Monday, 19 April 2010

Bottle Labelling

I’m writing a piece about bottle labelling and I'm interested in a broader consumer perspective on things.

When you walk into a beer shop or down the supermarket aisle, which bottles stand out the most? Do they stand out in a good way?

Of the premium brands (Stella, etc), who has the best looking and most recogniseable labels? Does the Coors thermo-chromic labelling interest you? Do you like Bud’s aluminium World Cup bottle?

Do you like information on labels such as the hops and malts used?

What are the best labels? From a design perspective, branding and market position. What are your favourite bottles and labels?


  1. Obviously the Coors Light thermo chromic label is fantastic!

    I would like to see more information about when to drink the beer on the label - I think the hops that are used is a nice to know if you're a beer expert but for the general consumer I don't think it's that interesting. What is interesting is knowing what food a beer is great with - I think the industry could learn a lot from wine bottles and put food pairings on the labels or advise if it works well as an aperitif or with deserts that kind of thing.

    I tried the M&S beer range at the weekend and I think the label designs are great but there is nothing in the copy that helps people know which beer to pick if they don't already have knowledge which is a real miss for me.

  2. A few tasting notes on a beer I haven't seen is usually what grabs me. Maybe with a crazy label. Or darker bottles.

  3. I want to know what the bloody beer tastes like!!!!! If I'm going to spend my hard-earned cash on your product then I'd like to be relatively confident that I'm going to like it.

    I am so sick of seeing the same old tasting notes on the backs of beers, invariably a variation on the theme of hoppy, malty & bitter (maybe the odd mention of sweet).

    And tell me what food it's good with, if I'm out shopping chances are I'll buy your beer if it says it matches what I've got in my basket, after all, the booze aisle comes at the end of the shop as a general rule...

    Both Young's & Fuller's are streets ahead of the rest of the market on this and many of the American crafts are also always marketing their brews with food, even anarchic nutters like Flying Dog.

  4. I think to some degree I'm biased by the contents, my favourite labels/branding are clean, different and stand out from the crowd, there isn't much in the average Supermarket that really jumps out at me. My current favourites in the UK are Moor Beer Co and Marble beers. Both these brands stand out for being contemporary, simple and solid timeless designs (ie not just 'of the moment' like perhaps Brewdog) I wasn't too surprised to find out that the designer of the Marble Beers labels previously worked for Peter Saville designs (they of Factory music covers fame). At the end of the day though if the beer is good then indifferent / unimaginative labelling is forgiven!

  5. I would like to see more info about the ingredients, what malts, hops, etc were used, and also things like Plato/OG, FG, IBU, etc.

    I think that data is important because with time more and more people will be able to interpret it and have a good idea of what they are buying.

  6. Taste-profile info is useful - you occasionally see spidergrams on websites to explain a beer's profile and I've seen smaller table-versions that can give you a good idea of likely flavours. Food pairings would be good as well, although that's quite a subjective area - one person's goes-great-with-curry might not be everyone else's after all.

    But I think what I'm most interested in seeing on a label is the story of the beer: it's geographical provenance, how long this particular beer has been brewed, why the brewer wanted to experiment with a different style of beer, or a particular combination of hops, malt and /or other ingredients. A good story will always sell an unknown beer to me far quicker than any label design.

    And from a purely design p.o.v. I'd notice something that was artistic and interesting (Hopdaemon's Skrimshander label is a classic example, and the BrewDog Atlantic and Zephyr labels were works of art in their own right) but I also like classy, modern, elegant designs (Adnams are pretty good at that sort of thing and the previously mentioned Marble beers are great as well).

    But I'm instantly suspicious of anything too cartoonish, either on a label or a pump-clip and it goes hand-in-hand with puerile beer names and extends to websites as well. To me, that suggests the brewery in question isn't really taking themselves (and by extension, their customers) all that seriously. Having a bit of a laugh is fine, of course, but I'd rather give my money to someone who was serious about brewing good beer.

  7. I love the moor labelling, clean simple and has the cyclops tasting notes on.

    I tend to like like clean and simple branding like the marble and kernell stuff but also like the more arty and interesting labels too...ilke the new adnams spindrift one.

    funnily enough despite the rest of the label (and the beer) being a bit poor)the barnsley beers put a litle bit that suggests what to eat with the beer which makes a change, you always see suggesions on wine so why not on beer?

