Beak Brewery


The cartoon branding on many Beak Brewery alcoholic drinks is in a style that can far too easily appeal to young children (against Rule 3.2(h) appealing to Under 18s). The visual styling with bright, bold nursery colours wouldn’t look out of place in a kindergarten, and is very close to several popular children’s author/illustrator/franchises. Dick Bruna (most famous for ‘Miffy’), Jan Pienkowski (most famous for ‘Meg & Mog’), and Roger Hargreaves (Mr Men), immediately spring to mind, but I’m sure there are others. The characters on Beak’s packaging include fun, cute people, animals and anthropomorphic weather symbols, just like you might encounter in a children’s book. On cans, the thick, geometric typographic styling of the word ‘BEAK’ combined with these cartoons resembles the cover of Mr Men books. There is little adult sophistication in the illustration style as a whole. A not yet literate child could easily be attracted to these drinks and not be able to even read or understand that it was alcohol.

The Beak Christmas Gift Pack also features a pack of brightly coloured stickers which, given their aesthetic, feels too close in merchandising terms to children’s sticker packs that often come free with books/toys/magazines. This I feel is also against Rule 3.2(h) appealing to Under 18s. I am sure this is all unintentional on Beak’s part, but responsible alcohol manufacturers should surely be striving to create the very opposite of toddler-friendly alcohol packaging. Attached is a PDF of some examples of said children’s illustrators’ work next to Beaks products.


Member of the public


Under Code paragraph 3.2(h) – A drink, its packaging and any promotional material or activity should not in any direct or indirect way have a particular appeal to under-18s.


The company’s submission:

The company stated it was surprised to learn of the complaint from one member of the public, as it was the first it had received in nearly a decade. The company explained that it took social responsibility seriously and that it was willing to work within the parameters set out by the Code of Practice which it respected and supported.

The company stated that it was founded in 2015 at a time where the craft beer market was dominated by stereotypically male-centric imagery such as dark, detailed fantastical illustrations which appealed to a specific segment of the market. To ensure Beak appealed to a wider more inclusive demographic, the company worked with a graphic designer and an internationally known artist, to create branding which would capture the imagination of consumers beyond the beer market, who enjoyed art, fashion, literature and culture. The company explained that the branding was inspired by a number of sophisticated adult-centric brand styles which invoked adult interests of eating out, epicureanism and enjoyment of premium products. The company included a statement by the artist which explained that the branding of the drink was inspired by simple and direct forms of art which appealed to an adult audience.

The company stated it was an independently owned ‘Living Wage’ accredited small business and took social responsibility extremely seriously by considering the positioning and impact of its products within the community at all stages of conception. The company explained it had strict internal standards to ensure that its drinks did not have a particular appeal to under-18s and complied with the Code of Practice, for instance, by not featuring depictions of children, toys or things commonly associated with children. The company explained that its colour palette was restricted to three main colours: yellow, red and blue, inspired by artists such as Mirò and Mondrian. The company highlighted that these were not combined with secondary colours like purple, pink or orange which young children could have an affinity with according to research quoted in the Portman Group/Kids Industries Report.

In addition to this, the company stated that its labels all featured a plain white background with black writing to clearly communicate the beers’ alcoholic nature. The company stated that its labels were simple, not overly busy and included numerous positive alcohol cues on the back of each can.
The company stated that because it adhered to strict internal marketing guidelines, it had not received any prior complaints that any of its drinks had a particular appeal to under-18s and that it also exported to markets with strict labelling guidelines without complaint. The company explained that the drinks had been promoted by several adult focused publications and that the company had been approached by adult targeted businesses to enter sponsorship agreements which was indicative of the brand’s appeal to adults. This was also demonstrated through the company’s own social media data which reflected that the two largest demographics of its followers were consumers aged 35-44 and 25-34 respectively.

In regard to the specific concerns raised by the complainant, the company stated that it strongly refuted that minimalistic primary colour artwork on beers was unsophisticated and could appeal to under-18s. The company noted that the artist’s work, in broadly the same style as its own packaging, had been used across a number of adult brands including pharmaceutical companies, financial institutions, architectural firms as well as on other alcohol brands.

The company explained that a simple, colourful design did not have an inherent particular appeal to under-18s and cited several bestselling children’s books which included complex and detailed imagery. In addition to this, the company highlighted that simple illustrated characters appeared in a wealth of adult centric content such as graphic novels, pop art, anime and record sleeve designs. The company explained that its labels were not in any way informed by children’s books and any unintentional similarity to the titles mentioned by the complainant could be seen as nostalgic or retro, as those books were more than half a century old. The company explained that whether or not an image would have appeal to under-18s would be dependent on the context in which it was presented citing similar cases previously considered by the Panel which included Gamma Ray and Keller Pils. The company stated that a simple design which appeared in children’s media might appeal to under-18s but that the same design on alcohol marketing would have less appeal to children because of the adult context. The company emphasised that its designs appeared only in a context aimed at adults and that it did not distribute its products to supermarkets, instead it sold to 800+ independent specialist wine and beer bottle shops aimed at adults.

