Alphabet Brewing Co.’s Style-Bending White Breakfast Stout

Label Approval by | Feb 2017 | Issue #121

At Manchester’s Alphabet Brewing Co. in the UK, the design process is a bit like a game of Telephone. Sometimes it starts with a wacky name—like Mousetown (inspired by a weird dream) or Zombie Boner (obviously short-lived). On other occasions, it starts with head brewer Tom Evans riffing on a beer style, like he did with Flat White.

“People take beer too seriously at times, so I like to have fun with it,” says Evans, who came up with the idea of a White Breakfast Stout. “Looks pale. Tastes dark. It messes with people’s heads.”

Then Alphabet’s creative director Nick Hamilton imagines the beer into the middle of a vivid narrative. “I think of a lot of the designs as stills from imaginary films, scenes from a comic, or parts to a bigger story,” says Hamilton. A TV transfixes a slack-jawed boy in GoggleBox Raspberry & Vanilla Pale Ale; A to the K Oatmeal Pale Ale drops us into a jungle war with a gun-wielding horse, now their “unofficial company mascot.”

“The fun bit is coming up with the characters,” says Hamilton. “It’s nice to just be able to sit and sketch faces and figures until you find one you’re happy with.”

Flat White’s silver and white can is a departure from Hamilton’s more typical “colorful and manic” designs. “I’m quite pleased with the elements where the silver of the can is allowed to shine through—the lampshades, belt buckle, and coins in the tip jar,” says Hamilton, who met Alphabet co-founder Joe Fearnhead painting murals in bars Fearnhead worked at (and later, owned).

To nail the “hipster coffee shop” look, as Evans puts it, Hamilton sketched at nearby North Tea Power. Then he added in the lights, bar, and espresso machine from photos of Amsterdam’s Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters, which provided the beans for the first batch.

Like any fashionable coffee shop, Alphabet is “modern, but serious about what we do,” says Evans. “Though we’re not at all hipsters. We don’t have beards, for one.”