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The Unusable and Superficial World of Beer and Alcohol Websites

I was pretty excited when I came up with the idea of examining and showcasing some of the most famous beer and alcohol-related websites from a number of countries around the world. After all, who doesn’t like the odd drink now and again? (Well, besides me — I can’t stand alcohol in any form.) Surely this would make for an interesting article that would elicit quite a few comments. Well, if that’s the result, it wouldn’t be for the reasons I suspected when beginning to research this piece.

Instead, I’ve concluded — due to problems related to typography, accessibility, and usability — that the apparent “beauty” present on many of the websites related to this industry is merely “skin deep”. To put it quite bluntly, the designers and developers people responsible for decision-making in the beer and alcohol website industry should be ashamed of themselves for creating such horrendous user experiences. My analysis here will attempt to inspire modern-day designers and developers to avoid imitating the superficial design and development techniques employed by these web professionals.

You may also be interested in the following related posts:

But I won’t just focus on the negative. There are some positive things to be mentioned, and a showcase of some of the nice sites is certainly in order, so that will round out the article (and might even fool a few of the “I’m here for the pictures” visitors).

The Painful “Age Verification” Screen Link

Something that is common to nearly every site I found when researching this article is that all the sites require that you confirm your date of birth before you can view the content of the site. Obviously, alcohol is a very serious issue, and reasonable precautions must be taken to ensure that the owners of these sites are not encouraging underage drinking. So, typically, a site will have a “date picker” form where the website visitor can enter their date of birth (month, day, and year), as shown below on the Corona414 website:

Corona Age Verification Screen5

Since it is impossible for such a welcome screen to actually ensure the user is really old enough to drink, then why not simplify this process? You’ll notice that the welcome screen on the Corona website also asks the user to enter their country of residence, which further complicates the process of entering the site. But don’t get me wrong; I am not suggesting that alcohol-related websites remove the age verification screen. In most countries, they’re probably required by law to do this. I’m suggesting that they make this process easier for the user.

First of all, if you want to know what part of the world your website visitors are from, use Google Analytics (or similar technology), or track IP addresses. Don’t waste your visitors’ time with a question that they could lie about anyhow. I certainly hope the owners of these sites are not depending on those statistics for any serious demographic analysis.

But more importantly, since the user can enter any date of birth they want, and the site will never permanently block a person that enters a non-qualifying date, why not just have a simple screen that clearly asks if they are of drinking age in their country of residence? It was surprising how many sites did not have a simple means of entering. Below are two of the few examples that I found that had a user-friendly intro page:

Christiania Vodka6

Christiania Vodka7



At the very least, if you must ask for their age, why not just ask for the year? It’s true that the person’s exact day of birth could determine whether or not they’re qualified to enter, but let’s be honest here — this screen isn’t stopping anyone. And you can’t drink a website. So simplify the process and get on with what you really want people to see.

During my research, I wondered if there were any laws in Canada or the United States that required the use of such a splash page. I contacted Labatt Breweries of Canada8 and I was informed that there was no law requiring the age verification screen, but that it was a company policy to have the user enter their date of birth. Okay, that’s fair enough. But I wondered why they would opt for the complicated version over the simple examples shown above. The woman I spoke to reemphasized that it was a company policy to have the user enter their exact date of birth. She suspects it’s the same for most other companies as well. I had also contacted Anheuser-Busch9 but hadn’t heard back from them.

Maybe the site owners are ensuring that they don’t risk any legal trouble (regardless of laws), thinking that the more difficult the process, the better it would look in their behalf. But considering the age form isn’t really stopping anyone from entering, it’s more likely that these sites suffer from poor usability management and tend to fall back on bad habits that were carried over from the old days of the web design industry. Also, some sites did have a simplified version of the age verification screen (as shown above), so there really is no reason for the overly complex version of that screen. If anyone involved in the alcohol website industry would like to provide some feedback on this matter in the comments, I will make any corrections as needed.

Unnecessary Complications Link

Some age verification screens are complicated for no good reason, and certainly for no legal reason. Take for example the Budweiser10 landing page:


After selecting the month and day you were born, the years are shown in 10-year blocks, with the start of each decade representing each block. In order to select the specific year you were born, you have to hover over the appropriate block, then slowly move your cursor until the year you want appears. What a usability nightmare!

