It’s summer, which means sunny afternoons, chill vibes and cold drinks in cans. The market for canned alcoholic beverages, from beer to cocktails, seltzers to wine and everything in between, continues to boom - with an ever-increasing focus on the aesthetics of the packaging, with typographic-led designs.
Why cans and why now? The simple answer is that they’re easy, portable and (often) recyclable. In 2019 the Atlantic wrote about the trend of the canned cocktail being marketed to Millennials, describing it as “the perfect drink for a medium-fancy generation”. The use of striking fonts, colour and designs to attract attention (and look great on social media) also hold appeal, though I’d say for any generation not just Millennials or Gen Z.
With that in mind, we wanted to ask some local graphic designers for their take on the look and taste of this new breed of canned beverages with groovy fonts. We gave each a selection of drinks to try and ‘review’, casting their expert eye over the can’s design - focusing on the typography - and the contents inside. Think of it as a quite nerdy ‘type vs. taste’ test…
The taste testers:
Kaan Hiini (he/him) is the design director at creative agency Curative, as well as the co-chair of Auckland Pride. He describes his design aesthetic as “pragmatically chaotic”, and says his preferred summer drink is a gin & tonic.
Hannah Jensen (she/her), also known as Shrimp Studio on Instagram, is a Marx Design illustrator, designer and copywriter specialising in brand and packaging design “with a flare for quirk and colour”. Over summer you'll find her sipping her favourite Spritz Bianca in the sun at Annabel’s Wine Bar.
Ash, Dexter and Brian (he/him), who work in the design team at Blink, a small creative and fabrication studio in Mt Eden. Their approach is playful and unpretentious, they say. “A lot of the work we do is for spaces, so in this sense clarity reigns supreme but our work is also inherently social. They’re also lucky to have a weekly Pals delivery at work, “and they all get drunk (especially the purples)”.
Imogen Temm (she/her) is a longtime friend of Ensemble who has helped shape much of our look and feel - or, as she describes it, “helping Ensemble with bits and pieces behind the scenes so they give me free drinks to taste and ramble about”. Over the years she has worked freelance for titles including art director at Fashion Quarterly (when Ensemble’s Zoe was editor), and more recently at Webb’s, Newmarket Magazine and Viva Magazine. Asking her to describe her design aesthetic is triggering (“since I freelance around so much I like to think my aesthetic is just “chameleon who helps you get your stuff done on time and on brand”), and her preferred summer drink s “beersies but if I’m splurging I’ll also opt for a whiskey sour or if I’m at Lilian that cocktail with the basil oil on top”.
First impressions: The evolution of the pastel RTD has walked right through summer’s door and we’re here for it. This sophisticated number looks like he’ll sit comfortably perched up at your Aunt’s 60th or deep in the mix at New Year’s with Shapeshifter.
Talk design to me: The can is clean, clear and under control. We’re big fans of the Honest branding and they’ve pulled through with this one. The use of a limited palette sets it apart from its competitors and the spot orange colour pops. The way the logotype and the body type sing together in harmony is great and the single colour illustration walks a successful tightrope between elegant and crude. Lovely.
Talk taste to me: Like a canned Moscow Mule (…but made with rum), it’s a refreshing number that packs a punch in the ginger and mint department.
Where would it best be drunk: Poured over a tall glass of ice with a sprig of fresh mint after a spot of leisurely tennis.
Colour: Black/white = MINIMAL + Orange = Zingy! Fun! Gingery looking!
Type: After a little hunting I believe this logotype is based on the font Bon Vivant Family Serif Regular but the designer’s done a great job tweaking the ‘e’ and ‘t’ to have curves that mimic the wavy crossbar in the capital ‘H’. It all feels very classy and well executed.
