Month: January 2016

Stand up and get noticed

I had dabbled in home brewing prior to being involved professionally with brewers and breweries; making damson gin and a superb elderflower champagne, as well as a Woodforde’s Wherry Kit. I made sure I branded each batch with some bizarre label with an even more obscure title. A lot of the labels I produced for my brews were a subconscious synthesis of all the TV and cartoons I had watched as a child, mixed with movies like Weird Science, DARYL, Karate Kid and Robocop, with a dash of Terry Gilliam meets Brass Eye with a hint of Monkey Dust. There were a few classic influences from my design idols like Paul Rand, El Lissitzky, Saul Bass, Neville Brody.

Alas, one day out of chance, I met the managing director of Sadler’s Ales, not in a pub or at a brewery, but at an NCT class, where parents-to-be learn of what lies ahead in terms of nappy changing and the correct foods and fluids to give a child you know nothing about.

I was very fortunate that we both clicked in terms of imagination, representation, vision and the added value of design on product. The latter is very important, because ultimately we are creating an identity that we need to be powerful enough to differentiate not only with the 100s of bottles that may sit on a shelf, but to compete with breweries with 20, 70, 1000 times the design budget we had.

The result speaks for itself, a unique product that stands out from the crowd through unique characters endorsing the myriad of beers on offer.

Part of the Sadler’s bottled range designed by The Upright One

Ultimately the beer has to be good. If design is aligned to a great product, you are adding immense value. If the sales team is also moving in the same direction, you really have a winner.

A graphical label is not always the way forward. Typography is very powerful and at times, can be recalled a lot easier than an illustration. Getting the subject right is crucial. Read up and research what it is you want to transpose on the bottle. Recently I looked at a project concerning Mercian kings, and a Christian cross was suggested. Further research concluded that the Christianity had not reached this part of the British Isles. You would think that no one would actually sit and analyse the label, but that small bit of reading just helps get things right.

Mercian Alliance of Brewers collaboration brew, bottled by Twisted Barrel Coventry

I am currently working with Fixed Wheel Brewery amongst other breweries. They are based in Blackheath. Again, a lot of reading about cycling, which thematically, is where the packaging revolves around. Big events, cyclists, cycling jargon, frame geometry, races… everything needs to be understood or at least have a good grasp of it. If you try and blag artwork on surface knowledge it will show, not only to the client who is passionate about cycling as he is about his beer, but those in the know.

Fixed Wheel’s Omerta Russian Imperial Stout.

The best advice I can give a brewer is, brew some quality beer. Then, think of a subject matter in your life time that has influenced who you are as a person and how, in some direct or indirect way, has influenced the product you are selling. It could be anything from Minecraft, to Elizabethan alchemists, to robotic villains, engineering components with a twist to programming terms….with a twist. Whatever it is, make sure whoever you are taking onboard, to look into the connection and the subsequent representation. Two, that they have read about the subject matter, and to present to you their interpretation before hitting the design packages.

Sadler’s Sweet Leaf. Illustrated by Stourbridge based Wozart

Once ideas, vision and the all important estimate has been signed off start creating something inspiring to present to the world. Remember, that there is a pool of illustrators and graduates out there that need a chance. Help them follow their dreams and passion. Illustrators don’t have to cost a fortune. This only happens when the ideas put forward are not clear from the start. Remember that designers and illustrators are not magicians. They need inputs, sometimes these inputs need to be visual queues as we don’t all process information in the same way.

If your budget is tight, there are a lot of resources out there that are free and only require you to give the author some credit or donate an amount of your liking. This includes typefaces, graphic assets, photos.

Hop and Glory by Craddock’s Brewery. Plays on the royal crest although both beast were reversed to avoid any issues with the official crest.

Keep it legal, the last thing you want is to sell 1 million bottles or pints, and then have a copyright infringement issue at your doorstep. I have seen and keep on seeing examples of blatant misuse of images. Using R2D2 on a pump-clip, or Walter White from Breaking Bad on a bottle. I mean you can use a robot that is blue and white but say has looks like a cross between Hector from Saturn 3 and Optimus Prime. Or, in the case of a “Walter White” style character, draw a bald man, wearing glasses like Bret Sergeant Hart in his WWF days, pink leotards and all, smoking hops from a bottle fashioned like a bong… call it Lazy Days and a tag line beneath it… High in Hops.

Getting copyright and licensing right is not hard. Stock libraries explain what and how you can use the images. Normally you have a standard licence (with limited impressions or times you can print or reproduce the graphic) or extended, which in most cases allows for unlimited use.

However, with stock, or publicly accessible assets, there is the issue that someone else can use it and they have an equal right as you may have. Hence why illustrating or own graphics are best.

