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.

QUICK ONE: One Function of a Pump-Clip

Handpumps at a Bristol pub.

A huge, gaudy, distinctive pump-clip is the speculative pub-explorer’s friend.

For benefit of readers from Mars, pump-clips are the badges displayed on handles in pubs. They barely existed until about 50 years ago but now they’re ubiquitous, increasingly ornate, and increasingly huge.

Which, though some may scoff, is great for people like us whose favourite way of finding pubs is wandering about with feelers twitching.

In Topsham the other week, researching our Devon Life column, we saw a pleasant looking pub but with only limited time before our train had to make a snap decision about whether to pop in. From the street, through glass, across several metres of floor-space, we could recognise the brands on offer and see that they weren’t terribly exciting. Without stopping, we were able to make a quick decision to push on somewhere else instead.

Equally, though, there are times when we’ve slammed the brakes on because one of us has subconsciously registered a hit in the database: wait — was that the clip for Rooster’s Yankee back there in The Union? (They’ve never had it on again since; it was glorious.)

In lieu of pubs displaying a list outside, which is ideal, a bank of pumps visible from the street, with bold clips on display, is the next best thing.

And brewers: if your pump-clips are generic, or inconsistent within the range, or lack a visual hook, you might want to bear that in mind next time you review the designs.

The Power of a Good Pumpclip

Magic Rock brewing pumpclip

When we went to the Craft Beer Company with a not-especially-beery mate last week, we got to see the power of branding in action.

Faced with a vast array of pumps, slightly anxious at too much choice, and aware of the queue behind him, our chum made a snap decision: he went for Magic Rock Curious. Why? Because the design stood out as professional, stylish and interesting. Because it leapt off the bartop shouting: “Buy me!”

Sadly, there was none left, and he had to settle for another beer suggested by the barmaid. As it turned out, it was every bit as nice as Curious, but we’d never have known that if left to our own devices, because its pumpclip looked like something from an A level art portfolio c.2002 — Photoshop for Dummies, posterise-everything amateur hour.

Design can’t be an afterthought, because, in the current competititve climate, it can mean the difference between a beer either selling briskly or quietly turning to vinegar in its cask. We punters — especially those of us who simply drink beer rather than obsessing over it — are fickle, superficial, shallow creatures.