Illustration: Classy type is paired with a fun illustration that youths it all up a bit which is probably a good strategy. Honest have their classy minimalist bottles for the more discerning cocktail drinkers and these cantails for those of us who don’t want to make a bunch of dishes/faff around making drinks. A+
I j’adore spiced rum and tbh, it’s great to have it all canned up and ready to go. Defs not your typical RTD flavour of fruits + vodka or gin. This doesn’t have a lolly vibe and it’s my favourite by far (sorry everyone else). YUM. Also feels semi healthy/good for you drinking such an intense ginger flavour? (Jk I’m not that dumb). Typing this I literally want to go to the shop and get more. 10/10 would drink again (will probably be drinking them soon).
Colour: I dig that the label is not solid white (more yellowy beige) and the black seems blackish (not solid black), and then a fun shade of red which is good as it’s sangria.
Type: I’m fairly confident the logotype has been made using the typeface Brice by Studio Sun which makes quite a few chubby/cartoony/1960s inspired fonts. I like what the designer/s done here by giving it a little wave effect and a dark outline. The outline exaggerates the cartoonish look (fun) and the wave brings that easy breezy ‘60s vibes alive (groovy) while also visually reminding us of the beach/water/swimming (kiwi summer m8).
Illustration: They’ve gone nice and minimal here with a bunch of grapes but have managed to illustrate boring old grapes in an original way. Kudos. I also like the overprint effect of the Z over the grapes which ties all the different elements on the can together nicely. My favourite can out of the lot, I think!
“Big wine vibes” was my initial reaction. It was not my favourite flavour but that’s because I’m a snob and if I’m drinking anything that is reminiscent of wine, I want it to be in a big ass glass at a restaurant with a fancy steak. As a side note to anyone who is reading this, my palate kind of sucks and when I tried to guess the other flavours I said, “Cherry? Blueberries? Pear? Apple? Pineapple?” Until my girlfriend Alex got bored of me and told me it was in fact watermelon, so don’t take my tastings as gospel baby. Honestly I would have guessed corn before I guessed watermelon but that’s on me, not Zangria. But you’re still my favourite can!
Font: Brice Bold Semi Condensed
Zing, zing the Zangria is here! Out of all the RTD bounty I was most excited to give this one a whirl. Its vibe is zesty, its brand is zany and perhaps I was a bit zealous that I hadn’t thought of it first. Visually I’m a big fan of an off white creamy backdrop, it exudes nostalgic tones of retro that perfectly compliment the bright, bold and hand drawn orange doodles layered under the show stopping ‘Z’ that‘s waving right at me. Brice and I go way back (the font that is), we’ve been ready and waiting for an ‘80s themed party invite forever. It’s bouncy, it’s bold and I’m sure after a few too many Zangrias that’s exactly how you’d feel too. The beverage is easy, light, bubbly and takes the stress out of a heavy red wine. I like it, I want it and I will be going back for more. Overall the product concept and taste is refreshingly new and very much welcome. Forget about Zorro, Z is now for Zangria.
First impressions: This dusty pink number looks like it’s going to sit comfortably on your ‘gram feed sandwiched between photos of lockdown baby announcements and celebratory first home buyers.
Talk design to me: This is another pastel coloured RTD with clear space and illustration so we wouldn’t say it’s breaking any new ground. In saying that, the bold serif font suits the brand, the layout is locked up nicely and the colour palette works well together.
Talk taste to me: Smells like a recent team trip to Rarotonga where we ended up having a very late-night drinking fishbowls (giant cocktails) at the near empty resorts. Taste wise, this one is very sweet. It’s almost like a Pina Colada Cruiser (if that was to be a thing). Not for us but we’re sure someone out there will be into it.
Where would it best be drink:
Scenario one: Somewhere in the Viaduct surrounded by designer handbags and oysters.
Scenario two: My 18-year-old big brother just picked me up a four pack for my 17th birthday and I’m heading down to the local park to get amongst.
