Do Craft Brew Labels Affect Your Decision?

Posted on May 3, 2010 by

What factors on a beer label make you want to purchase?

Some of you may know that recently I decided to add “packaging” to my review process for beers. Traditionally a review consists of color, taste, mouthfeel, smell and drinkability…but none of those things have any factor in your decision making process when you are looking at one beer bottle next to another. So what options do you have for making your decision? Packaging!

What kind of information can you get from packaging that will help you make your decision?

I have determined a couple of things that I personally look and can usually find on the bottle. These are pretty consistent, but not limited to only these 6 things.

Brand

Pretty much every bottle out there has some kind of brand associated with it. If it doesn’t, shame shame, as branding is probably the most important thing when it comes to selling a product. Anyway, brand can play a key role in a purchase for me if I’ve had something from a specific brand and liked it. For example, I tried a Breckenridge Vanilla Porter and loved it! I proceeded to try their Agave Wheat and Oatmeal Stout, both of which I do like. Brand is important in this regard because instead of looking for a style or flavor description, I’m looking for something from a brand I trust.

Bottle Shape

The bottle shape to me is one of the first things that attracts my attention. Something that is not traditional always gets a little more attention. These non-traditional looks would be size and shape. Imagine an Orval bottle compared to a traditional 12 oz amber bottle. Pretty different huh? Plus, some bottle types are associated with specific styles. For example, the 750ml Belgian style Ale bottles with the cork tops. Just seeing that bottle can help give some clues as to what I am about to buy. Along with that one trend I’ve started to notice is these really large bottles being used. Buying one or two of these, what seem to be huge bottles, is quickly catching on. I actually prefer this larger size because it is perfect to pour out two pints for you and a friend to try and it makes meBourbon County feel special opening the bottle.

Label Art

The craft beer industry is notorious for having some of the most clever names, art and logos in pretty much any sector of business. But in a crowd of bottles, how do you get yours to draw the most attention? There are a couple of strategies that I see all the time. There is the crazy graphics and insane names like “Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch” or Tommy Knockers “Jack Whacker” seem to come to mind. This eccentric art and aggression has an appeal and draw to it that others do not. However, does it make you want to buy the beer? Or you could be staring at a bottle of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout which is a classy black, matte finished label with gold lettering on it. All it says is “Bourbon County Stout.” Does the elegance of this label appeal more to you? Then there is the in between. This one is hard to explain because that is just what it is, in between. It may have some nice colors and cool designs, but was it the label art that drew you in? Red, orange, green or blue…which draws you in or are you just browsing?

Style

Once you finally choose something to finally look at a little closer, you pick up the bottle and start reading. For me, I like a Porter or IPAbottle that has a style listed on it. The listing of the style allows me to categorize what is inside the bottle. The style written on the label tells me more about what is inside the bottle than anything else I see. By finding out the style I can begin to taste the malts, hops and/or other flavors that may be involved. I can begin to determine if I’m in the mood for sweet, hoppy, malty, fruity, etc before making the purchase. I personally feel a style listing is the most important factor in my decision making.

ABV

Alcohol by volume is usually listed on the bottle. This information doesn’t usually affect my purchase, but none the less it is consistently on the bottle. There is really only three things the ABV tells us. Is it going to be light, in the middle or burn after wards. A good 12% ABV beer could be completely smooth and leave you looking for the alcohol taste or it could leave you exasperating looking for something to chase the shot of liquor you just took…

Description

I see this more and more as I venture through the craft beer aisle. In some cases you’ll pick up a bottle and you’ll learn a bit about the beer before you buy it. Some descriptions include a listing of IBU’s, malts, hops, yeast and other brewing notes accompanied with a nice tasting note from the brewery. These can be helpful. Sometimes the note will tell you to expect an orange after taste or a malty sweetness. This can be very helpful for someone who doesn’t know a lot about styles.

Other descriptions may include the origin of the brewery or the beer itself. Some breweries like to tell little stories on the sides of their bottles which include the origin of the brew or a little tid bit of information on the name of the beer. For example, New Belgium Brewery’s “Ranger IPA” which states,

“Are you a hopinista? Thank our Beer Rangers for inspiring (and begging for) this well-balanced Simcoe, Cascade and Chinook hopped IPA. 70 IBUs.”

Final Thoughts

I personally enjoy a nice design, style listing and a description on my bottles I choose. I’ll pick up a bottle like “Flying Dog” once in a while, but its usually in “pick and mix” situations more so than picking up a 6 pack. I feel that bottle shape can draw my attention, but it isn’t the main reason I make a purchase and I could care less about ABV. Brand is important to me, but I’ll usually go to a brand I know when I’m looking for something in particular, not when I’m looking to be adventurous.

