The changing face of Beer Labels and Can art.

Having worked in Ad-Design for over 20 years, I’m really fascinated with how the packaging of beer has changed over the years. Beer cans are now a canvas for dazzling, cutting-edge design and this makeover of pump clips, bottle labels and packaging has been pivotal to craft’s appeal.

Naturally, a hardcore of drinkers will regard any sharp design as suspect – a gimmick to shift substandard beer. But craft is a flavour-focused scene. A well designed, modern label may get a beer noticed, but if it is a lacklustre ale, interest will wane.

The fundamental, divergent and artistically purist way in which many craft breweries approach branding has confounded big breweries however. Larger businesses design product packaging to strict “brand guidelines” for specific demographics, whereas, initially, UK craft beer had no defined audience or marketing budget. It just made it up on the hoof, often differentiating itself not with the obvious signifiers of authenticity (retro printing styles, images of hops), but with wild, abstract designs that utilise everything from hand-drawn illustration to landscape photography. When established breweries attempt to tap into this, they often look, “Like your weird uncle trying to dance to Billie Eilish at a wedding.”

Not all new designs are well received, Cans of Tiny Rebel’s Cwtch Welsh Red Ale had to be redesigned after a member of the public complained that it looked like “a can of fizzy pop” and had a particular appeal to children. This was upheld by the Portman Groups independent Complaints panel.

Recent research has found that striking label designs were more important than shelf-space in catching consumers’ eyes and with some breweries approach being that they wanted to see if, when removed from the bottle and put in a frame, the artwork would stand alone. The beautiful, often logo-free bottles created by the revered Karl Grandin for the Swedish brewery Omnipollo, certainly have the aura of artworks.

Local brewery Pentrich has recently made the bold move to package their beer into Cans, having announced that with that, will come a brand-new design. “Gone are the axes and in comes a simpler, more sleek design”

Ever since Black Iris Brewery first launched in 2011, their beers have been complimented by consistently great pump clip and can design. The visuals are by a graffiti, tattoo and comic-book enthusiast Kev Grey and they make their beers instantly recognisable

Not every new brewery is compelled to spend big on design. The Kernel’s vintage labelling (black type on brown wrapping paper) is simple, instantly recognisable and conceptually fitting for a brewery obsessed with historic beer recipes.

Rewind to 2007 and real ale packaging was, more about craggy moors, steam trains, adolescent fantasy imagery and lazy sexism, clearly targeting a different market. It’s my view that this new approach to design, makes the beers more appealing and inclusive to a wider audience and should be celebrated.

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