The Samuel Adams12 website goes beyond ridiculous in who it allows to enter. Initially the user is presented with this screen:

Samuel Adams13

Then, after you’ve entered a date of birth, you’re informed that you’ve “signed in” (which is not technically correct and can potentially be confusing) and now you have to reenter your year of birth:

Samuel Adams14

It’s safe to say the Samuel Adams’ website architects have turned the bad intro page into an art form.

Yet another example that has two different age verification screens is the Rémy Martin15 website. When you first visit, you’re presented with this screen, unnecessarily created with a barely usable Flash-based date picker:

Rémy Martin16

Then you’re redirected to a completely different domain, and once again are asked to enter your age:

Rémy Martin17

The site colors and branding are different from the first screen, leaving the user wondering if they’re even still on the correct website. I really don’t know what they’re thinking with this dual age verification system, but it’s obvious that the site architects have little knowledge of modern website usability best practices.

Below is another overly-complex age verification screen, on the ZIMA18 website. Try to find your year of birth in this unnecessary mess:


Another problem with the age verification screen was that some sites required you to manually enter a 4-digit year, while others allowed you to choose a year from a <select> box. The Busch Beer20 site is one of a few sites that expects the user to enter the year in just two digits:

Busch Beer21

After customarily entering a year in 4-digit text format, or from a familiar select box, this 2-digit option comes as a bit of a surprise. So naturally, when I tried to enter the site, I typed a 4-digit year beginning with 19 — and the “19” part stuck. I got this error message:

Busch Beer22

What if I was born in 1919? Well, after some experimentation, I discovered that anyone born before 1930 is considered “too old to drink” (which is fine), but despite initially receiving an error message, if you continue to attempt to enter a year prior to 1930, the site instead redirects the user to Worlds of Discovery23, “a place of enjoyment for people of all ages.” All usability problems aside, that was pretty funny.

You may have also noticed the 1999-style “site requirements” notification in the above screenshots. Another strong reminder that the sites we’re dealing with here seem to be managed and developed by people who have not done a whole lot of research on modern design and usability trends.

Overuse of Superficial Elements Link

What makes a website “cool” today, is not the same as what made a website “cool” 8 years ago. In fact, if you didn’t know any better, after visiting 10 or more alcohol-related websites, you’d think it was 2001. It was astounding how many of these sites employed self-indulgent, superficial techniques that make the entire experience quite a drag.

While perusing some of these sites, I often had no idea what was clickable, when an animation was going to finish, or where a particular sound was coming from.

Too Much Flash Animation Link

Most modern developers understand that creating an entire website in Flash is rarely a good choice. Granted, in some industries Flash is useful for full sites. Kids websites24 and games sites are two good examples. But for the most part, the use of Flash in the alcohol web design niche is often unnecessary and seems to be used in a trendy way because of the false assumption that a complex Flash site equates to a “classy, upscale” experience. As mentioned, around 2001, that may have been the impression that users got, but that’s not the case anymore.

The Seagram’s Gin25 website is one of many examples of a full Flash website, an extremely common practice in this industry.

Seagram's Gin26

Why Not JavaScript-Based Animation? Link

I’m not saying that these sites should never use Flash. Some of the sites I visited had some complex user interactivity that would certainly require the use of Flash-based technology. But in many cases, animation and effects could be implemented through good semantic code manipulated unobtrusively with jQuery or another JavaScript library.

For example, the Finlandia vodka27 website has a mostly-Flash interface with promo boxes that could have been done with plain HTML and JavaScript:

Finlandia vodka28

Another site that overused Flash is the Three Olives Vodka29 website. Take a look at the screen capture below:

Three Olives Vodka30

The content section displays the different vodka flavors, with a Flash-animated rollover effect for each bottle — which is understandable since the animation is somewhat complex. But the entire site is created in Flash, including the very static logo, top navigation, and text-based footer. All of those sections could have been done using conventional coding methods, making the site cleaner and more usable. In fact, many of the animations on this site could have been accomplished with JavaScript, making the experience much more up-to-date, intuitive, and flexible for future development.

