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. 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 3.1 – The alcoholic nature of a drink should be communicated on its packaging with absolute clarity.


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 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 drink’s packaging had a particular appeal to under-18s as raised by the complainant. The Panel discussed the artwork on the front label which depicted an anthropomorphic smiling elephant alongside a humanoid character with enlarged facial features that partially mimicked the elephant. The Panel noted that the design was not overly busy and that it was clear from the producer response that a considerable amount of thought had been given to the design, with inspiration deriving from simple and direct forms of art.

The Panel acknowledged that minimalistic and simple design trends had grown popular in recent years as referenced by the producer in its response and stated that a simple or minimal design in and of itself would not necessarily indicate a particular appeal to under-18s. The overall art style on the packaging was fairly simplistic and the colour palette, while muted, included contrasting colours such as green, blue and red and a black keyline around the characters. The Panel considered that such elements could contribute to a level of appeal to under-18s but that these were factors to be considered in the context of the overall impression conveyed by the artwork.

The Panel then assessed the two characters in detail and noted that the side profile of the elephant appeared to be similar to ‘Elmer the Patchwork Elephant’, a popular character from a children’s book. The Panel discussed the complainant’s concern and noted that the green and blue colour palette with the black keyline illustration did bear a resemblance to the well-known Miffy books. The Panel noted the longevity of the books but also considered that the series was still popular with children today.

The Panel discussed the human-like character that had exaggerated flappy ears and an enlarged nose, which made the character appear friendly, playful and engaging for young children. The Panel noted that the rounded lines used on both characters made them appear softer and in combination with the friendly disposition and exaggerated facial features meant the illustration had a particular appeal to under-18s. This was compounded by the overall theme of friendship, which the Panel considered would be a message that would resonate with children and enhance the appeal.

The Panel discussed the producer’s response, in particular the point 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. The Panel noted that the product was predominantly sold to independent specialist adult beer and wine shops but sought to remind the producer that all products could be purchased and taken into the home environment, with some retailers also distributing products wider than a producer’s original intention and out of their ultimate control. In addition to this, the Panel noted that the remit of the Code and its application applied to the product packaging and its fundamental compliance with the Code as opposed to an assessment of how the product was retailed in an adult context.

The Panel stated that it was clear from the company’s articulate and detailed response that it had not intended the packaging to have a particular appeal to under-18s. The Panel discussed the points mentioned above and considered that the packaging was an example where individual elements that were not inherently problematic under the Code in isolation, such as simplistic artwork, anthropomorphic characters, bold keylines and bright contrast colours could become problematic when combined, creating an overall impression that was likely to have a particular appeal to under-18s. Therefore, the Panel considered the overall impression conveyed by the packaging and concluded that the combination of simple style, contrasting colours, exaggerated smiling anthropomorphic characters, thick black key line, similarity to some children’s book styles and theme of friendship meant the packaging had a particular appeal to under-18s. Accordingly, the complaint was upheld under Code rule 3.2(h).


While considering whether the product had a particular appeal to under-18s, the Panel raised consideration of Code rule 3.1 and discussed whether the product communicated its alcoholic nature with absolute clarity. The Panel observed that the front label included the drink’s alcoholic strength by volume (ABV) and the descriptor ‘DIPA’. The Panel noted that most consumers would be familiar with an IPA descriptor for a beer. In addition to this, when considering the back label, the Panel noted that there were multiple positive alcohol cues on the label including a reference to beer, ale, brewing, signposting to Drinkaware, unit content information and the drink’s ABV. When considering the overall impression conveyed by the packaging, the Panel stated that there were sufficient positive alcohol cues and concluded that the label clearly communicated the drink’s alcoholic nature with absolute clarity. Accordingly, the Panel did not uphold the packaging under Code rule 3.1.

Action by Company:

Was limited edition.