Coaster or Canvas: Confessions of a Tegestologist

Tegestology is a term coined from Latin (teges, -etis covering, mat) defined as the practice of collecting beermats or coasters, with practitioners known as tegestologists

I can’t pinpoint exactly where it started. I’ve always been a magpie for all things multi-coloured and I guess, being from a family who love ‘stuff’, it was embedded into my DNA to end up collecting something.

For the most part, I manage to live quite minimally, and have even adopted the one in one out rule to keep the house a zen, clutter free space. I do however have one vice – in the form of coasters that you find in the pub. Sounds eccentric when you put it like that, but over the past few years I have collected a lot of beer mats, and by a lot I mean hundreds.

I bet you’re thinking ‘niche hobby.’ Hear me out.

My hobby – if you can call it a hobby, combines my two favourite things, drinking beer and good design.

Prior to getting my first job in a Leeds bar I drank cider and shit spirits and never thought of alcohol as anything but a necessity to let off some steam; to me ale was something exclusively consumed by older men in CAMRA pubs with dim lights, and medieval branding.

The bar I worked at was traditional but quirky. The manager at the time, had a really unique style and had decorated the space with taxidermy butterflies and screen-printed gig posters.

The bottle fridge was probs the first thing to transform my perception of beer, as I then knew it. I’m a very visual gal, and the colours and shapes that radiated from the fridge spoke to me more than the lifeless pump clips did.

The labels of Tiny rebel, Beavertown, Duchesse De Bourgogne, and Hitachino Nest were like mini masterpieces and I was all over it. I started following the social accounts of the creators of the branding I found on various cans and bottles, and keeping the beer mats felt like a mini memento of the artwork that I had come across. Keith Shore & Alec Doherty inspired a lot of my uni work.

I was a human possessed, we’d go on a night out and I’d wake up the next morning with a bag stuffed with the beer branded paraphernalia I’d accumulated over the course of the evening.

This was only heightened when I began working for Brewdog a few years later. The theoretical training you get is INSANE. We sat in a classroom scenario, and were educated about hop varieties, beer styles and branding for weeks. I feel privileged to have been paid to have been given a level of formal education that people actually pay for. I then went on to sit a formal exam and got my Cicerone status – which comes in handy if you want to have a really geeky conversation with beery types the world over.

Striking visual consistency extends to bars too. Mikkeller Barcelona is one of the most visually pleasing places I’ve ever been. Like a hidden art gallery, located in the area just uphill from Plaça Universitat; It’s full to the brim with art and beer aficionados. I left inspired, as well as pretty hammered. I expected nothing less, as the Danish cult faves have built their brand and reputation on innovation and radical thinking.

Independent breweries aren’t just revolutionising process and flavour, they have changed the way we view packaging too. Bottles and merchandise are no longer dated and mass produced, but curated by contemporary artists and designers. The result – accessible art for the masses that is as at home in a frame as it is on a beer mat or bottle. 

The difference between the craft breweries and the big players?

I guess it stems down to authenticity. When independent breweries came onto the scene and began to challenge tradition, there was no defined audience, or set of rules with regards to aesthetic. Abstract images on bottles and cans, that subtly reference pop culture, build intimacy and trust with consumers. Beavertown’s infamous artwork illustrated by Nick Dwyer, subtly pays homage to cult films and old Star Wars comics, and has now become a cult classic in it’s own right.

There’s something for everyone too, take The Kernel – the vintage branding (black type on kraft brown paper) is simple, mature and impossible not to recognise. It’s branding at it’s best and pays homage to tradition. It’s classic and minimal and can’t be be accused of using loud imagery and bold colours to sell a substandard product.

The craft brew scene has fostered a proliferation of great bloggers showing their appreciation for a branded bevvie. Some I’ve been following:

Beer Is Art

Codo Design

Beer Is Art

Label Hop

They’ll be sure to make you appreciate what’s under your pint as much as the pint itself.