Branding tips for small breweries

A mocked up label for Rocherfort 10 using Comic Sans.
What if Rochefort 10 didn't have a tasteful, simply designed label?

It’s easy to laugh at and criticise breweries with bad branding (really easy) but we thought it was time we actually tried to be helpful.

So, here are some tips which might lead to a series of more detailed posts later in the year.

1. Use a professional design agency. If you think you can’t afford to, then look again at your budgets. If it increases your sales, it’s a good investment.

But, if the budgets just won’t stretch, and you really must do your design work yourself…

2. Keep it simple. The less fuss, the less can go wrong. It might look plain or even a bit boring, but that’s better than cheap, crappy or careless. You can always rebrand later and utilitarian chic can certainly work in its own right: Kernel have this nailed.

3. Be consistent. It will help your loyal customers spot your products if the clips or labels share certain characteristics. For example, Penguin books’ vintage covers were designed on a grid which gave a lot of room for manouevre as well as ease of recognition for consumers. The easiest option is to use the same layout and font but perhaps change one colour. Chimay is a good example of this principle in action in the world of beer — three beers with basically the same label.

4. Never use clip art or images stolen from the internet. Its cheap, but unfortunately also looks cheap. In fact, unless you can pay a professional illustrator (and we don’t mean the frustrated watercolourist who works in your warehouse, or your brother who does some graffiti) it’s best to avoid illustrations altogether.

5. Three fonts to avoid: Times New Roman, Arial and Comic Sans. Everyone knows these fonts because they are used to death, and professional designers don’t like them much. Almost everyone in their right mind really hates Comic Sans. If you can’t afford to license a commercial font — they are expensive — try to pick something clear and classy. (This might come in handy and there are some good tips here.)

6. Before you start designing anything, think about your brand values. Here’s a very simplified process for working out what those are:

– Sit down with some colleagues, friends or family
– think about other companies (not necessarily breweries) that you identify with
– look at examples of their printed material, websites and products and
– write down the values those suggest to you. (E.g. green, caring, traditional, brave, family-friendly…)
– Then look at those values (it should be a long list) and think about which also apply to your company.

Refer to that list when designing your labels, clips and other branded materials: if your company is, say, progressive and experimental, you probably don’t want a oil-painting of an Owl on your labels.

7. You don’t necessarily need a logo. Logos really are the domain of the professional designer because they’re so easy to get wrong (see here and here). If you must have one, then consider that many of the classiest logos are really just the company name written in a tasteful font and then reproduced, as a graphic, in exactly the same dimensions ever after. (More on this.)

8. Choose colours carefully. Black, white and maybe one other colour is usually enough. Amateur design is plagued by rainbows and often looks like the contents of a packet of Smarties. Think about contrast: the best option is usually a light colour on a dark backgrounds or vice versa. Don’t use ‘fluorescent’ pink, especially on a red background…

9. Two fonts is enough — one for titles or logos, and one for body text.

10. Check your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Even a small typo can send the message that you are sloppy and careless. Avoid exclamation marks, too: they will make you look hysterical.

Our credentials: none, really, other than that Bailey has worked in marketing and communications for a few years and takes a professional interest in branding and design.

4 replies on “Branding tips for small breweries”

I know I am biased because I work in the graphic and web design industry, but everything you have said is spot on. So many breweries have painfully bad websites, and that is often a product of the slap dash approach to label design.

Forgive then the shameless advertising, but the graphic designer we work with most over here is insanely talented, will give you an idea of his work. Also take a look at the website we produced for the Blue Mountain Brewing Company – – and on a fairly restrained budget you can get something decent looking, note however that we didn’t design their logo or packaging.

Dan here of smallbeerblog. This is particularly useful as I have just finished designing my own blog’s logo ( and am embarking on designing Victoria’s new homebrewer’s guild logo too. Obviously we’re too poor to employ a professional so I’m going to try to stick to your advice and keep it simple and to the point. I will also see if I went badly wrong with my blog logo… Thanks for this post and I really enjoy reading your blog.

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