Over the coming months, I hope to add new observations on how to better your brand image, ways to market, ideas. I hope you have enjoyed this personal summary. Rachid Taibi • Creative Designer at The Upright One




Making a scene

I’m sat writing this in the Hop Inn, Newcastle-under-Lyme, drinking Hopcraft’s delightful pale-and-hoppy Oceanic. A few years ago, finding a beer like this within the area would be unthinkable, but now it’s the norm. For those of you who haven’t had the chance to see the rapid development of a beer scene within Stoke-on-Trent & Newcastle-under-Lyme, let me give a quick account of just how quickly things can change.


Let me start by sketching the beer scene in this area a couple of years ago. There’s never been a shortage of pubs in Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme, but they mostly stocked the usual suspects from big national breweries. Cosmetic differences and locality were the key factors in who they attracted through the door. If you wanted something different to drink, your choice was the obvious Whetherspoons, a Titanic brewery pub (for local bitters served in a clean, traditional style of pub) or The Holy Inadequate. The Inadequate was the first pub in the area to embrace the new wave of more experimental small breweries and good beer from abroad – bottles of Schneider Weiss and Tiny Rebel NP10 stand out in my memory.


The Inadequate stood out for quite a while as the lone voice calling for exciting beer. This status quo was changed in 2013 as local small brewery Lymestone opened the Lymestone Vaults in Newcastle-under-Lyme. A beautifully fitted out cosy pub, they served the breweries range of good traditional beers – including my perennial favourite “Einstein” which uses European hops in a pale British bitter to great effect. No surprise really, as Head Brewer Brad was formerly of Titanic and shows all the best qualities of that brewery in his own business.


The following year, The Hop Inn opened, also in Newcastle. Clean, classic styling was paired with a range of predominantly pale-and-hoppy (sessionable strength) beers – Mallinson’s, Hopcraft, Oakham and Magic Rock proving regular favourites in a changing line up that frequently shows a love of Yorkshire beers).


The next shift in local beer was one you could see coming if you frequented the Hop, as the people behind it were mostly to be found drinking (and planning) in there. Within the last 6 months or so, four bottle shops have opened – first BottleCraft in Hanley, then Ten Green Bottles and The Hop Water Cellar in Newcastle, and last (but by no means least!) Otters Tears in Burslem.


2015 also saw the arrival of three micro-pubs to the area – first the Bridge Street Ale house in Newcastle, followed by the London Road Alehouse in Stoke & the Ale Corner in Hanley. Of these, the London Road Alehouse is my closest and seems to have gone for beers from more traditional small breweries, the kind of ones you will rarely see online buzz about and may well never come across again outside of their local CAMRA festivals.
Somewhere in the middle of all the change, we also saw the quiet arrival of Bert’s – a burger bar offering a nice selection of Belgian and German bottled beers.


Equally interesting to these new options was the changes to the existing pubs. The Lymestone Vaults remains a lovely, cosy spot, whilst Brad has begun to expand his range and to experiment further – a version of their Stout, Stone Dead, brewed using Saison yeast was a highlight for me. The Titanic pubs, too, have expanded their offerings, with increasingly interesting guests on the bar and a “craft beer” keg and bottle range that always holds something of interest. Meanwhile, the Hop has added a well curated bottle selection and expanded their range to include two keg lines (correction – 4 keg lines, thanks Phil!).


All in all, there’s now a good range of choices for those hunting good beer in Stoke and Newcastle – if you haven’t been to see it for yourself, you should. Anyway, I’m going to turn my mind to the weightier question of whether to have the Northern Monk/Weird Beard collab next, or the Magic Rock – it’s great to have such difficult quandaries to face!

A Trip to Oregon pt 2 – Portland

So I have to say we didn’t really do Portland justice, but I think you would need at least a month to do that.  On the plus side we did visit some nice places and drank some great beer…

On finally arriving at our home in North East Portland for 5 days we really wanted somewhere close by rather than travelling into downtown so our host recommended NEPO 42 which was just 6 blocks away. This turned out to be a good choice because apart from the food being very nice it had 20 taps and I was able to try Ninkasi Total Domination IPA which was pretty good… But Deb had asked for something hoppy, the server said I know just the thing and came back with Fresh Hop Workhorse by Laurelwood Brewing Co. This was stunning, one of the freshest, hoppiest beers I’d ever tasted. Obviously I needed to have one myself and it was probably one of the best beers I had on the whole trip. And yes I am aware that I may never taste anything by this brewery again, but that is part of the point of travelling. We live in a world where lots of things are hyped up, and beer certainly is one of those areas where it happens. But on our return someone quoted a statistic that 53% of the beer that gets drunk in Oregon comes from Oregon. I don’t know about you but I thought that was a hell of a thing. I can’t really imagine that happening in the West Midlands but who knows? However, the quality of the beer in Oregon is so high that you can understand it. As I said to a few people on our return, getting a bad glass of IPA would be a difficult proposition, it almost becomes boring how good it is (note I did say almost ☺)


