Has everybody else noticed that, for the second time in a generation, the Bass Ale Company has redesigned its iconic bottle? Or, should I say, its formerly iconic bottle?
The modern age has a mania for redesign. There’s some kind of unwritten law in publishing, for example, that says a magazine has to undergo a redesign, usually a fairly substantial one, every five years. The problem is that the people redesigning the product are often unfamiliar with its legacy and heedless of its visual hooks. They impose broad, tasteless marketing techniques that aim for a lowest common (generally American) denominator. Now, for most products, this isn’t too big of a problem, because most products don’t have much of a legacy. A lot of beers do, however, and Bass, “introduced to a world of stouts and porters” by Bass & Co Brewery, Burton-upon-Trent, in 1777, has a rich backstory.
For one thing, the red triangle on the bottle is one of the world’s oldest logos and the first trade mark registered in Britain. Its association with the U.K. brewing industry and pub life made it as much a symbol of England in the 20th century as the red double-decker bus, the boxy black London taxi, derby hats, monumental phone booths, and the Carnaby Street hip boot. Across the Channel, it is prominently featured on the bar in Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergère. It crossed the Pond in a big way when I was in college.
The bottle I was introduced to in the 1970s resembled the one on the cover of Dylan Thomas’ Adventures in the Skin Trade. The brown glass bottle had a gradually sloping curve and a simple red triangle on an oval yellow/white label. In the 1990s, the bottle changed, taking on a more cylindrical appearance with a more angular shift into the taper. The label had a few subtle stylistic adaptations as well. I missed the old bottle, but I noticed the new one appeared more similar to the bottles Manet painted–though he seems to have painted 40s, which I’ve never seen at the local Pack-O-Liquor.
This latest change, coming six years after the sale of Bass to Interbrew (now InBev), a Belgian company, involves only the label. And it establishes a complete break from tradition. Essentially, they have dressed this beer up for the Super Bowl. I hear the ghost of Dylan Thomas is pissed and kicking up a lot of dust down at the White Horse Tavern.
Speak, ghost: “At least they have not mucked up the liquid spirits.”
Because that would be an outrage.