I always looked forward to grocery shopping as a kid. As soon as we’d get to the store, I’d break away from my mom and brother and head straight to the beer aisle to look at labels. Granted, I had no idea what beer was aside from something my uncles drank a lot of in their garages; I still loved how it all looked (that Spuds MacKenzie POP display, though). I’d ogle everything until inevitably getting confronted by a clerk who assumed I was up to no good. Despite my reassurances of, “Nothing to see here, ma’am, just an 8 year old checking out beer labels,” they wouldn’t budge and I’d run off like the little punk that I was.
Fast forward to today: I still do the exact same thing. As a designer in the craft beer industry, I love beer branding. I get lost decoding messages, fondling label materials, reading descriptive copy, searching packaging for fun easter eggs, and critiquing and overthinking all of these things in only the way someone who does this for a living can do. After a while, one minute turns into two, turns into five, turns into my wife sighing ever more loudly until I have to reluctantly break away to finish buying healthy food.
Everyone back at CODO is the same way. We all live and breathe craft beer labels. We regularly design them, study them, make fun of them, admire and collect them. Through all of this, and traveling across the country working with craft breweries, and writing and reading and talking about craft beer, we’re in a unique position to see a lot of branding and package design trends emerge (and die off) in real time.
We discuss these trends so often with our brewery clients that we’ve boiled them down to simple names and groups. This is an interesting way to view craft beer branding because beyond visual aesthetics, you’re able to see how someone is positioning themselves, and what story they’re trying to tell.
Here are some of the more common craft beer branding and package design trends that we’re seeing right now.
Then was better than now
We could write an entire book about the appeal of vintage design and all its trappings. Harkening back to the Golden Years (whether real or imagined) where service and a handshake were the rule of the day, this style taps into the temptation to believe that things used to be just a little bit better. Before smart phones. Before ‘Think Pieces.’ Before Bieber. Everything was simple and the world was safe. This aesthetic rides an overall cultural reaction (zeitgeist even) against big box stores, the Big 3, and anything mass produced for the lowest common denominator. This has been going on for over a decade and in a lot of ways has driven the rise of the craft beer industry.
This particular angle (the more tactile, textural, and blue collar, the better) centers around an area’s old, mostly bygone industry—coal, steel, automotive, lumber, agriculture—in hopes of evoking one of the most powerful emotions there is: Nostalgia.
BLUE COLLAR INDUSTRIAL
Zen and the art of brewing
With all the fanfare surrounding craft beer—the flashy branding campaigns, the headline grabbing acquisitions, and the rockstar treatment of anyone wearing rubber boots, it’s easy to forget that this is still a blue collar, industrial job. In an age where most of us spend our days in front of a computer “creating,” it’s easy to romanticize someone slaving away to create something that can be physically enjoyed.
Similar in tone to Nostalgic Regional, this aesthetic trend tends to be more contemporary and approachable. Inspired by machinery badges, uniform patches, and timecards, this can be a fun look and feel, very in-tune with the look of the equipment found within breweries themselves.
PREMIUM & LUXURIOUS
Sophisticated and understated
Some folks drive a moderately priced sedan. Others, a big pickup truck. And for some, it’s gotta be the fanciest, most expensive car on the lot. There will always be room for premium products. Whether the beer you’re making is truly more expensive to produce, or you’re just slapping a fancy label on and calling it good. Call it the “wine-ification” of beer, or the clear communication of value (and high price point). Heavy on white space, these tend to be in a bomber or 750mL bottle where the different package alone serves to communicate luxury (think cork and cage, swing top bottles, foil wraps, and even wax dips).
When you buy this beer, you’re not just buying something that took longer to make, or was more expensive to brew, you’re letting people know that you have good taste.
Beer is art
This is a fun trend in craft beer branding and in a lot of ways, stems from early gig poster screen printing and illustration. Hand-drawn typography mingles with crazy illustrations to create fun, colorful, textural and raw labels. While not for everyone, this aesthetic jumps off the shelf and can create a fun universe for people to explore. This look often suggests a wilder, more experimental and less traditional approach to brewing beer.
Just the facts
While predominantly clean, these labels can include bold, tracked-out sans serif typography with icons, infographics, geometric shapes, and large swaths of color to differentiate between unique beer styles. This look is often paired with messaging about quality control, the brewing process and achieving the best beer possible.
Beer for people who shop at REI and have a 401K
Into camping, fishing, or mountain biking? Or maybe you just curate your Tumblr so people think you are? Either way, this beer is the perfect companion to all your outdoor shenanigans and shows the world just how connected to nature you are (or how connected to nature you want people to think you are. Or something?).
This look can vary wildly, from slightly blue-collar, to slightly granola, to more technical, like REI. Either way, this style hangs its hat on broader outdoor lifestyle branding.
*Unintelligible Eddie Vedder mumbles*
One part DIY punk aesthetic, one part grit, and a whole lot of deconstructivism. This look is raw and cool and can attract a strong countercultural following if executed properly as part of a larger, compelling narrative. Or, as with so many of these trends, it can look pretty damn terrible if it’s poorly done.
Who needs images? You can read, can’t you?
This look stems from more of a broad food and beverage branding trend, than beer alone. The strength of this aesthetic lies in its flexibility—it can be dressed in almost any other visual style (Premium & Luxurious, Blue Collar Industrial, etc.).
We’re not big beer. Yet.
Taking cues from regional breweries who have expanded to new markets and revamped their branding along the way, we’re seeing a lot of production brewery startups come to market with this aesthetic right out of the gate. While taking cues from nostalgic packaging, these types of labels are often more polished, refined and “corporate” in appearance than their retro counterparts. They feature a clear identity system (with product differentiation through color and illustration) that spans bottles, cans, and beyond, and speaks to consistency and reliability.
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Interested in branding your own brewery? Check out our comprehensive craft beer branding guide over at www.craftbeerbrandingguide.com