Don’t judge a beer by the can

The simple but effective can for Balter.

By Bob Anthony

We have all been told that you don’t judge a book by its cover – the same might be said that you shouldn’t judge a beer by the beer can.

Going into bottle shops and liquor outlets these days can be confronting with the range of brews growing almost daily.

As more brewers, particularly craft breweries, opting for cans which are more durable and “protect” the beer better than stubbies, it also provides them with a much bigger “canvas” to market the product.

Mainstream breweries have successfully developed product loyalty through their brands which are easily identifiable.

The look of major brands such as VB, Tooheys, XXXX Gold and Great Northern doesn’t change too much and drinkers can easily recognise them no matter where they may be in the country (and in some instances overseas).

For craft brewers, the situation is much different.

Competition in the beer fridge is intense and if you are trying to develop brand loyalty, you first have to have the consumer purchasing your product.

Discerning beer drinkers will no doubt examine the label on the can to see what type or style it.

The beauty of beer can labels is that there is room to have some quasi tasting notes to inform the drinker of what they might expect.

And with attractive beer can designs and labels, it is an easy way to make your product stand out.

However, it doesn’t always means that the product inside the can is equal to what on the outside.

Editor of the beer industry magazine Brew News, Matt Kirkegaard, said that there are plenty of examples where keeping it simple can often be a successful course of action.

“Being able to have your product recognised quickly in the bottle shop is a bonus, especially if you have consumers who know exactly what they are after,” Matt said.

“Take Balter beer for example – its design is simple, not outstanding or visually too impressive but by keeping the look of the can clean and ‘standard’, when you look in the beer fridge or shelves and see it, you immediately identify with the brewer.

“They have a decent range of beers but only slightly change the design, mainly colours to match the product in the can, whether it is an IPA, Pale Ale or Mid Strength.

“It doesn’t take the consumer long to see what type of beer it is and they can make their choice quickly.”

Matt said for many craft brewers, the beer can label also reflects the type of market they are after and what their beer is about.

“The craft beer can is definitely a marketing tool which can appeal the curious, the die-hard craft beer drinker, men, women, young or old drinkers and those looking for something different,” he said.

“The label can reflect the personality of the brewer or brewery so it’s no surprise that many brewers spend time and resources on designs based on what they might gain through market research.”

To see just how competitive beer can design can be, organisers of the annual Great Australia Beer Spectacular, held around the country, have a beer can design competition which attracted around 150 entries in 2022.

Finalists of each state go against each other in a visual feast.

The winners from 2022 were:

Blood Maria Imperial Gose Michelada – Cavalier Brewing, Victoria (first)

British India Pale Ale – Black Hops Brewing, Queensland (second)

Tawny Grogmouth – Buckettys Brewing, NSW (third)

However some brewers may over complicate things and bury the important info in the label.

The challenge is balance, just like the beer itself. Too complex and you confuse the purchaser, too bland and you don’t attract anyone.

I admit that if you tend to collect beer cans like I do, the visual aspect does attract in at the Bottle O but then when looking for the tasting notes ( much like you do for wines), finding it and trying to understand what is being said can be a challenge.

Beer can design is playing a growing importance in a highly competitive market but as drinkers we should never lose sight of the fact that it is “ what’s in the can” that’s the most important aspect.

If the product lives up to the expectations of the outside – that’s a winning combination in my books.

Cheers to beers,

Bob Anthony

For more on the GABS beer can design competition, visit

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