The monks at the Sint-Sixtus abbey have been well know for brewing up some top-notch beers. Look at any beer ranking site and Westvleteren 12 is sure to be close to the top. It is also one of the facts that every Belgian likes to spout at Americans who start talking about beer. That statement is then usually followed by something like, “much better than your Bud, eh?” Of course that proud Belgian has probably never tasted Westvleteren (or Budweiser) and if it’s not available at the corner store for next to nothing, he/she will never taste it. Of course there are people here who do care about good beer so I don’t let me paint too grim of a picture.
Back to the cheap and wide availability of beer. About a year ago it was announced that the monks had struck a deal with Belgian low-cost-leading grocery store chain Colruyt to sell a limited release gift pack of Westvleteren beer. This was to bring in some much needed funds to renovate the deteriorating buildings of the abbey. Seeing that Colruyt is a client of the product design firm where I work, my boss decided that I, being the beer guy and all, should throw together a quick concept for the gift box. A few hours later we sent our vision of how it could be done to Colruyt. Eventually they got back to us saying that they really liked the concept but said that the packaging had already been settled upon long ago. Oh well, it was worth the try.
Fast forward to a couple weeks ago: As I was reading through my daily feeds I came across a post on Danny’s site saying that a date had been set for the Westvleteren/Colruyt release. I clicked on through to read the details when all of a sudden my beer-loving mind was smashed against a cliche covered brick. Photos of the gift packaging had been released. It wasn’t a pretty sight. (and I’m not the only one who thinks so)
Someone must have thought “hmm beer, monks, and rebuilding. I’ve got it! Lets create the most uninspiring drivel we can think of and make this special fundraiser with one worlds most sought after beers into nothing more than a cliche. Brilliant!*” WTF! There was no thought put into this box. In this case, I know the beer will sell itself, but now it just seems like a silly marketing stunt rather than a worthwhile fundraiser for the abbey. Ok, sure, the idea behind the box is a brick and by buying “bricks” you are helping to rebuild the abbey. Really? That’s the best you could come up with? And the over-used ye olde font and gothic arches? Oh right, they are monks and monks are religious and religion is old. Have you seen the plans for the new buildings? They are modern and sober and there are no effing gothic arches!
In my not so humble opinion they really should have put some more thought into it and designed a package which links to what they are doing, sans cliché. I am not saying that my design (below) is the end all be all of monk-made-beer packaging, but it’s certainly no brick with gothic arches.
(if you want to see the PDF presentation we put together for Colruyt then click here)
Obviously I am biased, but sometimes I look at the state of Belgian Beer labels and graphics and just get pissed off at the level of creativity and care. I guess brewers here just take the nonchalant path and say that it is the beer in the bottle that counts and not the look of the label. True, in an ideal world that’s right, but here on planet Earth we can’t taste the beer through the packaging while we are at the store. The label is all we have to go by. If you see a beer with a beautiful label next to one with a crappy photo and some comic sans text, then you know which beer will be selling fastest (in this case I know the Westies will have no problem selling, but that doesn’t excuse the other 500 belgian beers with sh**ty labels). I also think it gives an impression of how the brewery works. If they care enough to put some time, effort and thought into a nice label then they probably don’t cut corners on the beer behind the label either. Of all countries, Belgium has the most exceptions to this rule. So many good beers get overlooked because their packaging looks like a 10 year old designed it.
Keep up the good work you wonderful Belgian beer label designers*
*read with a shot of sarcasm