Infantile?

Label for Partizan X ale w. crossed dinosaurs.
Art by Alec Doherty. SOURCE: Partizan Brewing Archive.

We’re working on an article about mild in the 21st century, research for which prompted this statement in an email from Andy Smith at Partizan:

The beer was originally simply called mild… We then decided to rebrand as X… This worked OK but not as well as we’d hoped. It was at this stage we put dinosaurs on the label and sales rocketed! I kid you not. It sells as well if not better now as our other dark beers. Dinosaurs! Now we spend our weekends hearing how cute the dinosaurs are (recently changed) and  answering the question what is X?

That’s funny, of course, but also made us think, ‘Huh. So craft beer drinkers are like children?’

We’ve observed before, as has almost everyone else who’s written a tedious think-piece on the subject, that craft beer in cans has been successful partly because they are tactile and colourful, bright and toy-like. Beavertown Brewery’s cartoon-laden designs in particular suggest material for an (admittedly slightly weird) animated series and also make them look like a bit like soft drinks. (Gamma Ray more so than this example we have at hand.)

Beavertown Smog Rocket design.
Art by Nick Dwyer. Source: Beavertown Brewery.

And sometimes, with fruit and residual sweetness and novelty flavourings and higher carbonation, the hippest beers can taste a bit like soft drinks too.

Of course we checked ourselves fairly promptly: one person’s infantile is, of course, another person’s fun, and we understand that you humans enjoy this emotion fun is good.

And even if it is infantile, is that a bad thing? One key reason people drink is to reduce the pressures of adult life and the pub is where grown-ups go to play.

This is a question we’re going to have in mind from now on, though, especially when we find ourselves considering the generation gap between real ale culture and craft beer. (Def 2.)

23 thoughts on “Infantile?”

  1. I think this is part of a wider fashion, so the food that goes with these beers is hotdogs and hamburgers; the pubs that specialise in them have children’s boardgames and arcade machines. By moving in beer-enthusiast circles recently I’ve met people who collect stickers and follow American wrestling, something that has not been a feature of my social scene since my voice broke.

  2. This is an interesting question. More broadly we could spot a certain childishness in many aspects of specialty beer: cartoon labels, sexist labels, sweeter tastes, fruity-juicy tastes and aromas, adolescent-level sexual innuendos and sometimes just plain old profanity.

    Are we a generation that prides ourselves on not growing up? We still play video games and love Star Wars.

    The Beavertown mention reminds me, I had Gose and Berliner(-style) Weiße from them of various fruit flavors, and they taste like wonderful soft drinks. Beers for the juice-box generation, and labels that remind me of watching Transformers after school.

    Right. Time for an austere helles with some gothic writing on the label from some 400-year-old German brewery.

  3. Fun is, well, fun.

    We all like fun.

    As someone who is trying desperately to pretend he is younger than he really is having a bit of infantile fun is a good thing. Moreover, if we just stuck to boring old nonsense the kids (i.e. “hipsters”, as we old folk tend to call the kids these days) will go off and find something else fun to do (or drink)

  4. Everything is infantile nowadays, but then in a society where people my age and younger literally can’t afford grown up things, is that a surprise? Also a bit of levity is to be expected in an industry that is mocked by outsiders for taking itself too seriously.

    Plus for every wacky can design, there’s a Kernel or Cloudwater, stripped back or urbane.

    1. Hmm, yes – Kernel, Cloudwater, Moor, Buxton, Wild Beer, Brew By Numbers, Marble, Thornbridge, Burning Sky, Atom, Hammerton, Vocation, Siren, Orbit, Chorlton, Redchurch, Almasty… Even the new Brewdog branding is fairly grown-up.

      You’ve got a bit of work to do to convince me that this isn’t confirmation bias, to be honest.

      On the other hand, it’s a very easy sell as an idea (the list above was partly compiled by going down the IMBC 2015 breweries list image-searching a random selection, and I was actually surprised myself by quite how few of them fitted with the “infantile” / “pop art” stereotype), which in itself perhaps says something about how people who are outside of or (like me) peripheral to the craft beer scene like to imagine it…

      1. Can you expand on that confirmation bias thought a bit?

        Your list is interesting. Even if the branding isn’t pop art cartoons, there are definitely a couple there that do Fun Flavours! and Moor have a beer whose name is a Star Wars reference, as well as getting their staff dressed up in Star Wars costumes at the drop of a lightsaber.

