Classy Alternative Packaging
I was fishing around the fridge last night for something unusual and discovered the Two Roads anniversary ale the brewery recently sent me. It's a version of their Honeyspot IPA aged in gin barrels. How did I know it was special? A few visual cues not including a crown encased in plastic-wax. It turns out my minor complaint post Saturday touched a nerve. Although opinion was running about 90% against waxed bottles on Facebook and Twitter, some people pointed out that the presentation signaled "special beer inside" to consumers. True enough--and that's the point. But this is not a binary situation. Choices are not limited to waxed or not waxed.
Let's come back to the Two Roads. Here we have a classy bottle with a cage and cork seal, thick parchment-like paper and gilded lettering. It's a bit hard to see in the photo, but the paper used for the label has a wonderful texture. The photo at the top of the post is a detail of the back label, in which someone has hand-written the bottle number. This indicates two things: 1) that it's a limited edition release, probably highly limited, and 2) that a human was involved in the packaging. That human-involvement is a prime selling point for the wax-dipping (apparently), but the simple hand-written number has a more human touch.
Paper-wrapped bottles are a classic Belgian move--think Liefmans--and so of course the Italians have picked up on it, too. (Anyone looking for design cues, I highly recommend spending a few minutes looking at Italian beers--their bottle design and labels are often remarkable.) Again, this has a more hand-crafted feel than wax, it's (way) more attractive, and it's easy for the drinker to unwrap:
Distinctive bottles, that paper seal that loops over the cap, various paper loops and bows that can go around the neck, handwriting--all these things are ways to accomplish the same thing: letting us know that the brewery thinks the beer is special. And, based on some of the feedback from breweries--where people apparently hate having do dip bottles--it might even be quicker and easier from the production side.
Before I leave, a comment on the Two Roads beer inside that pretty label. Gin-barrel IPAs are generally not in my wheelhouse. The botanicals read as a different, clashing type of bitterness than hops to my palate. In this case, I thought they more or less replaced the hop note. It's a very gin-like beer, but as I made my way to about the halfway point, I was reminded of descriptions of the old seafaring IPAs of yore (of which there were actually quite few, but that's another matter). They would have had very stiff doses of bittering hops, and then under the force of agitation, temperature fluctuation, and brettanomyces, would have developed a dry, bitter character. The botanicals in gin approximate that pretty well. By the end of the bottle, I had shifted my expectations away from American IPAs and was thinking of the beer as evocative of something much older and I quite enjoyed it.