The BACARDI31 website is another one done completely in Flash, including the header, footer and dropdown menus — all of which could have been done with HTML and JavaScript without losing anything aesthetically:


Another 8-year-old web design trend used on many commercial alcohol sites is the “skip intro” button, which is obviously a symptom of what was discussed in the previous section — overuse of Flash. Below are a few examples of sites with Flash intros that have the option to be “skipped”.

ZYR Vodka33

ZYR Vodka34

Bombay Sapphire® Gin35

Bombay Sapphire® Gin36

Mount Gay Rum6137

Mount Gay Rum38

Even worse, after verifying your age, the Jameson Irish Whiskey39 website loads up a Flash intro of a super-fancy animated 3-D cube that does not even have a “skip” button:

Jameson Irish Whiskey40

Auto-Playing Sounds and Video Link

When Flash is overused, it’s inevitable that embedded sounds will be also. Sound should generally only be triggered by the user, and should always have an obvious method for toggling or reducing the volume. Many of the sites I investigated failed miserably in this regard.

After passing the age verification screen, the Corona414 website plays an intro-style photo animation with music playing. As seen in the screen shot below, there is no way to skip this animation and no way to turn off the sound.


The Bud Light43 website doesn’t even wait for you to pass the age verification screen to trigger automatic “ambient sounds” (people talking in the background, like at a party). The sounds are mildly annoying — but at least there’s an easy-to-locate on/off switch in the top right corner of the screen.

Bud Light44

The Blue Moon Brewing Company45 website is a very beautifully-designed but nightmarishly-unusable site. It’s done with a book-style look that has nice animation, but is really out of place on the modern web. After verifying your age, a lightbox-style overlay initiates to advertise something about New Year’s Eve. This overlay is accompanied by the sounds of Auld Lange Syne46 — with no apparent method to disable the song.

Blue Moon Brewing Company47

The Michelob48 website plays a video during the age verification, and again when the site loads. In both cases this is done without initialization from the user. In this case, they weren’t annoying and obtrusive, and they were very brief — so I’ll give them credit for a much nicer and more usable experience than some of those we’ve already considered.


A better option would have been to have a large play button to indicate the video is there, and allow the users to initiate it at their leisure.

The SKYY Vodka50 website plays a series of videos after you verify your age. At first glance, there is no apparent way to disable the videos or the sound. But when you roll your mouse over the video area, a video toolbar appears allowing you to pause the video and/or turn off the sound. Better than some of the other options we’ve considered, but considerably less than user-friendly.

SKYY Vodka51

And now for the Russian Standard Vodka52 website. What can I say about this horrendous, irritating, and unusable monster of a site? It’s a full Flash, fluid-width site that embeds a giant video as the background in the Flash movie, and, as is common, does not have an obvious way to disable this annoying video that shocks you to your very core — until you realize that clicking anywhere on the background of the movie will toggle the pause/play option. A true usability nightmare, and one of the most self-indulgent techniques you’ll ever see on a web page.

Russian Standard Vodka53

They weren’t the only ones to implement this bad practice, however. The Hennessy54 website similarly has a giant auto-playing background video with no apparent method to pause or stop it. The sound can be muted, but the background plays a series of videos with no end in sight.


There were so many more examples of sites that embedded sounds and videos. It’s amazing how the sites in this niche hold so much in common in the area of bad practices. The designers and site architects seem to live in their own little world of “trendy” web design and have, for the most part, failed to break out of many old-school techniques from which most modern designers have moved on.

“Mystery Meat” Navigation (in 2009?) Link

Until I started researching this article, I thought mystery meat navigation56 was an old-school practice that was overcome by a modern-day movement of user-centric design — but that is obviously not the case in the commercial alcohol website industry.

Because of the many superficialities, the overuse of Flash, and other self-indulgent design tendencies, many of the sites in this industry suffer from this “mystery meat” or “Where’s Waldo?” phenomenon — that is, pages where the user has no idea what is clickable and what is not. Take a look at some of the screen shots below and see if you can clearly identify the clickable elements. Below each screen shot I’ve included some explanations to decrypt the “mystery” elements so you can see how unusable some of these sites really are.