Colour: Millennial pink with a deeper/reddy pink for contrast. Sorry in advance but I did say, “is this a menstrual product” when I first saw it. The reddish curved serif type on pink kinda screams “I’m a Hello Cup”. SORRY, I’m sure it’s what the more femme among us vibe but I’m just I’m just not that girl :(
Type: According to one of those font identification apps, the main typeface here is called 5th Avenue. The branding certainly falls into the trend we’ve seen with smoothly curved typography that harks back to the 1960s and 1970s being embraced. This Vox article explains it well and this article highlights how popular/well received Chobani yogurt redesign (that kinda rebooted this look) was. Seems like a good move for a young brand to go for this look that has proven to be likeable.
Illustration: Continuing the thread of embracing things people seem to like, the illustration on this can is a chick in short shorts roller skating with some palm trees dotted around. In 2020 there was a global shortage of roller skates thanks to popular roller skating influencers like Ana Coto (over 2mil followers on TikTok) and Oumi Janta who certainly dominated my Instagram discover last year. All considered, this design ticks a lot of the boxes that reflect our current visual tropes/trends prevalent in consumer culture so good job on that.
“YUM” was all I said on my little voice recording for a while and then fell back into the trap of making comparisons to lollies. These kinda taste like eating a Pascall Milkshake (YUM) after a pineapple K Bar. I said “I like this” repeatedly and then got distracted by the fact the can doesn’t look like it’d taste like this. The can says “rosé all day gurlies” but the flavour says “I’m a Tropicana delight! Pass me a fruit hat, I’m gonna get tipsy and dance to Madonna’s hit single La Isla Bonita!”. Would drink again but maybe put it in one of those can cosy things first…
Font: Spills Infield, Darkheart (Secondary)
Batter up! Spills Infield, an athletic lettering font, adds an ‘All American’ vibe to this New Zealand named and loved beer brand. Teamed with a secondary eerie compact typeface, Darkheart, both these fonts give off a somewhat welcoming appeal with their hyper use of ligatures and common letter sequences (when the ‘e’ and the ‘n’ combine). Darkheart sits as a secondary font, below Spills Infield, with a roughened outline exterior which puts the craft in craft beer. For an overall aesthetic I‘m not surprised another craft beer has a lot going on. The type is tight, shiny foil patterns contrast matte print applications and there’s also a pig. I’m not a fan, but I'm also not an enemy. As a regular gluten free beer drinker, I love the taste. Its fruity and mild hops are truly reminiscent of a ‘real beer.’ It’s light in the mouth and feels perfect for a summer BBQ in the sun. Kereru has always been one of the most accessible gluten free beers in the country so to that I raise a can – to all of the beer and none of the bloat!
An homage to Billy Apple. Big bold type across the can’s face on a diagonal in a heavy modern condensed sans serif – Tempo maybe? Everything about this beer is for graphic designers. The main type doesn’t seem to be connected to the brand or name of the beer but the vibe of the beer which is great. This is minimal in the right way – refined and impactful. Also: clever integration of the Coffee Supreme logomark as a period.
Gentle flavours and scents – a much more appropriate stout for summer. The coffee is there but it doesn’t slap you across the face. I think I like that?
I drink too much coffee; it’s probably my one vice besides Korean fried chicken. And this reminds me of waking up early once a month on Friday mornings to hang out with fellow creatives over coffee and inspiration at CreativeMornings Auckland – the coffee was essential and the alcohol probably would have helped.
I give this top billing. Design and flavours coming together in the most appropriate way. Whoever did this gets a slow clap.
An unpretentious and adult RTD. The main type elements are the logo. There’s a lot going on here – maybe 4-5 typefaces on the front. There’s also compass points for some reason but the S seems to be missing. A red band around the base marks the flavour.
The overall design is clean with a simple colour palette and clear brand system. Brand is heroed above all else and the colour tells you what you need to know. I think the amount of text elements overcomplicates the design but seem to be tied to the overarching brand.
“Vodka and soda” uses a script typeface, and gives me a more feminine vibe – I wouldn’t say this design is typographically focused – it’s a brand focused package, providing an easy identification system for fans of Scapegrace to engage with on shelves. Considering current trends around RTD packaging this sits interestingly outside the quirky Gen Z targeting, probably shooting for a more timeless respectable elder millennial audience.
