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”
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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”

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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.

What food should I serve with this beer?

Over on the Brookston beer blog they bring news of a four course meal themed around various Schneider Weiss products.

I really rate Schneider Aventinus (not that original, I know – I seem to recall Michael Jackson saying that if he had to pick a favourite beer, it would probably be that), and I like the idea that it has inspired a chef to concoct a menu to go with it.

It’s a common rant of ours that hardly any restaurants consider having a beer menu to go with the food, but having a food menu to go with the beer? Get me to Chicago…

Brew Wharf – interesting idea, poorly executed

Having bought a load of fantastic beers from Utobeer (see previous post), we popped over the road to Brew Wharf to see what the fuss was about.

Brew Wharf opened in October 2005 as part of the Vinopolis empire at London Bridge. This is a brewpub/restaurant with a couple of house brews and some of the Meantime range on tap and around 30 bottled beers from around the world. Sounds good?

Many others don’t think so. It is pretty much universally panned on Beerintheevening.com and fancyapint.com for bad service and expensive drinks. It doesn’t seem to be popular for its food either; the magazine Time Out called it “a bad restaurant with very good beer”.

I have very mixed feelings about it – there are some strong pros and cons.

Pros

Goose Island IPA

  1. One of the Wharf brews (I didn’t get which one, but it was either Wharf Best or Century Ale) was very fresh and tasty. A pub with its own beer is shockingly rare in London, so this in itself is a plus point.
  2. Someone had obviously put a lot of thought into the bottled beer list; there was a good range of styles, and some absolute crackers on the list. As well as Meantime Chocolate and Coffee, they stock the excellent Goose Island IPAfrom Chicago
  3. They have a good range of glasses to match the beers. This may sound like a minor point, but we believe that the look of a beer contributes enormously to the overall enjoyment, and we’re always impressed when people make the effort to serve the beer in the right glass.

Cons

  1. The service is pretty poor; a couple sat down next to us and then left after 10 minutes of trying to get served at the bar. One of the bar staff tried to take my drink away before I’d finished.
  2. The prices! They were charging £5.65 for a bottle of Schlenkerla Rauchbier. Now this is a nice beer, and perhaps used to be rare, but it’s not that difficult to get hold of these days. The Pembury Tavern in Hackney does it for half the price charged here.
  3. I could see what the reviewers meant when they said it was soulless. There was quite a nice atmosphere on the terrace but the pub itself would be pretty dreadful without it.

Is this the way to get people into beer? Not sure. Despite the fact it was a brewpub with a large beer list, I didn’t get the impression they were out to convert people. Most of the customers seemed to be drinking wine or Budvar. Perhaps descriptions of the beers would help? This could potentially be a good place to bring someone you were trying to convert – but the Greenwich Union is much cosier and has a similar (if not the same) range of bottled beers.

So would I go back? I can’t imagine having a cosy pint there, but it’s quite a good place on a weekend afternoon to pretend you’re on holiday – pretend the prices are in Euros and that the service is just down to misunderstanding…

Boak

Beer heroes of the month (June) – Utobeer, London

Beer hero of the month is Utobeer, who sell a fantastic range of bottled beers from all over the world from a cage in Borough Market, London.

A trio of porters from UtobeerWe went there today, for the first time. Yes, the first time – I cannot believe I have never been here before. A mixture of laziness, and suspicion of Borough market (some great food, but boy, do they charge for it…) mean that we had never got our arses over there in the past.

It was definitely worth it – I have never seen such a fantastic range of porters and stouts in one place. Reasonably priced too – we came away with 10 beers we had never had before for just over £20.

We will definitely be returning.