The company explained that none of the designs used on its packaging featured any child centric motifs and were presented in a clear adult context. The company stated that all of its labels featured the word ‘Beak’ on the front in Brandon Grotesque font which was influenced by the geometric-style sans serif fonts that were popular during the 1920s and 30s. The font was considered a modernist classic and had been used to promote universities and political campaigns and was not particularly attractive to young people.

Additionally, the company noted that Portman Group Guidance for Code rule 3.2(h) stated that inclusion of characters or anthropomorphic animals were not inherently problematic. The company explained that its artwork was deeply conceptual and represented adult-focused themes such as climate change, the importance of friendship and socially responsible drinking.

The company refuted that the stickers included in the gift pack could have a particular appeal to under-18s. The company highlighted that sticker collecting was a well-established hobby within the craft beer sector as evidenced by a recent book dedicated to the pastime which celebrated the visual culture of craft beer. The company explained that its own stickers were only available via its age-gated website and were sold at a premium price. The company stated that if the outcome of the complaint was to find that the inclusion of primary colours and simple line drawn characters were inherently problematic, even when used in an adult context, it would set a devastating precedent for both the company and the craft alcohol sector as a whole.

The Panel’s assessment:

The Panel considered whether the Gift Pack could have a particular appeal to under-18s as raised by the complainant. The Panel noted that the gift pack included six beers which consisted of the brands DÉŠŤ, HUM, LULLA, a beer glass and a variety pack of stickers. The Panel noted that it was clear from the producer response that a considerable amount of thought had been given to the design of each element with inspiration deriving from simple and direct forms of art.
The Panel discussed the individual elements of the Gift Pack before considering the overall impression conveyed by the items.

The Panel noted that the size of the glass was a standard style for a beer glass. The Panel noted that it had a ‘half pint’ measurement on it, which was typical for a beer glass and the Beak Logo which was a simple line drawing. The Panel noted that the overall design was fairly simple and minimalist. When considering HUM, the Panel referred to its final decision in relation to the packaging and stated that the artwork was fairly abstract and akin to a piece of adult art. When assessing the artwork in detail, the Panel noted that while it was playful in tone, the characters were adult in appearance and were depicted engaging in activity that would appeal to an adult; socialising while consuming alcohol. The Panel also noted that there were no other elements, such as anthropomorphic depictions or broader themes which would particularly resonate with under-18s.

The Panel then considered LULLA which depicted two adults in a stylised embrace on the front label. The Panel considered that the label was not overly busy and that the depiction of the people was created through simple line drawings made up of the contrasting primary colours of yellow, red and blue. The Panel discussed these elements and noted they could contribute to a level of appeal to under-18s but that these were factors, alongside the simplistic design, to be considered in context of the overall impression conveyed by the product artwork. In that context, the Panel noted that the out of proportion bodies gave the artwork an abstract feel. The Panel also considered that the embrace between the characters, who were clearly adult, reflected a sophisticated piece of art which would not have a particular appeal to under-18s.

The Panel then referred to its decision regarding the packaging of DÉŠŤ where it had concluded that that the combination of the simple design, anthropomorphic characters, contrasting colours, inadvertent similarity of font and presentation to the well-known Mr Men books and bold keylines meant that the packaging had a particular appeal to under-18s.

The Panel then discussed the inclusion of the sticker pack. The Panel discussed that sticker collecting was a hobby enjoyed by people of all ages and noted the company’s response that sticker collecting was a part of the craft brew culture. The Panel discussed that beyond craft brewers, other activities such as skateboarding also had a long tradition of sticker collecting or decorating equipment with stickers to express individuality and that this was a hobby enjoyed by all ages outside of the alcohol industry. The Panel noted that stickers held a level of appeal to children and could contribute to the potential overall appeal that the gift pack had to under-18s but that this would depend on the specific artwork depicted on each sticker. To that end, the Panel reviewed each of the individual stickers noting that one included a twin version of red and blue seals which were smiling and outlined with black keylines. The Panel noted that the seals had been anthropomorphised and were depicted as being friendly which would enhance the appeal they had to children. The Panel then noted that the artwork for DÉŠŤ, which depicted an anthropomorphic weather system of a sun hugging a tearful cloud, was also included in sticker form.

The Panel emphasised that the principle of compiling a gift pack with a beer glass, beer cans and stickers was acceptable under the Code provided that the individual items did not have particular appeal to under-18s in and of themselves. However, as the gift pack included DÉŠŤ packaging, the sticker of the twin smiling anthropomorphised seals and the artwork sticker of DÉŠŤ, the Panel concluded that these specific elements meant that the gift pack in this instance created an overall impression that would have a particular appeal to under-18s. Accordingly, the complaint was upheld under Code rule 3.2(h).

Action by Company:

Was limited edition.