Aussie Beerstagrammers: Malt & Lead

Originally from London, now Melbourne based, visual designer and art director Mark Gamble’s work has been featured on Modus Operandi’s Born to Rum Porter cans, the upcoming Blobfish festival's artwork, and Hop Nation’s 2019 Site range to name a few. 

Then there’s the range of craft beer t-shirts and enamel pins available from his website, plus design work for the government, not-for-profits and the music industry – but that’s not why we’re here.

We're here to induct Malt & Lead into our Australian Beerstagrammer series. It's one of the more petite accounts in terms of followers, however, as you'll see, it features some of the most serious camera glassware so far, an independent bent and contains a wealth of no-nonsense insight. 

Plus, he doesn’t really get hung up about the numbers anyway, as Guy Southern finds out.

 

Settle in for the thoughts of Mark from Malt & Lead with a winter warmer...

How did you get into beer?

I actually had a huge break from beer. Growing up in the UK, you’re exposed to the same four taps at every pub and there was a point where I just stopped drinking beer. A turning point was at this great Belgian beer pub in London, the Dove. 

Then beers like Timothy Taylor’s Landlord were my tipping point and I started noticing Goose Island IPA and Anchor Steam arriving from the States in my local supermarket.


How did you get into sharing your beer love on Instagram?

There was probably a point about four years ago where I’d been getting into photography more, mostly down to the fact that my partner and I were travelling fairly regularly. Destinations were often picked for their beautiful landscapes and hiking opportunities, as well the chance to visit some great breweries. 

Add to that, I was just posting more pictures of the beers I was enjoying from regular bottleshop hauls. It made sense to separate that from my other account, where people were probably less fussed about what I drinking. 

Thinking about it on a more personal and professional level, beyond photography, I’d been in Australia for about a year, and had struggled to adjust from my life in London. I’d made so many friends and connections through the music scene there that had always provided me with design passion projects, and a little bit of creative balance to offset the demands of agency life. That’s where I saw an opportunity to use a craft beer-centric Instagram as a jumping on point of sorts, where I could share my passion of great beer, with the hope that breweries and taprooms might engage, and it might lead to working with them.

I think that was pretty naïve, and it’s not necessarily worked out like that, but it’s certainly evolved into something that I love devoting time to. Now, it’s really just become a channel for me to champion great, independent craft beer. Nice pictures, questionable words.

 

A blast from Mark's past, featuring beer and glassware from the UK.

What’s your typical setup like?

When it comes to my photos, I shoot with a Panasonic Lumix G9. If I’m shooting at home, where the focus is very much on the beer, rather than surroundings, I generally use the Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f1.2, as it’s just a phenomenal lens. When the space of my small Northcote apartment becomes an issue, I’ll use f/1.2 or Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8, for a wider field of view.

My apartment has pretty terrible natural light, but I almost always shoot exclusively with natural or ambient lighting, so I use a tripod 99 percent of the time.

If I’m at a brewery or taproom, I’ll always have my Leica Summilux 12mm f1.4 with me, as it’s a great landscape lens, and perfect for capturing larger spaces and venues. When it comes to the saying that: “The best camera is the one you have with you", I like to make sure that camera is my G9. It goes everywhere with me.

My workflow for posting pics is that once I've taken the photo I'll transfer the RAW files from my camera to my iPad, or iPhone if I'm out and about, via Bluetooth. Then I load them into Adobe Lightroom CC, and I'll do a bit of minor editing there. Once that's done, the edited image is synced across Lightroom on all my devices, so I can switch to mobile, and upload to Instagram from there. 

That probably sounds a bit more convoluted than it actually is, but I find it's a pretty efficient workflow, and I like to be able to edit RAW files on the go.


Modesty aside, can you describe your style and suggest a couple of images that best represent your account.

Where possible, I want to my images to feel as natural and as organic as possible. I don’t tend to use props, or set up elaborate staged shoots. At home, it’s meant to be a fairly honest representation of what I’m up to in that moment where I’m enjoying a beer. So, If I’m playing guitar, listening to a particular album, or even just doing some design work, I’ll use that within the shot. If I’m just drinking a beer, I’ll just take a simple picture, with something textural in the background. And, honestly, I want to be done with the initial shot within ten minutes, because I just want get on with drinking the beer, and at least I can do that while I edit.

 

Future Mountain's colourful beers and barrel-lined brewery venue just demand to be shot.

  

When I’m at a brewery or taproom, it’s slightly different. Still very natural, but beyond the beer I’m drinking I want to capture the atmosphere of a venue. In those instances, I’m thinking about that experience as a series of photos, and how that might translate to an editorial piece. So, the beer, brewing equipment, tap list, artwork, food, etc. I’m less comfortable shooting like this, without my trusty tripod, but I actually love just being out amongst it, whether it’s a bar I’ve been to a hundred times or an exciting new brewery.


Changes to social media platform algorithms can create headaches when it comes to engagement. How do you stay on top of this constantly shifting digital sand?

