Real cheerleaders

Forget flat-capped individuals and old country pubs, real ale has a growing audience of young aficionados, including women. Angus Montgomery looks at how a range of brands are being revamped for a modern audience

Is there a reason we have to keep talking about Old Thumper and the like? Can’t we move on?’ asks Gary Spencer, director at Slice Design. Slice has recently created the identity for start-up Norfolk brewery Panther, one of a number of recent real ale branding projects that have attempted to move the sub-sector away from what Spencer disparagingly refers to as ’all the Wolf Brewers and Old Rippers and the like’.

Real ale has long been talked up as a growing drinks sector, with references to its increasing popularity among women and young people and its move away from the traditional stereotype of flat-capped, ferret-fancying drinkers who wear socks with their sandals.

The Cask Report 2010-2011 – independently written and backed by the Campaign for Real Ale and major brewers – says the number of women drinking cask ale (real ale sold on-trade through hand-pumps) doubled between 2007 and 2008, while the number of 18to 24-year-old cask ale drinkers rose by 17 per cent from 2009 to 2010.

What is notable about the real ale sector from the branding perspective is that it has become so sophisticated that Simon Manchipp, founder of Someone, which has worked on the branding for London brewery Meantime for the past seven years, can now talk of ’the established brands like Directors and Fullers, which are untouchable; extreme brewers like Brewdog [infamous for its 32 per cent ABV Tactical Nuclear Penguin ale and for selling limited-edition beers packaged in stuffed grey squirrels]; and Meantime, operating somewhere in the middle’.

An additional boom in small independent brewers around the country – referred to by some industry figures as ’bucket-and-stick operations’ – has brought further life to the sector. Many of these smaller independent breweries, with their emphasis on provenance, regionalism and authenticity, are a godsend for designers looking to get their teeth into a juicy brand story.

The Panther Brewery, which launched at the end of last year, is in many ways typical of this trend. Slice’s Spencer says the brewery has been established by Martin James, a former food technologist for Tate & Lyle who had bought a closed-down brewery in Reepham, Norfolk, after being made redundant.

Spencer says, ’The problem with real ale is that for a lot of people it’s a bit of a hobby. We said to Martin, “You’ve got to make a career out of it – you’ve got to start looking at what consumers want, not what you want.”

As well as being able to leverage the brand equity from regenerating a derelict brewery, the Panther name references local Reepham legends of a large cat that stalks the countryside. Spencer says, ’It’s an amazing story and we worked to bring the panther theme through in the sleek shape of the graphics.’

However, he admits the name first came up in a slightly more roundabout manner. ’Originally, the client wanted to call it Pink Panther and aim it at women. We managed to persuade him this was a bad idea, but we kept the Panther name.’

Strong brand stories also abound in Brandopus’ work for Hall & Woodhouse’s Badger beers, which is rolling out initially with the Hopping Hare bottled ale.

Brandopus says the typeface, which incorporates leaves and tufts of grass, ’evokes the countryside connotations of the Badger brand’ – based in rural Blandford St Mary, Dorset. Brandopus is also explicit about targeting female consumers, who it claims are responsible for 31 per cent of bottled ale sales.

Blue Marlin, which is working on a rebrand of Cardiff brewer Brains’ cask ale portfolio, also highlights the growing number of female drinkers, with global business development director Simon Jones saying, ’Cask ale is moving away from being seen as an old man’s beer to reaching a broader audience – the discerning drinker under 25 and women. It’s a small, but significant trend.’ Jones says that when the new designs are unveiled, each beer will have its own product story and personality.

Someone’s work for Meantime, says Manchipp, has been all about ’going back to authenticity’. He says, ’When we were doing the original design work we tried to do a modern take, but it all ended up looking awful – like alcopops. So we’ve tried not to modernise in the design sense, but to go back to a deeper authenticity.’

With Meantime, as Slice found with Panther, Someone had a treasure trove of stories to work with. Manchipp says, ’India pale ale, for example, was originally brewed stronger and more hoppy so that it could survive the sea journey to India. Meantime’s IPA comes from an understanding of the background and uses the original recipe.’

Brand stories also abound in Freeman Christie’s Real Ale Bible – a project completed this month for pub owner Mitchells & Butlers. The edition, which will be available in M&B pubs, carries tasting notes and information about 23 different beers from 18 brewers around the country.

Freeman Christie creative director Mark McArthur-Christie says, ’The brewers have all got great heritage and stories for us to get our teeth into.’ He adds, ’What we wanted to do was premiumise the product. If you look at the heritage, the quality and the flavour of real ale it deserves to be a premium product.’

Real revenue

  • Golden brew – cask beer is a £1.8bn market, responsible for 45 000 jobs. It also raises £454m a year in duty for the Treasury
    Source: British Beer and Pub Association
  • Youth market – 20 per cent of cask ale drinkers are aged 18-34 and 68.5 per cent are from the ABC1 social group
    Source: The Cask Report 2010-2011

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