    I did have a rather nice collection of beer bottles of lables i liked but our lass chucked them so im slowly but surely re building it around the shelves in the garage.

  8. The bottles that stand out the most to me are those directly under a large sign proclaiming "Special Offer"

  9. Oh and is a aluminium bottle not just an "odd shaped" can ?

  10. Interesting I was in a beer shop on Friday and my wife pointed out some nice labels, saying how well designed they were and how they would encourage her to buy the bottle, I had to say from personal experience that the beer was awful and full of yeast clumps. so my point of view is get the beer right as well. It’s all very well having fancy design but if what you have inside is bilge water then…

  11. Beer labels suffer from a distinct lack of ingredients listed, is that to do with embarrassment at admitting to the finings used in some beers perhaps? Or just historically they've never felt or been dictated the need too disclose full ingredients lists?

  12. Do finings even count as they aren't in the finished product? What's the score on things used in the process but not necessarily in the final product?

  13. I would like to see less warnings on labels that beer is bad for me if I ever manage to get pregnant. But seriously, labelling treads a fine line between giving enough information, and giving too much.

    I like to know what malts, adjuncts and hops are in a beer, but I don't care about IBUs and stuff like that, but then I am not a hopwhore chasing the latest greatest hoppy beer.

  14. Don't forget that the overwhelming majority of beer purchases are repeat purchases, so one key objective of labelling is to give the beer a clear identity that can be rapidly distinguished from others on the shelf.

    WV = "crate" :-)

  15. Flying Dog's labels are awesome. They caught my eye back when I was in college and still learning about beer. Since we didn't know what was good or bad, we just grabbed the cool looking 6-packs. Also in that group: Arrogant Bastard

  16. That's funny I was about to say I hate the Flying Dog style labels or labels that try too hard to be funny... (e.g. "Balls Deep IPA"). I prefer a clean look and good tasting notes.. I love when I can get any information possible with regard to techniques and ingredients (OG, IBUS, hops, adjuncts, ..and yeast family would be really cool even if not specific strain).

    I loved the label posted a while back on the Kernel Brewery:

    Ultimately, though I think that as people become more and more willing to pay a good chunk of money for a quality brew it becomes harder to try new things, just due to the risk involved when trying new things. A good description is always a plus.

  17. Interesting comments people! It seems that we're interested in beer going a wine route with more information and food suggestions. I like the idea of having that. I'm also all for ingredients going on the label - a geek like me likes that kinda thing!! To others then I'd hope that it'd encourage someone who doesn't know about ingredients to learn about them.

    Personally, I don't like tasting notes on labels - I think it's just a subconscious message telling you what to expect to taste. I do understand why it's important though - to most people listing the style, strength and hops used isn't enough of a guide and these bottles need to win customers on the supermarket shelves.

    Bad labels put me off the beer. I'm totally with Darren - no cartoons on my beer label!

    Cookie, an aluminium bottle is just like an odd-shaped can, it seems, but I like that - if the can won't work then maybe that will!

  18. @Christopher_R & I have a theory which is almost 100% right so far:

    crap label - crap beer!

    That's not to say that you need to have a designer label to have a great beer but for some reason our research so far is suggesting this.

    My favourite labels so far are Marble, Stroud & Adnams.

  19. Coincidentally, I was in Sainsbury's tonight and picked up a Hook Norton Hooky Gold and their back label is pretty informative - they have a quick sight / smell / taste guide and then a hop / sugar-cube icon-based section to indicate the bitter/sweet balance. Then there's a more general description of the beer and a mention of the hops used - US Willamette, plus Fuggles and Goldings. And then some blurb about the brewery. No food pairings and not much about the beer except for the descriptive stuff.

    The thing is, about 40% of the label is taken up by the bar-code and all the multi-lingual info and 'drink responsibly' warnings. Maybe the answer is bigger back labels with more room for the other elements? There might be cost / production method implications there though.

  20. I like labels that look as if they were last redesigned in the 1970s or even earlier. It strongly suggests the brewery doesn't have a marketing department interfering in everything and fucking it up.

  21. I think the shape of the bottle does as much for me as the label. Bottles from Fullers and Samuel Smiths look a lot more impressive on the shelf, which in turn makes me more likely to buy them.

  22. Rogues have awesome labels.

    Yeah they are based on the same formula, but the design is good.

    They also tell you all malt, hops, yeast and water on the side. With plato, lovibond and AA.