Honestly, I don’t stay on top of it. In fact, I rarely think about it these days because, on one hand, I have no idea what Instagram’s algorithm does anymore and, even if I did, I don’t think I’d do much differently to what I do at the moment. I’ve had this account for about four years, and my follower count plateaued about two years ago, along with my post engagement. 

On average, I’d actually say that my post likes have halved in that time. However, I think this keeps my account fairly grounded. Strip it back to what it is, and it’s a platform that I use to share great beer experiences I’m having. If just one person sees a post of mine, and buys a beer from an independent brewery based on that, then that’s what matters. 

It’s for the enjoyment and love of great beer, championing what you believe, and not letting little imaginary love hearts dictate the experience.

 

La Sirène's trio of cans.

What Instagram accounts do you follow and what makes them special?

I really like beer accounts that put the focus on breweries and venues, leaning more into editorial or documentary style photography. And, typically, it's content produced by actual skilled photographers. I just really like seeing beautiful photography of places that might form part of my next overseas beer adventure. 

In particular, @marknewtonphotos is a great account for this. As well as the likes of @beautyofthebeer, @apertureofales, @barrelagedbeerd and @totalcurtis.

Outside of beer, I’ve got a couple of mates (@stevenhaddock, @del_photos), and my sister (@mickey_gamble), who are amazing photographers. What and how they shoot is so far removed from my wee amateur hobby, that it doesn’t really play into the way I shoot beer, but I find them all incredibly inspiring in what they can do with a camera. I certainly respect and admire what they do, and it really just makes me want to keep doing what I’m doing, even it’s a completely different level.


Hashtags are synonymous with Instagram yet have zero influence elsewhere. What are some of your favourites and what’s one of the weirdest ones that you’ve seen or used?

God, I’m sure I’ll be told: “This is why you’ve had the same number of followers for four years”, but I’ve been using the same copy and paste hashtags for a while now, where I tweak here and there for locality. But none of them are particularly exciting, nor weird. And I don’t take much notice of those others use. 

It’s very rare that I search for beer content using hashtags. Maybe it’s the designer in me, but I’m guess I’m more immediately visually driven, so I tend to just head to Instagram’s search tab, and something will catch my eye.


A lot of businesses see social media as time-consuming. How long do you typically spend on your posts and what could a new brewery or venue do to stand out on Instagram?

Honestly, I want to be done with the initial shot within ten minutes, because I just want get on with drinking the beer, and at least I can do that while I edit. So, maybe 30 minutes tops, accounting for editing and a little write up - I’m sure my partner would say it’s more like an hour, which is probably more accurate. 

Coming back to the idea that I’m presenting a snapshot of a beer, in that moment, it really shouldn’t take as long as it does. But I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and can tend to overthink the written part of my posts.

As for the second part of that question, it’s hard to answer that without wearing my marketing hat. Social media, and the way we consume content in general, has changed incredibly quickly over the last five years; we watch shows when we want, we only follow brands we love. If your beer is awesome, or your venue has the best events in town, as a brand, even if you have a killer product, you have an opportunity to reach and engage with their consumers on much more personal level, and I think there is heightened expectation of that.

 


How do you choose which beers to feature? And how much does graphic design influence your selections / posts?

Firstly, I only feature beers from independent breweries. Secondly, I only choose to feature beers I’ve enjoyed, and that I think people should go out and try. 

For one thing, I realise that on the other side of that can is a brewer, and a team, that hopefully put a lot of time and effort into creating that beer. I’m not really out to be armchair critic, so I’d rather not speak negatively on something I don’t like, especially when I couldn’t do better. So, with that in mind, I like to keep the focus on the good, great and amazing. I like to think my approach is the beer equivalent of the way John Peel (BBC radio DJ) just played music he loved, or thought deserved to be played. It’s just I’m far less legendary, but the ethos is the same. 

I like to feature beers from across the world. Despite having lived in Australia for the last four-and-a-half years, I’m heavily invested in the scene back in the UK and I like to share what’s going on there, especially as that gives me a little point of difference in the Aussie beerstagram landscape. If I can feature a beer that is a little hard to get hold of, and not going to be the focus of every other Instagram account that weekend, that’s a big plus.

As for design, I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t play some part in what I feature. I mean, if a beer has awesome artwork, I’m always hoping the beer is great too, as I’d much rather be posting a picture of a great looking can. And, full disclosure, there are a few Aussie breweries that I think put out some of the best beer in the country, and I’ve never posted a beer of any of them, because their branding is terrible! 

I know that’s superficial but, coming from a background in branding and marketing, the way you choose to present yourself is a reflection of your product. If you make great beer, make sure it looks awesome on the shelf. Sure, you might have a great reputation, but not everyone will know who you are, and people shop with their eyes. You can’t think that everyone buying your beer is buying it after they’ve had the opportunity to try it on tap. 

That said, I take a picture of most beers I drink, regardless of design, before I drink them. All with the intent that they’re good enough to post.

 


Furthermore, have you noticed any emerging design and Instagram trends?

