Do Craft Brew Labels Affect Your Decision?
Posted on May 3, 2010 by mike
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.
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.
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 me feel special opening the bottle.
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?
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 bottle 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.
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…
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.”
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.
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.