Your Take

So…what makes you pick up a new bottle to try it? Is it any of these factors or do you have a check list of your own? I’d love to hear them. Maybe I’ll add it to my list as well when I’m out at the store.

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  • BekahAnn

    The catchy name gets me everytime. My current favorite, Pike Kilt Lifter, was one I tried after being well into the glass down in Portland. I wanted to revisit it at its home brewery in Seattle. Tried it again and really enjoyed it. I try new beers more when I am out at a bar, so tap design, a catchy name, and the recommendation of the waitress are the only factors that come into play. How do you decide when you are out and about?

  • jezmez68

    Put it in a plain brown bottle with a silver cap and a white label with black lettering telling me company, style, IBU and ABV, maybe something about what kind of hops are used, and that's all I need. All that other stuff might as well be a candy bar wrapper – I pour the beer into the glass and put the bottle in the sink so I can soak the label off and refill with my homebrew.

  • http://www.sarahmccurdy.net Sarah McCurdy

    I think the marketing and labeling do have a lot to do with consumer choices. I have found it to be the same with wine. If I want something new, I tend to gravitate toward the better designed labels or strange shaped bottles. One of my personal favorites is Smoking Loon. It's inexpensive and makes me feel like I'm supporting Minnesota.

  • mikebiewer

    That is a really good point. When your looking at a ton of tap handles how do you pick?

    I would agree that the knowledge of the server, along with the ability to try a few mini glasses ahead of time really plays a role in my choices. Tap handles grab my attention though. I usually can't read the name at first glance so something like Long Hammer draws me in quicker.

    So I suppose it would go, tap handle, friendly staff, taste testing, then name for me.

    Thanks for the insight. I never even thought about it in a bar situation.

    Mike

  • mikebiewer

    LOL.

    Nice. I agree that the base information is a great help and really affects how I make my personal choices. I do however like a little bit of design. I suppose that is because I'm a designer by trade. I do like the style you are talking about though. A very minimalistic style appeals to me. I do like catchy marketing messages or a good story behind a beer. I find that the best stories come from a brewers mouth though…which can't be put on a little label.

    Thanks for the comment man!

  • mikebiewer

    Hey Sarah!

    Thanks for stopping by.

    I couldn't agree more. I really love strange shaped bottles. I don't know why…What I like even more though, is a label that makes me feel special. For example, when you buy a Mac, you get a really nice, clean box that is packaged differently than anything you've ever taken out of a box before. You feel like the money you spent was totally worth it.

    That is the same with beer for me. The sad part is, the beer could be crap, but until you taste it you feel special. I suppose that is a bit why I homebrew. The beer always makes me feel special and usually tastes great. You don't fall into the marketing message and it has a certain “Damn the man” feeling to it.

    You bring up a good point about the supporting local. I didn't even think to add that into this article. I suppose its because there are only a handful of breweries that I would consider “local” and everything else is shipped in from a far. It is a great point though. If a brew pub or brewery ever opened up here, if the beer was decent, I'd totally support it.

    I have a couple of wines for you to try. We picked some up on the penny sale. Remind me!

    Again, thanks for tossing in your two cents.

  • http://homebrewer2005.blogspot.com Jeff

    I'll check the style first, to see if I feel like buying it. Then I might be attracted to the label.

  • mikebiewer

    Hey Jeff,

    What do you mean by checking the style first? Do you use the label to see the which style it is?

    I only ask because some people have thought I'm only referring to design with this thread. I'm actually referring to everything that is on the label, which all wrapped together, is the design of the label. There can be so much and some times, so little information on a label it is sickening.

    I'm curious to know more about your purchasing process. Would you be willing to add a little more for us?

    Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate the comments!

    Mike

  • http://twitter.com/liverbashers Liver Bashers

    It is true what Sarah says about marketing and labeling affecting consumer choices. People should take the chance to try something new even if the label is not appealing to you. You might find something you have been looking for.

  • Anonymous

    I agree to an extent about just trying something. The old idea of “Don’t judge a book by its cover” comes into play here big time. However, would you do the same thing with coffee, or crackers or anything else you’d stand in an aisle at a super market and buy?

    The issue, in my opinion, is very similar to that of something like energy drinks or wine. There are SO many out there and it isn’t like you can buy something for less than a dollar. So when one spends their hard earned money on a new choice, they want some sort of confidence in making that purchase. Labels, in my opinion, are like first impressions. If you don’t catch me the first time, I may not come back.

    That is why tasting events are so popular and awesome. I can get a taste for free, with no labels attached and all I have to try and do is remember the ones I liked after a drunken night of tasting…LOL. That way I can get some of those beers after the fact at a local store.

    Have you ever seen a label that just made you want to try it?

    Mike

  • Anonymous

    Great post and some great labels. Just a pity there are so many truly awful ones out there too. Seriously cool selection here though! The new Great Divide packaging is awesome.

    beer bottle labels

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