When it comes to taste, this is a classic RTD – high sugar, sweet barely tastes like alcohol. Very easy to drink.
This reminds me of Starburst lollies, which is slightly concerning. An easy drink for a small get together with friends, maybe to nurse a New Year's hangover. Likely to get you drunk without noticing.
Colour: It’s giving Tiffany blue with a bit of navy plus a peach stripe that says “I’m peach flavoured”.
Type: We’ve got a few things going on here with the logotype dominating in TT Trailers - a narrow font which has pretty exaggerated ink traps. The e’s kinda look like they’re smizing at me. Fun, quirky, cute! It’s working for them and even though I know nothing about this brand, it feels on brand. The typography is fleshed out with a chill sans serif that looks kinda expanded/extended/wide (dunno what it is soz - a girl can’t keep up these days), a script font that’s giving “retro signwriter” and a fun little 8-bit 1980s video game style font. All these eclectic choices together say, “I’m random! I’m a bit nostalgic! Let’s play!”
Illustration: Cheeky’s illustration of choice is of course a peach that looks like it’s had a Brazilian butt lift with a juicy little drip coming out of it. Suggestive!
Honestly I tried to be cool and do a blind taste test and recorded my thoughts aloud on the voice memo app. I thought this was apple flavoured and had other amateur insights such as “it’s pretty sweet.. it doesn’t really taste like alcohol at all” and “it tastes like that fake sugar that’s in Sprite Zero.. I only like actual Sprite”. Once my girlfriend informed me it was peach I was all like, “yea I guess it does like peach actually… maybe it’s been a while since I ate a peach” and then Alex said it tasted like a Spice Girls Chupa Chup to which I exclaimed “TOOOOOTALLY” even though mentally I was just tasting a normal non Spice Girls Chupa Chup.
Font: TT Trailers
Pinkies up, let’s spill the tea. I can see this beverage taking you from day to night and have you feeling – dear I say it, a little bit cheeky. TT Trailers by True Type is hot on the topic, sitting loud and proud up front with retro nostalgic notes and a sleek slimness that helps scream zero sugar. Originally, TT Trailers was designed to fill a space as a new generation of film and movie credit fonts, based on posters from the 1960s. Now, the 2017 modern grotesque has been seen hitting the beverage aisle in a few instances across its nine different weights of flexibility. The font holds many quirky unique qualities that give it that extra oomph of x-factor. With charming ink traps and curved edges it’s nothing but playful. She’s cheeky, she’s flirty. As a refreshing ready to drink beverage, I’d go here again. Cracked open on a pile of ice, parked up under a beach umbrella, the colour will pop on Instagram and I can see endless opportunities for a cheeky caption.
First impressions: Groovy.
Talk design to me: Garage Project doesn’t seem to have any rules whatsoever aside from ‘let’s make all our cans look as different as possible’. And we like it. From the psychedelic hand drawn font to the retro colour palette and basic grids, it all works. We wouldn’t give points for can colour choice or legibility but then again, we don’t think they would give us points for our design reviews.
Talk taste to me: The colour is what had us from the beginning. Jimi Hendrix can forget Purple Haze because the yellow haze on this one had us shredding metaphorical taste guitars. With fruity notes and an almost IPA-like quality, we were prepared to call our clients to say we’d finished up for the day. Three very hoppy boys.
Where would it best be drunk: While sitting in the garden at your one legitimately ‘cool’ friend's place while he takes you on an aural journey through his record collection.
At first glance, I’m getting creamy dessert vibes – sweet and indulgent. It looks like a bespoke hand-drawn type modelled on a rounded slab serif similar to the Ensemble font – so similar to Gascogne or Cooper Black, which for me places it in a late ‘60s-’70s style. I’m getting a more feminine and free spirited vibe I guess, playful, sweet, fun.
