British Craft Beer and the World Beer Awards
The World Beer Awards wasn’t exactly what I expected. A celebration of the very best internationally recognized beer styles, the annual taste event selects, awards and promotes the ‘World’s Best Beers’ to consumers and the trade.
While the competition primarily focuses on taste, the brands are also judged on their label design. I had the privilege to serve on the panel for this category last Wednesday.
Coming from the design world (and being a keen beer lover), it was a real thrill to see and taste a wide range of leading and challenger beer brands from around the globe. As each region takes a unique and different approach to expressing its identity, it was an excellent source of inspiration. While the event clearly targets and attracts brewery companies who want to put their products’ taste to the test, I think there’s a missed opportunity here in putting more focus on recognising branding and design as a powerful asset in building a successful beer brand, especially when in competition to find the World’s Best.
While there were definitely star brands with truly inspired and category-breaking visual identities, there was also a sea of sameness. Regrettably, this was particularly true in regards to British brands.
While our traditions anchor us to who were are, the refusal to evolve could leave us dusty and antiquated. Last week, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) reported that 29 pubs a week are closing across the UK. This should serve as a warning. If British beer brands want to not only survive, but thrive, they are going to need to start working a bit harder to generate some excitement and movement in the beer category.
However, all is not lost. The British are nothing if not resilient, especially when it comes to lager and ale. But the first thing we need to do is to recognise the design trends that are driving the market. Below are three key directions that are gaining momentum within the category.
Beer acting like Wine
There’s a global shift towards larger 75ml bottles, made for sharing and pairing with food. This is reflected in the design with simple, understated visual cues that offer a more sophisticated note than traditional beer bottles.
A Break from the Beer Badge
There’s a noticeable break from beer brand “badge” – usually a circular holding shape smack centre on the front of the bottle. Instead, brands are employing the entire surface area of the bottle as a canvas for the visual brand expression as opposed to keeping within category conventions. For example, some brands were using medieval paintings in their eclectic designs while others used large abstract typography to illustrate their brand personality.
Brewery vs. Product
As breweries continue to innovate with exciting processes and flavours to create specialty craft beers, the product is being illuminated as the focus of attention rather than the brewery itself. Each unique beer becomes king in its own right as the brewery takes a back seat, allowing the beer to sell itself.
At the World Beer Awards, I saw some fantastic design work coming out from all over the world, with Canada and Japan in particular. Overall, the most exciting brands were the ones that owned their own aesthetic identity and enabled the bottle to reflect the vibrant and notable tastes inside. There are a few British brands that are succeeding in this way, such as Brewdog, Camden Town Brewery and BBNo (Brew By Numbers). But there is ample opportunity here for British beers to raise the bar and create impact on a global scale, leading the way in effective and engaging beer design.