beer reviews design

Of trends in British bottled beer; Hook Norton AD 303

From a recent unexpected treasure trove (an off-licence in Stoke Newington) – Hook Norton AD 303, a bottled beer which exemplifies several trends to be seen in British bottled beer.

1. The “patriotic” thing. The large independents just can’t get enough of St George, bulldogs etc. (see Young’s St George’s Ale, Charles Wells’ John Bull.) Seems to be a lack of imagination amongs the marketing guys.

St George enjoying a pint 2. Have a significant year, the older the better. Fuller’s 1845 may have started the trend; not to be outdone, Shepherd Neame went for 1698. AD 303 is surely just taking the p*ss though.

3. Seasonal beers. This I’m a great fan of in theory, although by the time you pick it up in an off-licence you may have gone round the whole calendar at least once. (We also picked up their Haymaker in the same trip – according to their website, available July-August, so presumably last year’s batch). James Clarke, MD of Hook Norton has since informed us that they bottle the seasonal beers all year round.  See Comments.

The other trouble with “seasonal” beers in the UK is for some reason they all seem to translate into very bitter pale beers, whatever the season (OK, I’m being unfair. In the winter you might get a “winter ale” which may even be more than normal bitter with extra caramel).

AD 303 is not bucking any trends here. It’s (surprise surprise) pale and very bitter. Pleasant enough, but not up to HN’s usual outstanding quality.



  1. Hook Norton is a 150-year old “family run” brewery in the Cotswolds (a picturesque part of England near Oxford) . There’s an article about them by Roger Protz here (although I think it’s quite old). I’ve only had the pleasure of trying Old Hooky, Double Stout and Hooky Bitter, and I’ve generally been impressed so far. I look forward to trying Hooky Dark, which sounds enticing and original.
  2. Ad 303 is apparently when St George was martyred in Palestine. Born in Turkey, he is also the patron saint of Aragón, Canada, Catalonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Montenegro, Portugal, Serbia, Russia, and Palestine, as well as the cities of Beirut, Istanbul, Ljubljana, Freiburg and Moscow, as well as a wide range of professions, organisations and disease sufferers. There is no evidence he ever set foot in England, let alone delighted in our brewing traditions.

Beer label design

Randy Mosher, a homebrewer and commercial designer, argues in his excellent book Radical Brewing that a badly designed label says to people: “I don’t respect my beer, so why should you?”

I think this is an interesting point. There are certain beers whose labels I like almost more than the beer. A bad label can lead to a good beer being ignored; and a great label can make you try a beer you’d probably otherwise not look at twice.

There are several different schools of label design. Here are just a few.

1. Primary colours, gilt – “modern but traditional”
Fuller’s and Cain’s. This really works for me. Somehow suggests quality. Fuller’s carry this style of gold and enamel all the way through their brand. Cains – a great brewery, I’m beginning to think, from the two beers I’ve had – do it even better. All the better for being entirely ersatz!

2. Antique, brown paper – “found in a crate aboard a sunken Napoleonic frigate”

Guinness, Burton Bridge Brewery and… er… us.

Another good style, and a good option for the skint brewery with no innate design ability. Immediately looks credible, restrained and, again, suggests tradition. The downside is, your beer can look like a jar of pickle from a church fayre.

3. Quaintly amateurish – “my son is a talented designer”

My least favourite school of beer label design, but often concealing great beer. I’m not going to name names here, but you know the kind of thing I mean: cheap illustrations, names ALL IN CAPS; probably in Times New Roman; possibly even clip art. OK, I will name one: Sierra Nevada. The beers are great. The bottles even look nice – they’re at the top end of “amateurish” – but they look a bit cheap. Like maybe they were coloured in with felt tip pens.

If you’re brewing your own beer and want some inspiration for your own labels, check out the Brew Your Own label design contest winners, and also Randy Mosher‘s own site.


Who makes those lovely German beer glasses?

On the recent Boak & Bailey tour of Bavaria, we were, as always, dazzled by the cosmetic beauty of every beer we were served. It helps that the beer always has a creamy, frothy head, several inches in height, but most of the impact really comes from the glasses and stoneware it’s served in.

SAHM’s tradition goblet


Design your own beer label

Big Danish brewery Tuborg now offer a service where, as long as you order more than 30 bottles, you can design your own label.

Din Tuborg

I wonder if Tuborg are just particularly confident about their brand, or if we’ll see more breweries following suit, given how easy it is to manage this kind of thing online now?

At any rate, I’d love to customise the labels on Fuller’s London Pride for my Dad’s birthday present.

Via Cherryflava.