San Miguel Beer

San Miguel Beer

On the San Miguel Beer website (above), in addition to the navigation bar links, nearly all the graphical elements in the content area are clickable, including the car, the truck, all the doors on the building, and signs. Who knew?

Widmer Brothers Brewery57

Widmer Brothers Brewery58

On the Widmer Brothers Brewery site (above), there is a “mystery” link associated with each of the following elements: Both Widmer brothers, the big glass of beer, the lemon slice, the bottle cap, the keychain, the laptop, and the dart.

Malibu Rum59

Malibu Rum60

After enduring through the auto-playing “island” sounds, repeating animations, and the obtrusive “drink mixer” overlay advertisement, the Malibu Rum site visitor is presented with a semi-underwater island scene with “mystery meat” navigation as the focal point of the page. The five primary page elements (the mirror ball, the binoculars, the coconut, the bottle, and the drink mixer), however, are not the only clickable items; there’s also the satellite dish in the background.

Up to this point, all the examples of “mystery meat” navigation display a graphic or text hint, on mouse over, that explains what the clickable item points to. The next example doesn’t even go that far.

Mount Gay Rum6137

Mount Gay Rum62

The Mount Gay Rum site (above) is all Flash, and the main content area is a book with pages that turn when clicked. First of all, finding the exact spot to click on the corner of each page is not the smoothest experience. But there are other clickable elements outside of the book object; you can click the liquor bottle (the barely-visible object in the top left, not the one in the content area), the glass of rum with ice, and the red hat (top right). In my experience, after turning the pages and clicking the mystery items multiple times, I still don’t know what those extra mystery links are for, and why they’re not labelled.

Outdated Design and Typography Link

From my research, many of the sites that do not suffer greatly from the problems discussed above, and are actually fairly usable, incorporated outdated trends and layouts. A few examples are shown below.

The Miller Lite63 website is too small for modern screen resolutions.

Miller Lite64

The Martell Cognac65 website has tiny font sizes and other small elements.

Martell Cognac66

Beefeater Gin67 has small navigation text and even smaller drop-down menu text.

Beefeater Gin68

The 4Copas Tequila69 site is somewhat old-looking, uses small typography all over its pages, and has an outdated vertical navigation bar.

4Copas Tequila70

The Jack Daniel’s71 site is too dark, and many sections are almost unreadable because of the small typography.

Jack Daniel's72

Showcase of the Best Sites Link

As promised, although this article did come down quite hard on the designers and developers of many alcohol-related websites, there are many sites that are well-designed, usable, and do not overuse Flash animation and other obtrusive techniques.

Many of the sites I’ve already considered are actually nicely designed (usability issues aside). Therefore, this last section is not necessarily showcasing sites that are “pretty”, but instead taking all factors into consideration to compile a list of the highest quality sites, in line with modern web design and development standards and best practices.

Some of these sites have a few of the weaknesses I’ve discussed, but generally are more intuitive, non-obtrusive, and easier to navigate.



Coors Light75

Coors Light76

Sleeman Breweries Ltd.77

Sleeman Breweries Ltd.78

Molson Canadian79

Molson Canadian80

Deschutes Brewery81

Deschutes Brewery82





Mike’s Hard Lemonade Co.85

Mike's Hard Lemonade Co.86

Aviation Gin87

Aviation Gin88

Silver Oak Cellars89

Silver Oak Cellars90

Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery91

Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery92

Rombauer Vineyards93

Rombauer Vineyards94

el Jimador Tequila95

el Jimador Tequila96

Jose Cuervo97

Jose Cuervo98

1800® Tequila99

1800® Tequila100

Bushmills Irish Whiskey101

Bushmills Irish Whiskey102

Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey103

Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey104

Admiral Nelson’s Rum105

Admiral Nelson's Rum106

Captain Morgan Rum107

Captain Morgan Rum108

Conclusion Link

In no way does this article mean to imply that the designers of these sites are not talented. In fact, most of the designs presented here are far beyond anything that I could personally accomplish. But, as web developers have learned in recent years, beauty in web design does not guarantee success — and in many cases, a quest for a more visually appealing experience can often weaken the more important aspects of a website.

