Summer 2017 finds us in an interesting time for craft beer. On one side of the industry, one new brewery is still opening every single day across the United States. On another side, headline grabbing acquisitions are causing people to reexamine what it means to be “craft.”
Our 2016 craft beer branding trends analysis featured a lot of design work that hinted at a brewery’s authenticity (hand-rendered elements, kraft paper, nostalgic, by-gone aesthetics, etc.). Now, the idea of authenticity itself is more of an overarching ethos. Not that it always wasn’t, but it’s becoming more important than ever as big beer continues its lumbering creep into craft’s personal space.
This manifests in many different ways; some subtle. Some not so subtle. And it’s an interesting way to view craft beer branding because beyond the surface level visual aesthetics, you’re able to see how someone is positioning themselves, and the story they’re trying to tell.
For this year’s review, we’re digging into some of the more pervasive visual trends we’ve seen throughout 2017 and then touching on some non-visual industry undercurrents that are driving the aesthetics themselves.
ULTRA CLEAN & MINIMAL
White space abounds
2017 has seen dozens, if not hundreds of breweries come to market with ultra clean branding and packaging. It seems as if we’re in an arms race to create the most reductive, simplified cans and bottles possible. This look is signified with a large amount of white space, 1, or if you’re feeling snazzy, 2 colors, maybe an icon and some typography.
This stands out on a busy, illustration and color-heavy beer shelf—for now. This look is becoming so common that it will likely become the norm in a few years prompting a shift back to busier, more complex and illustrated packaging (you heard it here first).
ULTRA CLEAN & MINIMAL: 1. Balter Brewing, 2. House Beer by COLONY, 3. Brücke Beer by Anna Salvador, 4. Wild Heaven Craft Beer by Alvin Diec, 5. Colonial Beer by Alter
Swirly & colorful
Swirly and colorful, this aesthetic creates sophisticated packaging. We’ve seen it implemented to hint at the mercurial element of a beer itself (a hazy IPA or crazy Brett experiment, for example), and we’ve seen it used to speak to the artistic side of brewing. This stands apart from your run of the mill craft beer branding, generally speaking to a more experienced consumer.
PAINTERLY: 1. Upland Brewing by Young & Laramore, 2. Ballad Brewing by CODO Design, 3. Commonwealth Brewing by Thirst, 4/5. Vocation Brewery by Robot Food
A flexible constant
Patterning is a fun way of expanding your portfolio while not having subsequent releases look identical. Some breweries have embraced this for their flagship beers while most use it for specialty programs. You begin by creating certain constants—logo placement, beer name and style, TTB info, etc. Then, the background is completely up for grabs. This can be small and intricate or large and geometric. Either way, it’s a lively way of standing out from the previously mentioned minimal and clean packaging that’s beginning to dominate off-premise shelves.
PATTERNING: 1. Austin Beer Works by Helms Workshop, 2. Dank Candy by CODO Design, 3. Brown’s Brewing by id29, 4. Lighthouse Brewing Co. by St. Bernadine
This is more of a design technique than a trend, proper, but we’ve seen it so much over the last year that we felt it was worth discussing. Layering is when you purposely overlap elements on your packaging—typography, color swaths, etc. to create a rich and interesting composition. This can have a vintage feel (drawing inspiration from Hatch Show Print-esque gig posters), or ultra contemporary (often being used in conjunction with the aforementioned Ultra Clean & Minimal aesthetic).
LAYERING: 1. Alias Beer by the Potting Shed, 2. Mount Pleasant Series by Resonance, 3. Strap Tank Brewery by Helms Workshop, 4. Transmitter Brewing by Jeff Rogers, 5. Braxton brewing by Durham Brand & Co.
Shapely & unique
While cans continue their march toward industry domination, bottles are seeing somewhat of a resurgence. We’ve heard a lot of reasons for this—bottling lines are relatively cheap and available, bottles are easier to come by in some cases, and there are still a lot of folks out there who view putting a well-made beer in a can as sacrilege.
For those who do use bottles, we’re seeing a bigger focus on better materiality and die cut labels to stand out from other ‘stock’ offerings. This includes both bottle labels (standard and large format releases) and the carriers themselves. We’re seeing more breweries budget for nicer paper labels (like Neenah’s BELLA stock), specialty finishes and die cuts out of the gate.
DIE CUT: 1. Alias Beer by the Potting Shed, 2. Driftwood Brewery by Hired Guns Creative, 3. Printer’s Ale Manufacturing Co. by CODO Design, 4. Children of the Bourbon Barrel by CODO Design, 5. ATOM Beers by Thirst
BEER AS ART
Is it beer?
While primarily a European design trend, we’re starting to see more American breweries embrace this playful, artistic, somewhat abstract approach to packaging. The label art uses loose and sketchy illustrations with large color swatches to eschew traditional indexes for beer packaging.
