Listening to the Label

Posted on March 23, 2012

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Over the last few years there has not only been an expansion in breweries and styles, but also in the types of packaging. Years ago it seemed that in the domestic craft beer section there were six-packs of glass bottles and a few 22oz bottles. The specialty (by “specialty” I do not mean imports like Stella, but styles that are less common like a Belgian Abby style or smaller production German lagers) foreign beers often came in singles and were almost all glass bottles, some were in 750ml, but the sizes varied. Now there is American craft beer in standard cans, tall boys, growlers, 750ml, 4-packs, 4-packs and 6-packs of cans in cartons, uniquely shaped bottles, flat top cans, and more. And when a beer is sold as a 6-pack or 12-pack, there is increasingly the option to buy a mixed-pack. I saw a mixed 6-pack of Saranac last summer, a great way for someone to try a number of beers with less commitment. A light or occasion drinker might want to explore a brewery’s lineup but trying a 6-pack of each could discourage them. Some liquor stores allow the consumer to create their own mixed 6-pack, but this often costs much more than a regular 6-pack.

In addition to the type of container, there is an expanding array of labels and messaging. From alternative can labels to prominently stating the beer’s high alcohol volume, there are many ways to communicate with the customer.  Some communication is more controversial than others, there are a few craft brewers who have received attention for the depictions of scantily clad women to accompany a beer that has been named with a double entendre, see the controversy over Clown Shoes’ Lubrication or Slater’s Ales Top Totty. There is also debate about information that is not on the beer label. For example, most craft beer drinkers know that Blue Moon is brewed by Coors, but this is not something you would know by reading the label and that lack of disclosure is seen by some as controversial. One of the wonderful things about craft beer is that it is often signaled with irreverent or artistic labels, as seen by Flying Dog or Lost Coast Brewery, seeing art encasing craft somehow feels appropriate. At the same time, a modest, well done label is equally impressive.

With the increasing number of craft breweries and styles created by each brewer, shelf space will become increasingly valuable and the packaging itself will have to communicate quickly and accurately. This is a great thing for someone who enjoys “window shopping” beers as well as consuming them, as it can be intriguing to look at the beer’s packaging and think about the story being told.

Next time you are in the beer aisle, take an extra second to think about the stories and messaging behind the beers from which you are selecting. What is in bold, what is italicized, is there a story told about the beer, is there artwork, is the corked 750ml signaling quality, why have they chosen to sell this beer only in 22oz bottles? Production size, packaging facility, environmental impact, cost, transportation, consumer trends, and marketing are come into play.

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Posted in: Beer Industry