        We had Thornbridge in mind as an example of a grown-up brewery that isn’t fusty — we’ve compared them to Fortnum & Mason before, and Adnams to John Lewis.

        1. Generally that people will tend to over-assess the significance of evidence that fits their preconceptions. And that in the case of beer, the preconception is often a reductive view of “craft beer” that originates from people wanting to re-assure themselve that they’re right to not be more interested in it because it’s basically just a bunch of overgrown children / pretentious pseuds / boring nerds / trend-jumping dilettantes / whatever.

          The same is true in the opposite direction of course – like the assumption that every CAMRA fest serves nothing but boring brown beers with puerile names…

  5. As you point out towards the end of this piece, having a drink is a recreational past time and due to the intoxicating nature of it, the preserve of adults (strictly speaking).  The use of colourful, innovative branding is nothing really new, it is something that has happened as a response to new blood in the brewing industry and shift in fashion; consider years ago the time when those ‘my goodness, my Guinness’ adverts were placed on the walls of public houses, billboards and hoardings – it is most likely that these were considered by elder statesmen in the brewing industry to be ‘childish’ or ‘infantile’ also due to their colourful and playful nature, just as Rock n Roll was considered to be just ‘noise’ to the parents of 1950’s teenagers..  

    These days, to look at Beavertown as a case study, the colourful and grafitti style artwork is something that has been growing as part of culture (graffiti stemming from verbose political statements up to more artistically viable stylings from the growth of hip hop during the 1980s); graffiti is a more accepted artform these days due to people growing up with it and the quality being raised and as with the computer games/board games/cereal cafes etc, it is a source of nostalgia and enjoyment.  Tiny Rebel’s artwork is equally colourful and graffiti like, though they may be considered ‘craft’, circa 80% (their estimates at a MTB I attended) of what they produce is cask..

    It would be a bit disingenuous to label branding of beers to be infantile just because it is anything but sombre.  There are a number of factors why branding is the way it is.  Would artwork like Jackson Pollock, Warhol or even Van Gogh be labelled infantile due to their use of colour or form?*

    *and before anyone starts, I’m not suggesting canned artwork is on par with pieces of art like these.

  6. Its just signalling. If something looks youthful and modern and slightly hipster, then its probably going to taste youthful and modern and slightly hipster, which happens to be the type of beer I like to drink.

    I don’t really care what the can/bottle looks like on an aesthetic level, and I’m not really interested in dinosaurs, but if I am looking for clues about how it will taste, the design factor is an obvious indicator.

  7. From the quote we seem to learn 1 attention grabbing art grabs attention and 2 the word ‘mild’ is still something of a hindrance to sales .

  8. I’ve talked before about the enduring appeal of pubs where you feel just slightly uncomfortable, and uncomfortable in a particular way – as if you’ve got to prove yourself (in some unknown way) and earn your right to be accepted by the people who belong there. Nothing overt, nothing actually said out loud – you can still get served and find somewhere to sit – but you always feel like a newcomer, until the day you realise you aren’t any more.

    The word I want to stress there is ‘appeal’. It’s basically a nostalgic appeal. For people of my generation, beer was something you discovered in pubs full of adults who quietly resented your spotty teenage presence. More to the point, good beer – nay, real ale – was something you sought out in strange pubs, full of adult strangers who might beat you up if you weren’t careful. You didn’t expect it to be fun – well, not safe, uncomplicated fun; you didn’t expect it to be aimed at you (nothing was, after all, apart from Top of the Pops). I liked the taste of the beer from the word go, but you had to get inured to it all the same – inured to the bitterness as well as the strength – so that you could graduate from halves to pints, and from one pint to several. Not unlike becoming a tea-drinker, except that you can’t ease yourself in to beer by putting sugar in it.

    So for my generation drinking beer is strongly associated with ideas about adulthood, and about very definitely not being a child any more. With the acceptance of young adults as a social group in their own right – and a group worth selling to – I guess that opposition between adult and child has faded away; perhaps the taboo on ‘childish’ looks and tastes has gone with it.

  9. Magic rocks cartoon cans. (I like)
    Adults in onesie’s at the corner shop.

    End of days, end of days.