As shown by the final showcase in this article, not every site in the beer and alcohol website niche is unusable or superficial. But the number of poorly-executed design and navigational techniques and the overwhelming amount of self-indulgent elements I’ve discussed here make it clear that this industry has some important ground to make up in usability, accessibility, and best practices.

If you’re reading this and thinking that I’ve chosen a few specific examples to serve as a basis for an overblown opinion, you should know that there were dozens of other examples of poor usability and downright annoyances that I didn’t include. I also did not discuss special needs users, graceful degradation, semantic markup, and table-based layouts — any of which could have provided further evidence that these sites, for the most part, are downright awful.

Maybe there are underlying reasons for many of the decisions made in these designs. Those reasons could be due to business politics, legal issues, or even a failure to encourage forward thinking — so I will acknowledge that some of these criticisms could be, upon further analysis, overly harsh.

Or maybe these problems have something to do with the possibility that these designers are exposed to a lot of free alcohol…? Hmm…

Footnotes Link

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Louis Lazaris is a freelance web developer and author based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs about front-end code on Impressive Webs and curates Web Tools Weekly, a weekly newsletter for front-end developers.

  1. 1

    Great article. There’s nothing worse than a website that doesn’t work properly. Most of these are from huge companies too! The Sony website, though not an alcohol site, is also a usability nightmare.

    One thing I’ve never understood is the age. Since I was about 6 years old I lied about my age when using the internet to access pages that I wouldn’t usually be able to view, it’s just common sense. There’s absolutely no consequence if you lie. Why put alcohol adverts on during the day if you can’t view the pages online?

  2. 2

    Great article!

  3. 3

    looks like an interesting read..and WOW is that budweiser date thing annoying!

    • 4

      The slightly-over-the-top Budweiser date picker is in Javascript and the rest of the site uses Flash. Interesting.

  4. 5

    Nice review and list of beer brands, you have seem to missed out on Heineken, one of the worlds largest beer brewery. They have a corporate website at and special sites like where you can design your own bottle of beer.

  5. 6

    good article – i recently worked for one of those companies out there and i can tell that all the issues you mentioned here, i experienced during that time as well.

    the main problem is that the designs are often part of campaigns created and build by those huge global advertising agencies – alcohol is usually big business and so are the agencies hired – big.

    these agencies are far away from being web professionals, they usually follow a very offline approach when creating websites – actually the CDs responsible for print outlets are the same who are doing those web designs. that means that you find great professional artwork and poor usability, total ignorance when it comes to seo and all of this lousy flash/skip structures and also browser compatibility is a big issue.

    the problem of a web designer being involved in such a project is that you have no influence at all because you’re coming in too late. from my experince you’re coming in when all creative work is done, the month-long process of approval has finally come to an end and people are just happy that the multi-million-dollar client finally is satisfied with what he’s seen so far.

    that’s why at this point you have no other chance than doing a quick PSD to HTML conversion and people will be happy with that.

    so as far as the big agencies don’t include web professionals into their creative processes there will be no change.

    after all you still have this huge ego thing – a CD working on clients of this size will never listen to a freelance web designer when it comes to suggestions related to usability, seo, social stuff , etc. – he will not even change the color of his links …

    • 7

      And it ain’t just alcohol clients!

    • 8

      Awesome to see the reply from those in the know. Thanks dude!

    • 9

      That comment sums it up perfectly! I’m an in-house web designer in the fashion industry, it’s the same story here!

    • 10

      Excellent perspective. I agree, with great size of project comes a horrible red-tape. It would take years before web designers are included in the whole decision making chain.

    • 11

      Why would these brands need seo?

      Sure the usability of some of these sites are a little poor but that’s what you gamble when you push the boundaries of web design in new directions.

      • 12

        @jimmyink, I’m not so sure that some of these sights are “pushing the boundaries of web design in new directions”. I recently had a chance to design a website for a local beer distributor. I looked at a lot of the sights that Louis commented on and found that not only were they confusing but very poorly thought out in regards to design. I understand that usability is more of a concern in some industries over others but when a user who has no special needs can’t use a sight, that site becomes huge waste of time and money. As Louis put it, it is self indulgent, and in my own words it is ignorant.

