Beer: Picture this

It’s all about the branding for craft beers trying to get noticed in a crowded marketplace. Shay Waterworth gets under the skin of funky designs


ONE OF THE BIGGEST news stories to come out of the beer industry this summer is the part-acquisition of Beavertown brewery by Heineken for £40m. Avoiding the conversation on craft brands selling out to brewery giants, let’s look at how the brand got itself into this position.

The most standout feature for Beavertown is its wild artwork, which was groundbreaking for the craft beer scene when it launched in 2011. It’s clear to see that some bottle or can designs are more successful than others and, believe it or not, there are trends among label designs. At the Boutique Beers event in London in July, craft beer brands from around the world gathered under one roof to show off their brands and there was a variety of different branding styles.


The visuals of any brand are what draw a consumer in, no big news there. But the route each company takes to inventing a look is often different.

Design agency Kingdom & Sparrow has worked with beer brands to either build or rebrand a brewery’s identity. Having collaborated with both local and international brands, from startups to brewing giants such as AB-Inbev, the company is well in-tune with the process of making beer cool.

Daniel Gradwell, managing director at Kingdom & Sparrow, says: “Before we do any work on a brand’s appearance or packaging we have to look at the market the beer sits in and collaborate with the brewery to find out what its targets are. Market research comes before any work with the design or appearance.

“It’s also important to understand the brand before trying to represent it. We need to have exactly the same vision for a design because it can mean everything to the people who are brewing the beer.”

Design agencies have played a bigger role than you might think in shaping the modern look of the craft beer movement and increasing the diversity among beer designs around the world.

Gradwell says: “There are definitely trends within the different designs of beer brands, and these trends evolve quickly. Independent brands change what the mainstream does in terms of design and Beavertown was revolutionary in the young, punk look which really captured the imagination of consumers.”

Drygate Brewery in Glasgow has a wild cartoon design, similar in many ways to Beavertown, and this style has attracted a lot of hipsters in the US and UK specifically. However, these funky designs weren’t the product of a professional design agency, but one of the van drivers at the brewery. John Felix worked as a delivery man at Drygate before art turned from a hobby into a profession. After invoicing the brewery for some of his artwork that now covers its core range of beers, including Disco Forklift Truck, Felix has become a full-time artist and still collaborates with the brand today.

Now, not every beer brand will be lucky enough to have an aspiring artist working in its logistics team and there are other approaches that can be taken.

Johnny Paton, creative director at Kingdom & Sparrow, adds: “The stripped back and simplistic approach is another style which has become popular. This lends itself to a craft brewery which wants to bring out lots of different varieties, because essentially there’s not much that needs changing other than maybe the name and a colour scheme.

Redchurch brewery in London used design agency Bibliothèque to undergo a full redesign of all its beers. Sales representative Carrie Fleetwood says: “We’ve been around for seven years now and we went to Bibliothèque for a redesign two years ago. It gave us a minimalist style with our own unique font. I think this simple style works well for us because our look will never date. It’s timeless.”

The use of a long-lasting design is key, according to Ben Lambert, co-director of London-based brand and packaging design agency PB Creative.

“Creating unique and ownable brand equities that will stand the test of time is important. Get this right and new variants and sub-categories can be introduced without diminishing that carefully crafted identity – and target consumers will still relate to and understand who you are and what you’re offering. Get it wrong and you risk confusing and alienating consumers”.


A lot brands already have a strong look and reputation, but often they will look to refresh an image to reconnect with their audience. According to Gradwell at Kingdom & Sparrow, the agency deals with a 60-40% split of new brands looking to build an identity and companies looking to refresh their existing look.

“We tend to get a lot of small businesses coming to us for brand building,” he says. “But in terms of rebrands this tends to be the more established names looking for a way to tap into the craft market.”

Tennent’s lager, Scotland’s most popular beer brand, recently underwent a rebrand with a different intention. It’s new can design aims to highlight the quality of the liquid rather than giving it a hipster, alternative image.

Gradwell says: “The thing we need to think about most with a rebrand is that we don’t upset any of the reputation which the beer has already built over time. It’s more about communicating the same message but in a different way.

“It’s much easier for a new brand to be bold because it can’t really lose any of its audience and there’s less red tape for it to get through.”


Cash is another factor which contributes to the design of a beer brand – the more there is the greater the possibilities.

“The budget makes a big difference to what we can do with a design,” says Paton. “If a brand has a big budget we can play around with different finishes and things such as gold print labelling, but if it’s the opposite we get a different type of challenge by doing as much as we can with finite resources.”

Communication is another area which mustn’t be overlooked. There are certain boxes which need to be ticked legally on any alcoholic beverage, but as well as this the consumer needs to know exactly what they’re investing in.

“Clarity is extremely important in any design. Ultimately the consumer needs to know exactly what they’re buying without having to think about it, and simple information can often be overlooked,” adds Gradwell.

Heineken’s £40m payout is evidence that Beavertown’s beer has a lot of growth potential – not only for its revolutionary look, but its beer.

Consumers are being drawn into the craft beer category initially based on appearance, so the liquid needs to meet expectations set by flash visuals.

As it stands, these consumers are happy to pay premium prices for these beers because they’re different and sexy, but if the quality of a beer is not on the same level as its design then it could be damaging for the category as a whole.

As the craft beer market matures throughout Europe and the US, supermarkets are beginning to cut back on the varieties on offer.

This means we’re entering into the ‘survival of the fittest’ period for craft beers and, as big investments continue to roll in for the more established brands, these are the ones likely to survive in the mainstream.

There has never been a more important time for craft beers to get their branding nailed and chase a big investment.