Ben King, of Ich Bin Ben is one of the nicest guys in the business. He’s been working with Justin Hawke of Moor since 2009 across various iterations of the brand design, including last year’s relaunch, showing once again how a great beer brand can evolve as the business changes, without becoming unrecognisable and losing all its heritage (yes, we’re looking at you, Anchor). He talks about his influences, the Moor project and the ultimate Scotch egg.
What’s your design background? “Predictably prescriptive I think – I always loved comics; it was the Dandy early doors and then typically of the late 90s Alan Moore, Frank Miller and Steve Dillon (plus honourable mention for the indomitable Viz). I knew that I was destined to be one of the great graphic novelists but an absence of illustration ability quickly buried this dream (I’m still unable to draw hands). I did a year of Foundation Art at Salisbury College then a graphic design degree at Kingston University. I landed a job as a junior designer at big fish® in SW London who had just secured a large client and needed someone keen (I was) who did what they were told (I broadly did) and didn’t mind ginger hair being a studio punchline (I didn’t have a choice).
I set up Ich Bin Ben in 2012 and it was my single most gratifying career move. I now split my time working for design agencies (where I’m one of a team of people working for companies as diverse as Bacardi, Burberry and Durex) and smaller projects where I am the creative lead. Plus I had an all-too-brief stint laying out Nickelodeon’s Spongebob Squarepants comic some years ago which brought that young dream gratifyingly full circle. Fortunately, I didn’t have to draw his bloody hands.
What are your influences as a designer? “I love old typography. Anything from old maps to vintage beer labels to Victorian apothecary advertising, when you could get heroin on prescription. I also love Art Deco typography, the opulence and craft of it all. But there’s also a time and place for a well kerned word-mark in Gotham Light on a business card. Rough/clean, intricate/bold – the sheer breadth of inspiration available is what keeps it exciting.
I had the good fortune to meet the late, great Alan Fletcher and his back catalogue reads like a timeline of modern graphic design. He had such visual wit, and a career so comprehensive he was both an inspiration and a formidably intimidating icon.”
Tell us about your work with Moor: “My old boss Perry met Justin from Moor in a pub in Somerset in 2009, and they discussed a rebrand over some beers.
At the time, Moor was a team of 3, a small brewery based in a milking shed on a farm in Somerset. Labels were hand-applied to bottles and in the winter Justin cuddled every bottle to keep it from freezing (he would tell a different story involving an electric blanket, but the care for the beer amounts to the same). Their labels were evocative of Arthurian legend, traditional illustrations on beers named things like Merlin’s Magic and Somerland Gold – appropriate for their location in the Somerset levels, but slightly out of step with a just-emerging national-craft-beer movement. They did have the greatest strapline though, with Drink Moor Beer.
“The following Friday my boss announced that there was a bank holiday weekend project for anyone who wanted it. All I knew about Justin at the time was that he was from New York (he’s from California) and he had fallen in love with British beer and its heritage. My aim with the design was to merge these two details to create a Moor ‘coat of arms’ – blending the Art Deco “Moor Beer Company” logo with a none-more-classically-British Clarendon type-face. The resulting shield logo adorned virtually all of Moor’s materials until last year and looked like nothing else around.
In the early days, there were only a dozen beers, differentiated just by colour. But the range was growing and customers weren’t always clear on the differences between say, a double IPA, and a whisky barrel-aged imperial stout. So last year the range was pared down, the design updated and the cans relaunched. Designers can be quite embarrassed about logos being front and centre, preferring to hide them away, but the Moor marque has always been big, bold and unmistakeable and we wanted to keep it so with the rebrand. It was embellished with the hop vine illustration and includes the year Justin took over the brewery to underline the heritage (14 years is a long time in craft beer).
Beers are now Core grey or Limited Edition white (at least they are when there isn’t a worldwide aluminium shortage), and the artwork illustrations are inspired by anything from punk-rock lyrics to a galaxy far, far away. The hop vines, representative of the hop-heavy flavours of the whole Moor canon (and indeed, Justin’s tattoos), are threaded through each design.
The rebrand was a process of some months and the relaunch date ended up coinciding with a nationwide lockdown, courtesy of a viral pandemic – I think it made the news – and so we’ve yet to have the launch party we all want, but watch this space for summer.”
Apart from your own, which is your favourite beer design and why? “I loved the original Camden Town look – the punchy colours and mixture of decorative typographic headlines really worked for me. I’m also a big fan of Delirium Tremens – a type-face i’d have been fired for in a previous job, pastel blue, bright pink AND there’s an elephant. It is just unique: I would love to have been at the pitches for that one.”
When you knock off on a Friday, what’s your go to beer?
“It changes with the seasons, but Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale is ubiquitous for a reason, and is often in the fridge. But, and biased as I am, when I can get hold of it I would swear by Moor’s Hoppiness for rounding off a week – it is just delicious, and almost certainly my desert island beer.
Favourite bar? “This has changed with time of life of course, but the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, London has had a good deal of my custom. On the south banks of the Thames you can watch the sun rise and set over the city, it’s such a lovely spot to sit with a pint and chips. The Square and Compass in Worth Matravers is a place lost in time which is well worth a visit too. There is a hatch not a bar, the ceiling is concussively low, but you can get cask beer, a cheese pie and spend the afternoon watching the sea.
Favourite bar snack? “It is hard to beat a good Scotch Egg (although there is little more disappointing than cutting into one with a hard yolk). James from Moor Beer used to work in a pub in Somerset and once served a black pudding and chorizo Scotch Egg which was, I think, the apex.”
What have you been listening to recently? “Bob Dylan pretty solidly: it helps that his back catalogue is so vast but I find him a good companion if I’m spending the afternoon illustrating. Otherwise Bad Religion, Tom Morello and Laura Marling have also been on recent rotation. I find podcasts pretty conducive company to working too – the background conversation is more reminiscent of being in the studio. John Richardson & The Futurenauts and the BBC History Extra podcast are fascinating listens, and Budpod (an extraordinary mix of musings about the human condition and devastating anecdotes about soiling yourself) is hilarious.”
Reading / watching anything interesting? “During lockdown I have been reading a lot of travel writers as a remedy to not having gone more than 10 miles from my front door in 6 months. Tim Moore’s Gironimo! Riding the Very Terrible 1914 Tour of Italy about a woefully ill-equipped old man riding up mountains just made me laugh. For fiction, I really enjoyed Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series – blending a desert-dry sense of humour, morally gray characters, medieval European folklore PLUS a hero who still batters monsters to death with a bloody great sword – it just ticked so many boxes.”
Cats or dogs? “I’m going to cowardly sit on the fence here, having previously had both as pets, and heck if the world doesn’t need more divisive opinions. Both are excellent; I like the self-cleaning nature of the former, but it’s hard to beat the unconditional love of the latter.”