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Willy-Nilly Beer

The sour ale that just don't care

As a part of a packaging design course that I took, one of the projects was to research and design a beer label for a sour ale beer called Willy-Nilly from the company Ballyhoo Beer Co. 

Initial Research

Category Research: Sour Ale

As its description implies, Sour Ales typically have an intentionally acidic, tart, or sour taste. Sour beers are the oldest type of beer in history (because it is made with bacteria back when sterilization and pasteurization wasn’t really a thing)! Making Sour Ale is a very specialized and risky form of beer brewing. The oldest brewery making sour ales still is Rodenbach Brewery in Belgium, which was established in 1836. Recently, some breweries have taken to brewing the beer in stainless steel kettles and adding in the bacteria themselves, which shortens the process down from months into days. Although any type of beer can be soured, there are a few standard types: America Wild Ale, Berliner Weisse, Flanders Red Ale, Gose, Lambic, and Oud Bruin. 

Depending on the style, sour beers can taste either really really sour or just kind of funky and fruity. Sour ales are generally darker in color. It has usually a malt-y, wheat-y aroma but can also have hints of a fruity smell too. 

Name Research: Willy-Nilly

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term willy-nilly has two definitions, but mostly one is used today. One definition is “whether one likes it or not,” or also put as “whether it is with or against your will”. The other definition, used more often today, is “without direction or planning; carelessly, haphazardly”. The phrase started out in a few different forms, the most similar being “will he, nill he”, which later transformed into “willy-nilly” to express the idea that it does not matter to me one way or the other. 

I think in terms of it being the name of a beer, this makes me think that maybe the beer has a few different tastes, like a first taste and then an after-taste. It also makes me think that maybe the beer itself just has a very strong, acquired taste and doesn’t care whether you like it or not, it just is the way it is. 

Design Research: Beer Labels

In my research at Binny's, I noticed that a lot of the packaging design had fruits/the environment incorporated in some way on it, probably because the beer also incorporates fruity flavors. Although designs varied based on the type of sour beer, many of them had hand-drawn ornamentation and felt kind of old-fashioned to me. The imagery is typically illustration, hand-drawn line art and occasionally full illustrations, almost no photography. Most designs I saw stuck to a few different colors, not like IPA labels where there are crazy detailed full color illustrations. The typography definitely varies, but a majority of it is old-style serif fonts or hand-drawn. 

First Drafts


For the first drafts, I tried to follow my research and use a few different colors along with playful illustrations and line art that fit with my interpretation of the name, Willy-Nilly. I also wanted to create drafts that were distinctly different from each other so that I could have a few different directions to choose from and get feedback on. 

Further Iterations

After some feedback, I decided to continue with two different designs, one with the 70s/80s style illustrations and yellow and orange color scheme, and one that combined the old-school type and layout with the blue and pink color scheme.

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The next step was to create back labels for the beer in the same style as the front labels but still different enough to differentiate the type of information being shown. 

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Final Design

After a few more tweaks and iterations, I chose this style for the final design of the Willy-Nilly beer bottle. The colors are light and fun, reminiscent of fruity, citrusy flavors. The illustrations are meant to mimic the shapes and movement of a lava lamp; lava lamps are just there and do what they do, similar to Sour Ales. Some people think they are really cool and like them, whereas other people don't really need them in their life.I felt that this best portrayed the kind of careless and haphazard nature of Willy-Nilly. 

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