makes us who we are, and why. This is very much the spirit of my new book, Beer by Design.

“How we make commercial decisions reveals a lot about our hopes, aspirations and sense of ourselves.”

 

— Pete Brown

“Somehow, against all the odds, some 30 of these family-owned breweries have survived..”

 

— Roger Protz

Before I was a writer…

… I worked in advertising for much the same reason. Doing, say, a focus group in which we got young mums to really open up about what it was like to send their kids to school each morning, and the small but important role their choice of washing powder played in being proud of how the kids looked, could at times be as fascinating as exploring the motivations of a great character in your favourite novel. How we make commercial decisions reveals a lot about our hopes, aspirations and sense of ourselves.

In the 1860s, an awful lot of people wanted to drink Bass ale – the quintessential 19th century IPA. Bass, like Guinness, didn’t own many tied house pubs of its own, preferring to sell its beer as widely as possible. This meant that it needed to be clearly and distinctively labelled. That label was copied by unscrupulous brewers who wanted to dupe people into thinking their inferior beer was actually Bass when it wasn’t. After decades of court cases, Bass succeeded in registering the UK’s first ever trade mark in 1876, guaranteeing that only beers brewed by Bass could legally carry the famous red triangle.

Before I was a writer…

… I worked in advertising for much the same reason. Doing, say, a focus group in which we got young mums to really open up about what it was like to send their kids to school each morning, and the small but important role their choice of washing powder played in being proud of how the kids looked, could at times be as fascinating as exploring the motivations of a great character in your favourite novel. How we make commercial decisions reveals a lot about our hopes, aspirations and sense of ourselves.

In the 1860s, an awful lot of people wanted to drink Bass ale – the quintessential 19th century IPA. Bass, like Guinness, didn’t own many tied house pubs of its own, preferring to sell its beer as widely as possible. This meant that it needed to be clearly and distinctively labelled. That label was copied by unscrupulous brewers who wanted to dupe people into thinking their inferior beer was actually Bass when it wasn’t. After decades of court cases, Bass succeeded in registering the UK’s first ever trade mark in 1876, guaranteeing that only beers brewed by Bass could legally carry the famous red triangle.

“Somehow, against all the odds, some 30 of these family-owned breweries have survived..”

 

— Roger Protz

Over the 20th century, brands became more than simply a badge of ownership:

People started to use brands to say something about who they were. By the 1980s, lager drinkers were drinking ‘designer beers’, straight from the bottle, with the label facing the room so everyone could see what it was.

Different beers were considered cool because of which country they came from, or because of the ads they ran on TV. But the labels themselves were pretty boring and – well – sober compared to a lot of commercial packaging. The standard design was the “racetrack” oval, the name in a band across the middle, lots of gold to signify premiumness, and various symbols or icons of brewing quality.

Small-scale cask ale brewers either followed a similar route, or in the case of regionals and seasonal beers, came up with an eye-caching name to stand out from the bar with some kind of cartoonish illustration. Many of these were considered a bit of fun by regular cask drinkers, or as sexist, old-fashioned and deeply unfunny by a broader audience of potential drinkers.

 

Over the 20th century, brands became more than simply a badge of ownership: 

People started to use brands to say something about who they were. By the 1980s, lager drinkers were drinking ‘designer beers’, straight from the bottle, with the label facing the room so everyone could see what it was.

Different beers were considered cool because of which country they came from, or because of the ads they ran on TV. But the labels themselves were pretty boring and – well – sober compared to a lot of commercial packaging. The standard design was the “racetrack” oval, the name in a band across the middle, lots of gold to signify premiumness, and various symbols or icons of brewing quality.

Small-scale cask ale brewers either followed a similar route, or in the case of regionals and seasonal beers, came up with an eye-caching name to stand out from the bar with some kind of cartoonish illustration. Many of these were considered a bit of fun by regular cask drinkers, or as sexist, old-fashioned and deeply unfunny by a broader audience of potential drinkers.

These conventions and clichés were shattered…

… by the arrival of craft beer. Craft brewers wanted to show they were different. They began with designs that were punky and anti-establishment, but as the market rapidly grew more crowded, they tried everything and anything to stand out from the competition, shattering the rules of what supposedly made good beer design work.

This had the effect of opening up more interesting design for everyone: what might have looked way out and revolutionary ten years ago now looks quite conventional as craft brewers continue to push the visual envelope. In the age of Instagram, with cans rehabilitated as a premium format, many drinkers expect their beer to look as good on the shelf – or on their screen – as it tastes in the mouth.

I used to collect stamps because a good collection presented a way of looking at the world: places, flags, kings and queens, animals, anything you could think of. Now beer labels and badges offer a similar visual smorgasbord.

“These conventions and clichés were shattered
by the arrival of craft beer. “

 

— Pete Brown

Beer By Design is two things 

The words are an insider’s reveal about how marketing works, a history of beer branding and an exposé of how it affects our decision-making, often in ways we aren’t aware of. The pictures are a visual celebration of what has now become the most vibrant, interesting and creative area of commercial design across any product anywhere in the world. From forward-thinking cask ale brewers to explosively innovative craft cans, with a few old masters from the commercial world thrown in for contrast.

You might still insist none of this makes a difference to how you choose a beer. But surely you still like a beer to look nice?

You might still insist none of this makes a difference to how you choose a beer. But surely you still like a beer to look nice?

Beer By Design is two things then,…

…the words are an insider’s reveal about how marketing works, a history of beer branding and an exposé of how it affects our decision-making, often in ways we aren’t aware of. The pictures are a visual celebration of what has now become the most vibrant, interesting and creative area of commercial design across any product anywhere in the world. From forward-thinking cask ale brewers to explosively innovative craft cans, with a few old masters from the commercial world thrown in for contrast.

You might still insist none of this makes a difference to how you choose a beer. But surely you still like a beer to look nice?

“Somehow, against all the odds, some 30 of these family-owned breweries have survived..”

 

— Roger Protz

Beer by Design 

The Art of Good Beer Branding by Pete Brown

In this lavishly illustrated book, acclaimed beer writer Pete Brown traces the history of beer label design back to the UK’s first-ever trade mark and beyond. He explores the conventions of successful beer design (and how they are now being shattered) and explains the tricks and secrets of successful design in a compelling and highly readable narrative.

Pre-order today 

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