This is very cohesive and attractive. Strong colour way and dynamic illustration. Of the drinks I looked at, it's one of the ones I liked best, but I really like desserts. The composition is energetic and well balanced visually. Cherries really make an impact.
In terms of taste, the mix of sweet with the dark hops of the stout are intense. Not sure I like the combination of flavours.
It evokes memories of London for me, where I drank a lot of stout. It’s very dark and heavy and reminds me of living in a cold place. The heft of the stout doesn’t really match the current summer temperatures – I’m looking for a fruity larger for this time of year whereas this feels more like a winter drink – fits well with a Northern Hemisphere Christmas but doesn’t fit with a beach day or picnic in the park.
Font: Unknown (Common Slab?)
An everyman’s beverage, a blank slate, a slab serif. A can that says nothing, but absolutely everything at the same time. Garage Project kept it pretty black and white on this one. In a constantly oversaturated craft beer market of intense illustration and clashing colours, this Beer Pale Lager provides a breath of fresh air on a sometimes cluttered shelf. While there’s nothing groundbreaking about a minimalistic outer, this can serves the purpose of relatability, a safe option when you’re not quite sure what to reach for. Characterised by classic blocky typewriter slabs, a format introduced in the 19th century, the typeface ticks the boxes of a typical mono spaced format with every letter taking up the exact same amount of space. For a minimalistic perfectionist, it just feels good against the open air white space. The beverage itself serves up a reflection of nostalgic firsts. The first sip from dad's cup, the first can of the summer, the first jug on your 18 Plus Card. All experiences best served with a burger.
Edgelord Meme beer. Distressed novelty display font stacked as a block. I think it’s Rust something…? I think this beer is for gamers for some reason.
The hero of the can is the artwork which is not for me or anyone I know. I’m confused by the composition – the type and key information is in a weird position and you can’t really see both at the same time. It’s overly busy and seems underdeveloped.
The colourway is pleasing and the overall vibe of not taking itself seriously is okay. Key information is big and clear. Overall branding is coherent. Tracking is tight but some of the kerning needs work.
This is a pleasant take on a cider – not too sweet or overpowering but definitely not an IPA. Feels like a great summer drink served in a jug or pint glass. Cider was my mid-twenties – so memories of lying in a park and reading without a care in the world. This is perfect for a traffic light picnic with friends, red, amber or green – a gentle journey into the summer break.
Font: Candice STD Regular
If Austin Powers wanted to get down with his bad self he’d be reaching for this immensely hoppy IPA dripping in colours of the ‘60s and typography with kicks and flicks rounder and wilder than a summer in the city. In Tāmaki Makaurau, bigger is better and the 440mL can says, ‘fun time for a long time’. The overall taste is sweet and fruity, with strong hops for the bold beer enthusiasts. An easy to drink beer with, I hate to say it, a somewhat hard to look at label. There’s a lot going on here, there’s a lot to talk about. The designer in me is stressing about some of the letter spacing, the line leading and the five different typefaces aren’t helping me relax. With a heavy base hierarchy of eccentric and outlined 1960s typography, a full bleed pack illustration and a blocky brand logo there were many opportunities for pull back, yet none were taken. But hey, it’s hippy and hoppy and I can see (and smell) the good vibes for the summer.
First impressions: There’s a lot going on.
Talk design to me: From its stencil font to its refined palette, the Sawmill brand has a sophisticated yet industrial feel to it. This doesn’t. The use of the crude Matisse style illustrations coupled with pastel colours and the existing brand mark feels a little jarring to us. With so much going on, the hierarchy of information is also a little hard to make head or tail of.
Talk taste to me: Smells fruity! The taste is crisp and refreshing, with just the right amount of tanginess. We’re unsure of what an unripe guava tastes like but if this is it, we’re picking our fruit early. Let’s just say, the design may have left a sour taste in our mouths, but the taste certainly didn’t. Delish.
Where would it best be drunk: In a lounger at an Airbnb on Waiheke which you can’t really afford but you’re staying there anyway because it’s been a tough year all round.