BEER AS ART: 1. Omnipollo by Karl Grandin, 2/4. Mikkeller by Keith Shore, 3. Biere des Marias by Anthony Cherbuin, 5. Masticamaro by ByVolume
SILVER & SHINY
Addition through subtraction
It’s a designerly trick to let some of the aluminum substrate come through on a can design (especially when printing digital sleeves). By leaving a bit of the design file clear, you effectively add another “color” to your can. This adds some nice dimension to the art and can even make it appear as though there’s some metallic printing in the mix.
SILVER & SHINY: 1. Wild Heaven Beer by Gentleman, 2. Bronx Brewery by Tag Collective, 3. Sixpoint Brewery by Lefty Lexington, 4. Centerpoint Brewing Co. by CODO Design, 5. Due South Brewing Co. by StudioMax Design
A softer touch
Turns out that there are a lot of women who enjoy craft beer. Turns out that women who enjoy craft beer enjoy great branding and storytelling as much as the bearded dude at the end of the bar. Turns out that a lot of breweries are embracing these ladies with open arms. And the more adroit breweries aren’t just making their labels pink. Instead, they’re using softer or poppy colors, fun illustrations, and even skewing toward beer styles that are more sessionable and amenable to a newer palate—rosé-inspired ales, farmhouse ales, etc.
FEMININE: 1. Charnwood Brewery by a Dozen Eggs, 2. Abadía Beer by TSMGO, 3. Golden Rey by Magnificent Beard, 4. Big Axe Brewing by Hip Street, 5. Kros Strain Brewing by CODO Design
Here, have a scary angular eagle beer
We’re not sure why this trend has come back into prominence—it could be tied to your brewery’s building, your town’s prevalent architecture, or even your brewery name. Or it could just be your own weird whims (hey man, I get it). Either way, we’ve seen a rise in Art Deco-inspired branding and packaging design throughout 2017.
This could even be driven by broader cultural happenings like a renewed interest in F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Great Gatsby, the Man in the High Castle, and other classic literature.
ART DECO: 1/7. De Steeg Brewing by TILT, 2. Widmer Brothers by Sasquatch, 3. Goldhawk Craft Beer by Don’t Try Studio, 4. Great Flood Brewing, 5/6. Fort Point Brewing Co. by Manual
Now let’s look at some non-visual trends we’ve seen this year.
Roller Blades + IPAs for days
People are more conscious of what they’re eating and drinking than ever. And thanks to the Voluntary Disclosure Initiative, it’s becoming more common for people to see how many calories are in their favorite local IPA (usually well over 200, FYI).
This revelation, along with craft consumers’ open-armed embrace of lighter styles like pilsners have breweries creating more quaffable styles and even advertising beer on its—gasp—healthy merits. Over the next few years, you’re going to start seeing some real deal breweries making “Lite” beer. And I bet it will sell like crazy.
New is the new best
Out with the new, in with the newer
For many craft drinkers, it’s impossible to keep up with new breweries and beer releases. There are just so many out there. So they bounce around and try new beers every time they go out—I’m guilty of this myself. This is great for the consumer, but not so great for the production brewery who wants you to buy a sixer (or three) of their flagship every week.
Across the country, breweries are adapting to this fickle and promiscuous drinker by regularly releasing new beers—often as an ephemeral, small batch offering. We’re seeing this hit the streets as higher-priced 4 packs with gorgeous, collector-level design work that may or may not relate to the parent / flagship brand. Production-wise, this generally means a printed sleeve or pressure sensitive label since the goal, beyond making great beer, is getting it out at a quick enough pace to stay top of mind.
A safe-ish bet
New brand rollouts can be scarily expensive for any brewery, but more so for regional and national players. By the time you’re through the package design process (including design fees, registering a new name trademark, printing thousands of cases / cans / bottles / etc.) and have planned your on and off-premise product launch, you can be looking at a staggering number.
And what’s worse is that this can often be a bit of a gamble. New England IPAs are hot right now. Will they be hot a year from now? Uncertainty sets in and your mood darkens. Mystery abounds. “We can move 500,000 cans, right?”
But there’s a solution. Line extensions! Your wildly popular flagship beer already occupies a solid place in your customer’s hearts and minds. Rather than risk rolling out a completely new offering that may not land with your current fans, why not add a twist to an old favorite—maybe a different hop bill (Aussie hops are in right now), or a different yeast (throw some Brett in there), or maybe even give it some seasonal flair? You could even consider co-branding or collab-brewing to build on another established group’s brand equity.
Interested in branding your own brewery? Check out our comprehensive craft beer branding guide over at www.craftbeerbrandingguide.com