I feel like beer branding is becoming more ambiguous and "flexible", as a whole. And that could be considered a necessity, given the number of different styles and beers that one brewery might release in a year but I can’t help feel like there’s some lack of brand identity out there these days.

I mean, if you have different artwork for every release, what visual thread do you include that ensures your customers know it’s your beer on a shelf? Sure, a logo is the obvious answer, but what if you keep moving that logo. There are some breweries that still manage this successfully, like Garage Project who, despite every label having a different artistic style, have a knack from making sure you still know it’s a GP beer. 

But what if you have incredibly abstract, textural can art, with no visible logo. What’s there to differentiate you from another brewery that has also gone down that visual route?  You can’t own that style. Everything starts to blur into another, and you’re relying on people spending time analysing a can to find out if it was brewed by To Øl or Stillwater. 

There’s definitely a trend for "variety" that I feel can dilute a brand, and even confuse consumers. I’d just love to see more considered approaches to this. 


Instagram has the potential to engage brands beyond traditional marketing methods. What do you see as the benefits for beer businesses getting involved with Beerstagrammers?

I can only speak from this on a personal level, but the way I see it is, I’m here talking about your beer because I think it’s great. You didn’t ask me to take the time to photograph your beer or venue, or write some questionably written, albeit positive, review, but I did. Maybe it’s a wrongly placed sense of entitlement, where by buying independent beer, I feel like I’m supporting someone’s dreams or livelihood. But even just a “like” on that post from the brewery goes a long way. A short “Thanks for the kind words” is one better. 

For me, that level of engagement makes it feel a little more worthwhile. But am I going to stop featuring a brewery because that doesn’t happen? No. I’m not insane, and there’s thousands of other beerstagram accounts all vying for the same thing. 

What I do think is that it’s worth breweries, and other beer related businesses, being mindful of authenticity. In a world of influencers – fuck that label by the way – the number of followers someone has might lead you to engage with that account more. But are they really talking about your beer in the way that aligns with your brand? Or did they just want free beer?

Social media has changed marketing in a very short space of time. It’s created platforms, like Instagram, where breweries can have a very personal and engaging relationship with their consumers. But it’s also created a society of people who are simple looking for free shit, and happy to schill something if it means not paying for it.

For independent breweries especially, what’s your integrity worth? Are you happy to sling someone a slab of beer for free promotion, when that same person was talking about how great the latest IPA from <insert AB InBev owned “craft” brewery> was, just last week?

I say dive a little deeper, and you’ll get a better return on investment, simply by engaging with your actual audience. They are the people who will talk about your brand in forums, to their friends and family, and even ask their local bottleshops to stock your beers. They don’t expect anything for free, and will be posting pics of your beer repeatedly, long after that beerstagrammer with 10,000 followers did.

 


What tips do you have for anyone keen to, as they say, crush their Beerstagram game? 

I think it’s important to engage with people. Instagram is a visual platform, first and foremost. But a lot of people write fairly detailed reviews about what they’re drinking, so take the time to read them, ask questions, say something beyond “Cool pic! :)”. The craft beer community is a broad and diverse space, and Instagram is a great place to dive into that.

When posting, always tag the brewery in your comments and on the picture. And try to write something that goes beyond that which an image can’t convey like flavours, what you liked, what you didn’t. A nice picture is one thing, but I what I really want to know if that’s a beer I want to drink, or a brewery I want to visit.

If you’re doing this for anything other than enjoyment, think about why you’re doing it. What’s your point of difference? And if you don’t have a point of difference, make sure that your photos at least look good! Don’t rely on Apple or Android’s fake depth of field, because it looks terrible! Go and read some books, or tutorials online about composition at least. Henry Carroll’s series of photography books are great for those who are just looking to get into photography for fun, and are a great jumping on point.

And really, just have fun. Be yourself, don’t get distracted by the numbers and do it because you love it.


And any Instagram faux pas people should look to avoid?

I can’t be arsed with disingenuous posts, and they’re far more obvious than people realise. If you get sent a beer by a brewery, be honest about it. That goes beyond just saying it was supplied for free, it means saying what you did or didn’t like about it. If you hated it, don’t post it. 

Again, this comes back to integrity, and whether you have it or not. But if I’ve followed your account for long enough, and all of sudden your posting oddly worded, passively positive reviews for breweries that typically aren’t well received, I’m going to lose respect for you, and question everything you post going forward.

Don’t follow and unfollow people again and again and again and again. Accept that maybe people don’t see any personal value in your account, and move on. If your aim is simply amassing followers, we’re not going to get on.

If someone has liked a heap of your photos in one sitting, and then follows you, you don’t need to screen grab it and post it to your stories with “Thanks Shane!”. No one cares, and it makes you look like a narcissist. 


Note: It should go without saying but all photographs published in this article are the work of Malt & Lead.

You can read other articles in the Aussie Beerstagrammers series here. If you would like to be featured – or have an account you love and would like to know more about – let Guy knowYou can also check out Guy's beerstagramming at Goodtimes Craft Beer.

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