This became the standard for the few other bars we visited which included The Concordia Ale House where we had 3 beers from Boneyard Brewery which were really good.  At Baileys Taproom we came across the most fantastic beer board ever since it told you how full the kegs were, and your Untappd check ins appea20150919_142958red at the top…and then we subsequently found a similar board in a bar during our 24 hour stop over in Chicago. Here I tracked down Bourbon Barrel Aged Brain Bucket by Wild Ride Brewery from Richmond.


And we visited Apex P1130733with its 50 taps, a bar that did look further afield than Oregon since it had 5 Belgian beers on from Cantillon, which seemed to be going down very well with the cognoscenti that we had a chat with. I was also surprised to see a beer from J.W.Lees listed as well. Unfortunately I was a bit stuffed after my Cheezus for lunch so didn’t drink a lot, although my 2nd beer, the latest Woot Stout, was definitely a sipper anyway.

And it wasn’t just the bars that had an amazing selection of beer, the local grocery store that we visited a couple of times, New Seasons Market, had a ridiculous amount, here is a picture photo of just a small selection.



On our last day I finally got to visit one of Portland’s 50+ breweries.

Deschutes opened this brewpub in a converted auto-body shop in the Pearl district of Portland in 2008 as part of the 20th anniversary celebrations of opening their first brewery in Bend. It is responsible for brewing some of their core brands such as Mirror Pond plus a selection of seasonal and experimental beers developed and brewed on site exclusively for the Portland pub by the brewers.  All the assistant brewmasters get to run this part time pilot brewery in rotation, and it was responsible for coming up with experimental pale ales that are now part of the regular portfolio. One of these used a revolutionary new hop called Citra back in the day which seems to have caught on quite well with a lot of brewers.  It annually produces 1,800 barrels and the brew pub’s 26 taps feature Deschutes mainstays plus a selection of these experimental and seasonal beers along with a fine selection of gourmet pub grub.  I tried the Zarabanda20150921_133114 which they describe thus – “a Spanish take on the farmhouse style saison, with the addition of Lemon Verbena, pink peppercorn, sumac, and dried lime “ – and it was indeed one of the nicest saisons I’ve had.  I also had a couple of good IPAs and finished with the “Bloody awesome” Black Butte XXVII, again over to the brewers for a description – “Our 27th Anniversary Imperial Porter was brewed with Theo’s cocoa nibs, pomegranate molasses and select spices, blended with apricot puree, and then aged in bourbon barrels. The result is a truly exquisite ale with bold chocolate character, inspired flavors of fruit, and just a pinch of spice. The perfect way for us to celebrate our golden birthday with you! “  

And a perfect way to finish our vacation to Portland, surely one of top US cities to visit if you are a beer fan!

#MBBCUK Beery Resolutions 2016

It has been a fantastic few months for the blog, as we have made new friends, found new contributors and already seen some great changes in the Birmingham beer scene.  We hope that Boaks & Baily are right and 2016 will be the year Birmingham becomes a new beer destination for the UK.

My hope is that Midlands Beer Blog Collective will be able to contribute to growth in Birmingham and beyond. To this end, I have made some resolutions:

  • To help raise the profile of the beer scene in the Midlands;
  • Find new contributors to add interesting and exciting content to the site;
  • Find new contributors from other parts of the Midlands;
  • See some new beer destinations open in Birmingham and beyond;
  • Forge links with other Midlands based blogs;
  • Feature Midlands based breweries and celebrate the great beer being made across the Midlands by great people;
  • Encourage people to drink beers from Midlands based breweries;
  • See MBBCUK post on a more regular basis with one off articles and regular contributors.

Some personal resolutions include:

  • Post blogs on a more regular basis;
  • Continue to learn about different styles of beers;
  • Try more beer on cask and appreciate the craft involved;
  • Figure out what ‘craft’ beer is;
  • Use the word ‘craft’ less;
  • Learn hope to pick out and describe flavours in beers;
  • Learn to not be a p***y and begin to like Sour Beers (this is a story for another day)
  • Visit more great places around the UK and beyond, including Bristol, London, Newcastle, Dublin & all of Belgium;
  • Investigate breweries as social enterprises;
  • Create my own recipes for home brew;
  • Learn more about beer and food matching;
  • See lots more people engage with MBBCUK

We hope you will enjoy what will be doing in 2016. If would like to contribute to the blog or feel you can help us with any of our resolutions we would love to hear from you.