Craft Instinct
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The Art of Beautiful Beer Branding - published in Froth magazine

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, who is the fairest of them all? Browsing the shelves of a craft beer store can be like walking through an art gallery - your eyes might be hurt by the occasional offensive design, but for the most part, beauty is all around.

However, looking deeper into the subject of beer branding, it ain’t just about looking pretty. For example, a beer label might have a work of art on it that would make Michelangelo green with envy, but if it is inconsistent with the brewer’s brand, no one is going to recognize who made the beer.

Beer branding is fascinating (to a creative beer nerd lady such as myself), as the artistic possibilities are endless, but the branding aspect on a label does force the designer to meet challenges that are unique to the craft beer industry. Here are a few I’ve met along the road as a craft beer graphic design specialist:

Flexible template

Many brewing companies start off with a strong simple label template, but then a few years down the track, after a number of beers added to their range, find there is no visual room to move for new releases. So they just go gung ho and start creating labels that are completely different from their original branding because they are bored with using the same restrictive template. Might create some great artwork, but no one recognizes who the beer is brewed by. Not good branding practice. Good practice would be to design a label template which remains the same across all releases. It has lots of flexibility for different designs, but basics like the company name, logo, artwork and beer style stay in the same place every time. Consistency like that makes me purrrrr with delight as it allows the company to be as adventurous in their designs as they are with their beer without compromising a strong brand presence. Which brings me to the next challenge…

Strong brand presence

A brand isn’t just a logo. To me, a brand is a feeling the consumer gets in reaction to the messages a company communicates. It comes across in everything, from the typeface in an advertisement, to photos posted on Instagram, to the language used on the website. If you have a distinct brand, all those things will tell the same story. The key is consistency. Labels are the biggest story teller of all for a brewery. A good label design will stand out on its own, but the real art is to create an amazing label while maintaining consistent colours and shapes with the brewery’s brother and sister releases. It might stand out on its own, but you gotta know which family it belongs to.

Good story

Everyone loves a good story, and everyone has their own stories to share. Craft beers are a form of art, and art is often a product of inspiration. It’s wonderful to hear the story of how a beer came into your hand, what inspired the brewer, where the idea came from. Was it a movie? Did the idea come in a dream? Maybe it was an accident? If a label can visually communicate this inspiration it really does become a work of art.

So next time you are perusing the aisles of a delightful little bottle-o, you might shout out with glee when you come across a beer that ticks all these boxes. The label will jump out at you first glance, then as you look closer you will get a certain feeling (your reaction to the brand), you will identify the brewery and the beer style (a good label template), then as you pick it up and read the back, you might feel inspired (the story). Hopefully for the brewery, inspired enough to buy it. The feeling continues as you take your first gulp (yes gulp it at the start, you can taste it better if it hits all the taste buds) and it’s everything you ever dreamed that style of beer could be. Then, as you sip away at the delicious brew, all the warm fuzzy feelings combine together into pure admiration, and you sit with a satisfied smile that says it all. And that to me, is the true beauty of craft beer.