Categories
Beer history

A century before Summer Lightning, Golden Sunlight

Alright, fine, we give in: perhaps Summer Lightning wasn’t the original golden ale.

One of the topics we spent months researching when we wrote Brew Britannia between 2012 and 2014 was the origins of a style that had come to take a substantial chunk of the ale market.

In the end, we broadly agreed with the narrative set out by Martyn Cornell in his excellent 2011 book Amber, Gold & Black: Exmoor Gold may have come first, in 1986, but it was Hop Back Summer Lightning, first sold in 1989, that really kicked off the craze.

It won awards and prompted imitators throughout the 1990s and, eventually, laid to supermarket bestsellers like Thwaites Wainwright, and less popular cash-ins such as John Smith’s Gold.

But we’ve known all along that there were even earlier beers that could be argued to count as golden ales – not least because, again, Cornell acknowledges them in his brief history of the style.

Some are contenders because they were, well, golden.

Others because they were advertised with the phrase ‘golden ale’, or similar.

But most felt like footnotes, failing to tick enough boxes:

  • Very pale in colour.
  • Described as gold or golden.
  • Sold under a brand name referencing sun or summer.
  • Popular and/or influential.

Then, the other day, we came across an 1888 advertisement for one of the early beers Cornell mentions in Amber, Gold & Black and thought, oh, this really does sound like Watkins of Hereford invented golden ale before or around 1887.

"Golden Sunlight" Ale, A light pale golden ale of wonderful value.

SOURCE: Public Record Office/British Library, via Time Gentlemen, Please! by Michael Jones, 1997.

It’s clear from this that Golden Sunlight is definitely a brand name, if not a trademark – and, in fact, the brewery itself eventually came to be known as the Sunlight Brewery to cash-in on the popularity of this particular product.

The beer was, indeed, “light pale”.

And there it is, in black and white: “golden ale”.

Just to cap it off, it was also promoted as being similar to German-style lager, just as Hop Back Summer Lightning would be a century later.

A quick note on dates: we’re a bit suspicious of what is supposed to be an 1851 advertisement for ‘Golden Sunlight Pale Ale’ on the Brewery History Society website. That’s 30-odd years earlier than any other reference to this product in print and, frankly, it looks as if someone drew that ad with a felt-tip pen sometime in the past 40 years. But it’s possible, we suppose, that this ur-golden-ale was first brewed 170 years ago.

It’s probably too much to hope for brewing log to turn up so we can find out more about the colour and likely taste of the beer but we do know from a note in The Brewers’ Guardian for September 1892 that Watkins & Sons was buying up ‘Early Goldings’ hops.

The same article describes the beer as “renowned” and elsewhere in the local press it was referred to as “famous”. (Western Mail, 03/11/1898.)

All of which makes us wonder why golden ale didn’t take off and become a breakaway style in the early 20th century.

Did its similarity to lager do for it in the patriotic fervour of World War I?

Or was it only ever a novelty in a sea of mild, bitter and stout?

Categories
marketing pubs

No Logo

The blackboard at the Drapers.

One of the many interesting things about our local, The Drapers Arms micropub in Bristol, is the lack of branding for beers at the point of sale.

Instead of the customary row of hand-pumps with decorative pump-clips (which have grown bigger and fancier over the course of the past few decades) the Drapers has a rack of casks with beer names chalked on their black jackets, and a blackboard declaring the name, brewery, origin, style and ABV of each beer.

The pump-clips are there, actually, tacked on the wall behind the bar, along with those for beers coming soon, but a determined squint and spectacle push is required to discern any details. Most people, we suspect, think they’re just part of the decor.

The blackboard approach encourages certain unusual, quite pleasing behaviour. For one thing, people often ask each other for advice: “Excuse me — what’s that you’re on? It looks bloody good.” And we’ve never known a pub where tasters are so freely offered and  as gladly taken, and where such generous time is given to conversations about taste and preference.

Which brings us to our main point: the lack of obvious branding seems to push people — and certainly forces us — to focus on the beer.

We’ve always been quite open about the fact that, being human beings with a full suite of emotions, nurtured in late 20th century capitalist society, we are easily swayed by packaging and marketing. Of course we challenge ourselves and attempt to overcome this instinct to superficiality but if we’d seen this pump-clip, for example, we might have let our gaze pass over it in favour of something else:

Ramsbury Belapur pump-clip
SOURCE: Ramsbury Website.

It’s not bad but it doesn’t suggest that this beer is anything special. It’s a bit cheap and a bit staid. But at The Drapers, a level playing field for the graphically challenged brewery, we went for it, and were really glad we did. It’s a thoroughly decent beer we’ve had several times since, and Ramsbury have been added to our mental list of breweries always worth a go.

On the flipside, there are beers that, divorced from very smart graphic design and winning blurb, are easier to assess objectively. In plain brown wrappers it’s easier to discern that a slightly bland pale ale from a hip brewery taste much like a slightly bland pale ale from a micro-brewery founded in 1983.

We generally argue for more information rather than less (see tomorrow’s blog post) but somehow the omission of this particular type of information — the visual — really works for us.

Categories
design Franconia Germany marketing The Session

The Big Session Comeback Tour

Beer mat from the Hausbrauerei Altstadthof, Nuremberg.

We haven’t taken part in the session for a couple of years, mostly because we found ourselves struggling to fit in an opportunity to, e.g., drink a particular type of beer before it rolled around.

Anyway, it’s time to get back in the saddle so here we are again to talk about the art of beer labels, caps and coasters, for this month’s session hosted by HopHeadSaid.

We have a particular interest in commercial design and illustration and when it relates to beer, all the better. We’ve posted about it on more than one occasion and have been really enjoying this excellent blog about beer branding recently.

The image above is one of our favourite bits of beer-related design and, perhaps not so coincidentally, comes from one of our favourite breweries.

What’s not to like? There’s sans serif typography (we have some sympathy with the Helvetica nerds), a simple colour scheme reflecting the flag of Franconia and an equally simple graphic. All of this reminds us vividly of their pub in Nuremberg and their beers, all of which are also simple, unpretentious and clean.

You’ll note that the image above is a bit rough. It needed some restoration because this beermat, along with a stack of others from Germany, the Czech Republic and Belgium, lives in our kitchen and gets used every day. It’s a little bit of Nuremberg we can enjoy every day. As a result, it is covered in beer stains.

Mind you, that Satan cap art isn’t bad either, and nor are the twin labels for the Brooklyn/Schneider collaborations.

Categories
marketing

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.

Categories
marketing

Balsamic and bulldog clips

We spotted a couple of interesting posts on Lifehacker the other week which we thought we’d share.

First up, the news that people prefer Budweiser with a drop of balsamic vinegar in, but only if they don’t know it’s there. This is another fascinating example of the influence branding and packaging — the blurb surrounding a beer — can have on our perception of its taste. It also makes us want to try adding balsamic vinegar to other crappy beers to see if it might actually improve them.

Secondly, and less excitingly, bulldog clips might be one solution to the problem of beer bottles steadfastly refusing to stack in the fridge the way they do on TV. Bulldog clips are the answer to so many of life’s problems…