See No Evil: Design in Craft Beer

Words: Karl Tessendorf

They say you should never judge a beer by its cover, well close enough, but these days that is much easier said than done. The truth is that with an ever expanding line up of craft on the shelves, we drink with our eyes first, and most of us are drawn to what looks appealing. Great design makes a beer stand out, it raises the bar, and sets the standard for other brands to measure themselves against.

Creativity and design are fast becoming a focus of the more savvy breweries. They have embraced the fact that the visual bridge between brewery and beer drinker needs to be both considered and awesome.

Your beer could be delicious but if it looks like it was designed by your cousin’s cousin who’s killing it in first year design, complete with low-res hoppy clip art and a barley wreath, well… there’s a good chance that it’s going to be ignored.

Thankfully we live in a time that’s moved away from Times New Roman and ribbon banners. A time of educated beer drinkers who want a beer that delivers on all fronts.

They want the complete package, and if it says “Lucifer’s Ingrown Toenail Imperial IPA”, it better look like it was brewed in a cauldron, and make me think twice about taking a sip.

This is what separates strong brands from weak ones. Strong brands have strong identities and this is where good design is born. It’s not just design for the sake of design, it’s concept driven design, and ideas are powerful things. If a brewery can get all of these things right, they’ll have people reaching for their hard earned cash in a heartbeat. In this new series that we’ve dubbed ‘SEE NO EVIL’, we’ll be focusing on design in craft and what we like about it. To kick things off we’re starting with a few classics so let’s get to it!  

Our Expert-ish Panel:

Matthew Ibbotson: The owner of Crush Online. Graphic designer, foodie, stylist, photographer, and beer lover.

Greg Gilowey: The industrial designer half of Beer Country. Fire maker, meat griller, beer hooligan.

Karl Tessendorf: The copywriter half of Beer Country. Flame tamer, burger obsessive, professional drinker.

And Union Friday IPA

and Union Friday IPA

Greg: Simple, bold, premium and cooler than Samuel L. Jackson with his BMF wallet. And Union redefined beer packaging before South Africa even knew it was a thing. At that stage, these guys were kicking-off the craft revolution, and had people asking “is it a beer?”. You bet your custom Café Racer it is, and a damn tasty 500ml at that. I want it now.

Karl: And Union describe themselves as a ‘Modernist Bavarian Craft Brewer’ and this is about as modern as it comes. So simple, so elegant, and very clever. It’s got one strong colour, which echoes the colour of the beer, and it’s anchored by one word, Friday. Who doesn’t like Friday? I’ve seen people buy into this beer purely because it’s called Friday, and that is clever thinking right there. It has standout appeal and you can’t mistake it for anyone but And Union.   

Matt: It’s simple, it’s balanced, it’s crafted and it’s called Friday! This pack design, in its, simplicity perfectly portrays what the craft beer movement in South Africa should be all about. Cutting away all the crap and enjoying a simple, honest product with such underlying style. It’s a brave design and tells the potential beer drinker more with it’s well balanced choice of Sans Serif than a million, overused, mechanical photoshop filters could ever do.

Jack Black’s Lumberjack Amber Ale

Lumber Jack Amber Ale

Greg: Skull, beard, axe, checked shirt in a forest – take my money! I am a sucker for great design that doesn’t take itself too seriously and this one is a classic. It was the first beer that made me grab it before I even knew what was in the bottle, which as it turns out, was my second favorite Amber (second only to my daughter).

Karl: Jack Black’s have always had an American identity and what’s more American than a lumberjack? Why is it a skull? Who cares! It looks awesome and when you throw in a sweet beard, well, it just makes it even cooler. It paints a scene and it makes me feel like this is the beer I should be drinking after a hard day’s work. Jack Black’s was also one of the first to print straight onto the bottle which adds texture and solves the problem of labeling and labels coming off in an ice bucket.  

Matt: Open mountains and hard physical labour in a checked shirt- that certainly is the tale behind a lot of craft beers. The textured illustration, strong two colour palette and bold, stacked old school type faces make this an authentic craft beer design. It’s hard and rugged and if it came with a ten pound axe or chainsaw it might be perfect.

Devil’s Peak King’s Blockhouse IPA

Devils Peak Blockhouse

Greg: This was the first beer that spoke to me, literally, with a little message on the side of the bottle that says, “I am not a Beer as you know it, but a Beer as it should be”. Add to that the awesome illustration topped with a serious dose of local naming inspiration, and you’ve got me, I’m in. It’s a little harder to read these days on the 330 ml, but in those first 500 ml dumpy-days, it was big, bold and incredible – just like the beer.

Karl: I’m a sucker for illustration and the original line up of Devil’s Peak beers are still my favourite labels. They are like opening a story book that’s filled with intricate detail. The design carries right around the bottle and there are little surprises all over the place. For me this is a sign of well thought out design that stands out. King’s Blockhouse has been the complete package benchmark for many years and it’s easy to see why they won a Loerie Award for design.

Matt: This is what you call crafted design. From the fine illustrated elements to the detailed choice and weight of fonts.The classic black and white etching set against the contemporary blue gives it punch on a crowded shelf. This design gives me the feeling of time – when letters were set in printers trays and leading was created with real lead and not a click of button. Some things need to be crafted and this beer and its label certainly were.

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