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The Art of Selling Beer....

Things were a lot simpler when I was a lad....

When I first started to visit pubs, choice for a beer drinker was a bit different than it is now. You had bitter, or best, or you had mild. If you wanted something different, you could, at your peril, opt for one of the kegs, maybe a Youngers Tartan, or a Whitbread Trophy. Or you could have a Guinness, or lager, or a bottle of brown ale off the shelf, served at room temperature. If you didn't fancy any of that, then it would have to be a spirit....

Lack of choice meant that the breweries didn't have to spend too much time thinking about the design on their pump clips. In those days, the big brewers like Whitbread and Watneys owned so many pubs that they could do more or less what they wanted. And so much of their focus was on marketing lager and those awful watery keg monstrosities like Tartan, Trophy, and the dreaded Watneys Red Barrel that dominated the bar with their garish fonts. With their frequent appearances in TV ads (hard to believe nowadays!) they were truly the stuff of nightmares, but they enticed a gullible audience into believing that these were the beers they had to drink. And in those days, more people went to the pub and most people who did just went to their local, and drank what was on offer, essentially a captive audience.

Leaving the keg horrors behind, branding on the proper stuff would tend to heavily feature the brewery name and what the beer was, but in terms of design, it was all pretty tame and basic. The brewery's heritage would be a common theme. You would get the wheat sheaf with Websters. With Tetleys, the monocled huntsman would stare out at you from the bar, exuding an air of unruffled tradition. And Sam Smiths Old Brewery Bitter, well, it was very much as it is today. But in essence, they didn't have to fight too hard for your attention as it was generally a case of take it or leave it....

Gradually, over the years, as more people started to drink cask beer, more breweries emerged, and the pubcos like Enterprise replaced the breweries as the major pub owners, the big money was still spent on marketing lager. As more pubs started to sell more different beers, though, the need to make yours stand out from the crowd resulted in some more interesting designs. There was still a strong heritage theme and often where they were brewed was featured. There was no real detail about the style of the beer other than simple terms like Pale Blonde, Golden Ale, or Strong Ale, but the character of the beer would be conveyed in names such as Wobbly Bob, Summer Lightning, or Black Adder.

As the general knowledge about what made up a pint became wider, names of hops started to appear in the names of beers. So you would get Goose Eye Chinook and Oakham Citra, both best sellers today for their breweries, and so nowadays, even where it isn't the name of the beer, it is quite common for breweries to list the hops that go into the beer on the pump clip. And designs have generally got cleaner and sharper; I have always liked the simplicity of Marble's branding - a re-assuring, timeless font, white on a black background, with no clutter. And when Elland had a re-brand a couple of years ago, they came up with a very clean and simple design - easy to read, strong branding, name of the beer, what it tastes like, ABV. And I like Anarchy Brewing's graffiti-style clips, but which still have the beer clearly shown. And Salopian always have easy to read pump clips for their beers.

At a busy bar, you may be struggling to see what beers are on, certainly if there is no up-to-date chalkboard listing, so it is vital that your beer stands out. Even now, some breweries don't seem to get this simple fact. I love Squawk Beers, but hitherto their design has been of the same bird, with the only differential being a small coloured circle in one corner with the name and strength in small writing, meaning that even for those with the eyes of a sparrow hawk it is very hard to make out if you are being offered a 3.8% Session IPA or a 6.3% behemoth! I did spot a couple of new clips waiting in the wings at the Market Tavern in Brighouse a few days ago, so maybe they've woken up to this fact at last.

Where the designers can really go to town though is with their cans. These tend to be a more considered purchase, with the customer generally being able to have a good read of them before they buy. Some real thought and design goes into these, particularly from the likes of Cloudwater and Beavertown. Some are real works of art, with busy, complex designs, although in the picure below Marble Pint's simplicity still stands out.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to what it tastes like, but having a design that suits the beer and the environment in which it is sold is more important than ever in these days of fierce competition....
Mentioning the Market Tavern earlier, I should mention that their 2nd anniversary is coming up very soon. Congratulations to Snap and Debs, who, along with Adam and Chantel, have continued to offer some excellent beers throughout in one of the friendliest pubs around! With a crowd of friendly locals, it is one of those places you can pop in at at any time and immediately feel at home. If you haven't checked out Brighouse's only micro pub yet, you are definitely missing out!

Here's looking at you, kid...jostling for attention

The conventional style pump clip

A new look for Squawk?


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