The design work might be entirely new but Consett Ale Works’ new branding reflects its industrial history, writes Alastair Gilmour .
Visit Consett in County Durham today and you’ll come across very little of its “Steel Town” past. It has all the trappings of the 21st Century satellite town; shopping malls, retail parks, high tech industries and services by the tonne. Consett has changed dramatically over virtually 40 years from noisy, belching industrialism but it has a long way to go before it morphs into the 1988 Talking Heads song Nothing But Flowers: “There was a factory, now there’s just mountains and rivers”.
Not that long ago in the grand scheme of things, the town was built on the Consett Iron Company but referred to universally as The Company. Consett was where they made the steel that constructed Blackpool Tower and Britain’s fleet of nuclear submarines. There was hardly a family in the area that didn’t have a relative employed by The Company.
For the past 15 years, Consett Ale Works, situated in former stables at the Grey Horse pub in the town, has brewed beers that lean heavily on this industrial heritage. Steel Town Bitter and White Hot celebrate The Company itself, while Red Dust recalls Consett’s infamous blanket of iron oxide that covered the whole area and coloured the sunset until its closure in 1980 with the loss of 3,700 jobs, creating an unemployment rate of 35% and doing its best to destroy a vibrant community. But not quite.
Mindful of the local identity in every brew, Consett Ale Works has embarked on a rebranding which leans heavily on the Steel Town tradition, its heritage, history and working folks’ culture. The Company might have gone but brewery owner Jeff Hind is determined its legacy will live on.
He says: “It’s about our industrial heritage. We’re a good, solid brewery, we’ve been here for more than 15 years and we’re as much about new business as being traditional, so we wanted our new branding to reflect that.
“We’re not the biggest brewery, but we brew good beer. I got artist Mick Oxley involved in the design work to begin with – he has a gallery in Craster (Northumberland) – and he did pages and pages of drawings until we got where we wanted to be.
“We both liked the Russian propaganda imagery that he came up with which allows people to know that Consett is still here.”
Mick Oxley went to school in Consett for five years and he remembers well the red dust on his legs from playing football, so heart and soul went into his coloured-pencil “scribblings”.
He says: “Jeff Hind was thinking about rebranding his beers and we went for a pint. We put a few ideas down and chatted through the whole thing. It was clear there seemed to be a lot of tradition coming through.
“Consett Ale Works ales are informed by the steel works which defined Consett. I wasn’t an expert on beers or labels but looked at what other people had done around the world; the illustrations, the colours etc. I looked at Soviet propaganda art and the fact that it was for the workers which gave it its tradition. It was a solid base to work from.
“The Company was the main reason that Consett existed and when it went it left a big hole. I did lots of ideas on half-a-dozen sheets, different ideas with different fonts, all freehand with different colours. Then it was, ‘I like that and what about that’.
“Once we had settled on something we gave it to the graphics guys who I’ve got to say picked it up and ran with it.”
One of those graphics guys was Dean Rutter, managing director at South Shields-based design and branding company We Are Concept.
He says: We were invited to put some thoughts together for a new look and a new, invigorated feel for Consett Ale Works. It was all quite fluid and the steelworks silhouette and billowing smoke Mick drew was a good starting point.
“We did the pumpclips first and had them die-cut around the clouds then quickly followed up with the bottle labels working closely with the printers. We printed them on a metallic surface so parts look like steel which was a bit of a challenge but looks really, really effective.”
Not forgetting the glassware, The Company angle was paramount, so the logo was etched on one side and the phrase “To The Workers” on the other which acts as a toast with every raise of the glass.
Along with the Grey Horse in Consett, Jeff Hind owns several pubs around County Durham and Teesside, reasoning that he likes traditional pubs full of characters that have cask ales and huge fireplaces. But he recognises that the beer world is moving fast.
As Nothing But Flowers repeats with every verse: “You’ve got it, you’ve got it”.