  10. Somewhere along the line, it was realised that “adult” personality characteristics (restraint, prudence, impulse control) didn’t make as much money as “childish” ones (greed, impatience, impulsivity). So through advertising and marketing, companies encouraged adults to be more childish to get them to buy more stuff.

    And it’s worked. Admittedly at the cost of a certain level of maturity amongst those aged under 40. But as long as money keeps being spent, whose bothered if it’s by big babies or not?

  11. A lot of newer beer drinkers grew up watching things like Jurassic Park, South Park, The Simpsons, and so on, and these aren’t just part of childhood, they’re part of adulthood. I also don’t think that Beavertown’s exploding skulls are infantile. To me, the puerile names on beers that make sexist puns are infantile. They make certain people giggle (probably older men who should know better but can’t resist a dick joke). Partizan designs don’t make people giggle, they make people want to look at the beer and buy it because it looks great, not because they can joke to their mate that they’ve got a ‘Big Cock Bitter’.

    This design is also, perhaps, an antidote to ‘old man pubs’. Friends of mine will still refer to certain pubs that way (though that’s not necessarily a negative for us, it just conveys the place in a simpler way). I think it’s just a fashion for beer design to have this bright, bold image that makes people want to look closer at it.

  12. Wow, who knew that this would be the post that brought all the prejudices out of the woodwork.

    There is nothing remotely infantile about a retro Beavertown pop art tribute when you compare it to the HUGE number of breweries over the years whose main marketing strategy was the use of godawful puns and pictures of tits.

    In many ways, craft beer is significantly more mature and less infantile than all the tiresome over-grown 14 year olds in CAMRA who still snigger at sexist pump clips.

  13. “X is infantile but Y is puerile” – fair point, but ‘infantile’ and ‘puerile’ are totally different things. You don’t find cartoon dinosaurs and bright primary colours in the same kind of publications that feature cartoon tits and knob jokes! Nobody here is defending cartoon tits and knob jokes; come to that, nobody’s attacking cartoon dinosaurs. (And you wouldn’t, would you.)

    I like the idea of these designs being a visual antithesis to ‘old man pubs’ – and remember that the beer this post took off from started life as a ‘mild’! Also, the idea that things like Jurassic Park and the Simpsons are part of childhood and part of adult life – that’s a very new thing (unless you’re under 40, in which case it’s just a thing). You’re not expected to ‘put off childish things’ any more.

  14. You wouldn’t believe how much of my hate mail starts with: “I brought your beer because it had a cool dinosaur on the label…”

    Thankfully we get less hate mail, these days. I think the kids are growing up.

  15. Py refers to “over-grown 14 year olds in CAMRA who still snigger at sexist pump clips”. Which particular CAMRA members are those, Py? I’ve been in CAMRA a long time and I don’t know any. On the cotrary, like quite a few beer bloggers, I’ve written against stupid sexism in beer names and pumpclips several times, most recently last month here here.

    As usual with Py, he’ll trot out any stereotypes that reinforce his prejudice against CAMRA.

    1. If CAMRA didn’t have a problem with sexism and tasteless, puerile, offensive humour, presumably those articles you wrote to complain about sexist pump clips at CAMRA festivals and CAMRA approved pubs were completely blank then, Nev?

      There’s none so blind as those that will not see.

  16. Hi Guys

    Enjoyed the piece on dinosaurs. I was slightly worried at first about the way you’d placed the word infantile and a question mark above one of our labels but it looks like a nice thoughtful discussion below and understand how the shocking header, as the dinosaurs themselves, are useful for clickbait/allure.

    You have however broken your primary and secondary suggested rules of blogging i think 😉

    Posting

    If you mention someone in your post, link to their blog or Twitter feed. This can help people connect with each other; and it can also give their Google ranking or follower count a boost, which they’ve earned if they’ve said or done something interesting.
    If you use someone else’s photo or cartoon ask permission, give them credit and link to their blog or website. Images on the internet aren’t necessarily free, though some are.

    No biggy with either. The ex colleague i mentioned in another part of the email that reads your blog clued me in and i’m sure Al wont mind you using his work.

    Ive been bugging Ron Pattinson with lots of questions about X since he noticed the tweets so maybe will have an update to the info on the mild i sent over at some stage too.

    Keep up the good work

    Andy

    1. Andy – have tended to treat labels like cd covers and books, i.e. fair game if accompanying criticism or commentary thereof, but will add links/credits when we’re back in the office.

Comments are closed.