Craft Beer Craze
Craft beer label design has exploded onto the design scene in recent years; It’s easy to see why. It’s another way for creatives to express themselves in new and exciting ways. But this isn’t actually all that new. What does the past look like.
Any look at beer in the 80’s needs to include Brooklyn Brewery. Formed in 1988. While Budweiser was paying rent and buying licenses for bars in order for them to stock, sell, and promote their beer, Brooklyn Brewery was donating theirs. As well as offering time and money to support the local community, creating a name for themselves as a local hero. That was, after all, the plan of the founder, Steve Hindy. When he started Brooklyn Brewery, he already had an idea of how he wanted his beer to be perceived. He approached Milton Glaser, the man responsible for the iconic ‘I love New York’ logo. Hindly had little money so offered Glaser a 5% share in his company, in return for his design contributions. Hindly said he wanted to be iconic, he wanted his logo to be something Brooklynders got tattooed on their arms; he wanted the Brooklyn bridges, he wanted baseball, he wanted everything that said, Brooklyn. According to Hindly, Glaser offered him something better, he gave him “a whole new image for Brooklyn”. Glaser used a design reminiscent of old German beer to give the new brand credibility, and the logo that was created on hope, remains today, strong and unchanged. To this day, at the age of 87, Milton Glaser designs every new bottle that’s produced by Brooklyn Brewery. These were the early days of drawing a line between the fun, free, craft beers and the capitalist, corporate ways of commercial beers. In fact, the barely legal “marketing” strategy of Budweiser is said to have helped usher in the introduction of the prohibition.
Currently, there are estimated 11,000 beers available in the UK alone. That’s 11,000 designs fighting for attention. According to Matt from Thirst Craft, this is one reason the craft beer industry has become such a competitive environment in Design. When the market is big, and the competition stiff, a brewery needs to start thinking up new ways to attract attention. Thirst Craft is a Glasgow based design agency that serves only the drinks industry, In an interview, co-founder Matt Burns said “I was at a talk in Sydney 7 years ago. The speaker was asking people around me what they did for a living. After several people around me had answered “Graphic Designer” he said, “the world doesn’t need another general disciplinary Designer”. Matt states “That really hit home for me, I thought there’s something in this”. Thirst have been operating in Glasgow now for 5 years, branding beer from Loch Ness to Sydney, swiping up awards along the way. The fact that an agency can not only survive but can thrive, while limiting themselves to one small portion of the branding and marketing game, shows just how far the Craft Beer market has come. Thirst are on to something here. The drinks industry have taken notice, creating awards such as SIBA’S Packaging Design Award, and the Drum Design. The Design industry has taken notice, introducing Indie beer can awards, beer marketing awards, and the homebrew label awards, to name but a few.
In 2007 BrewDog was born. Co-founders Martin Dickie and James Watt filled bottles by hand and sold them from a fold up table at local markets. Today Brewdog has 44 bars worldwide, 540 employees, and they reported an annual turnover of £45m at the end of 2015, becoming the number one selling craft brewery in the UK. In 2010 Brewdog released ‘the end of history’ a 55% small batch beer. It was in newspapers, blogs, and magazines. It was produced in an ice cream factory in Aberdeen but was being talked about across the world. This was for two reasons; firstly for its percentage — Brewdog wanted to do something that would grab attention — they also wanted to show people that beer had no limits. According to its creators, The End Of History was to mark the end of beer as it was known. The second reason it grabbed people’s attention, both good and bad, was how they chose to package the beer. The End of days was produced in 11 bottles; each bottle was placed inside the stuffed corpse of, seven stoats, and four grey squirrels. Is all publicity good publicity, in the case of Brewdog; unequivocal, yes. In the years since Dickie and Watt haven’t stopped grabbing the world’s attention. In 2011 for the Royal Wedding they produced a beer containing so-called natural aphrodisiacs, such as chocolate, and horny goat weed, which it named Royal Virility Performance shown on the left in figure 8. In 2013 the founders drove a tank through the streets of Camden in a plight to sell 49,000 shares at £95 each for the crowd-funding campaign called ‘Equity for Punks’ which raising over £2.2m
According to Matt Burns, Brewdog helped usher in a new era for beer drinkers, shredding the previous image of pipes and flat caps. The new image is one of “anarchy” BrewDog has described itself as a “post-punk, apocalyptic, motherfucker of a craft brewery” with statements like “This is the revolution – so help me Dog,”. Burns states “If I had gone to people five years ago and told them to sell their craft beer in kegs they would have told me where to go, but now, if you don’t sell in kegs, you’re behind the times. Big things are happening in the market” Burns also believes the reason craft beer has adopted this free, fun persona is due to the people that make it. These small breweries tend to start because the founders have a genuine passion for craft beer, and just want to produce something they see as their ideal beer.
Graphic Design and branding have always played a major in the beer industry, so much so that some of the early beer brands are seen as pioneers in branding. From as early as Bass’s red triangle in the 1870’s visuals have played an imperative role in this competitive industry; along with branding and brand Identity. Budweiser, not having great faith in their product spent large amounts of money to get their brand seen at every opportunity. While Brooklyn Lager chooses to help the local arts community, being viewed as the good guy. Today the industry is more competitive than ever, forcing breweries and Designers to be more creative with their branding and visuals. People want to get on board with the whole story behind a beer; it’s not all about taste. Designs are becoming more outlandish, more playful, and more risqué. The founding of Thirst Craft marks a new and exciting time for Graphic Designers, although there have always been package design specialists, there has never been a design agency that makes one product its sole focus. With new awards for branding and design appearing every year, Beer label design has become a great platform for new and established designers to showcase their abilities. Craft beer has become a movement, with new people joining everyday. The industry is showing a constant growth with no sign of slowing down.