  6. 13

    I’ve recently ran into an alcohol website that I found both usable and attractive. What the really amazing was that the site was flash and I found it in google. After disabling javascript I realised the trick :)
    I think that website is the proof that not all alcohol webistes are “unusable”.. :)
    The site is . The english is sometimes quite poor though.

  7. 14

    Thanks for the detailed review.

  8. 15

    Great article.
    I have 2 remarks:
    IP tracking as suggested: as a user, I HATE IT. Happened to me a few times to experience wrong recognition of where I came from, or sometimes you log in from another country and messes things up with inappropriate language.
    Small typo: I thought that, as screen sizes increased, you could make (a bit) smaller elements to get more white space around (which I personnaly like).

    But I’m curious to have other people’s remarks on that.

    • 16

      That’s a different issue. Because the IP gives the user’s location sometimes it is not necessary to have the user enter in their location. If you want to see where your visitors are from just pull it from your analytics. It’ll be more accurate and give the user a better experience by removing an unnecessary step.

      What you’re talking about is forcing location-based language. I agree that it’s a terrible idea, but a different problem.

  9. 17

    I just knew Guinness would be in the list of good examples! Nice article, if not pureply from the point that you found so many bad examples!

  10. 18

    Does entering your date of birth really matter that much?

    If I was a kid I’m sure I could work out that I need to be over the legal age see the rest of the site.

    • 19

      yes, it does. and if the smashingmag demographic were actual professionals, they’d likely know that there are serious legal requirements for alcohol advertising.

  11. 20

    How would you use Google Analytics to know where an IP was from? I’ve never seen this as an option.

    • 21

      Google Analytics tells you what countries your visitors are from, not their IPs.

      • 22

        I don’t think the country question is purely for analytics purposes. It’s because of different legal ages in different countries. perhaps rather than getting rid of the country Q, they could have just preselected the appropriate selection based on some ip2geo, and then allow the user to change it after if needed.(that is, only if it’s really company policy to have it there anyways)

        while there was a lot of good info in this article i found it an annoying read because of the overall tone of the author. And rather than attacking the poor web guy that got handed the mess perhaps, Louis, you could have done some research into the relationships between big corporations, the agencies they hire for their multi-million dollar campaigns and then the poor saps who get hired by the agency to convert the already finalized non-negotiable designs into the final web websites.

      • 23

        Exactly. The article made it sound like you could use GA to pull the country in real time.

        • 24

          No, the article made it sound like you could use GA to check country origination for tracking and analysis purposes.

  12. 25

    Jason Williams

    December 7, 2009 4:32 am

    Really enjoyed reading this article, thanks. The company I work for has openings into the drinks industry so I have seen some of these horrible/dated UX issues already. Refreshing to see it all explained nicely in an article though.

    If we get a chance to do some new work for one or more of them, then we can hope to change this! Small steps…

  13. 26

    I found a german website which i think is also very nice. It is a company for quickies.
    You can watch the site here:

  14. 27

    Great article! I love the quote “seems to be used in a trendy way because of the false assumption that a complex Flash site equates to a “classy, upscale” experience”. It’s so true. I once worked for a blue chip organisation and it’s funny how people with no experience or knowledge of web usability ignore any advice and drive forward the production of 100% flash sites based on that mantra. They even produced a complete replica of their site in HTML/CSS for ‘accessibility/usability’ purposes afterwards! Ha!

  15. 28

    Andrea Austoni

    December 7, 2009 4:59 am

    Thank you louis. This article was very informative and well written.

  16. 29

    Great Article, greater read.
    You are absolutely right mate.

  17. 30

    A nice round up. I imagine the use of the country field is to check the age of the user against the legal drinking age of the country they’re in – 18 in the UK, 21 in the US for example. It’s a lot of effort to put every country in there though!

  18. 31

    The Beer/Alcohol sites are NOT news-portals, or similar mass usage websites. People that come to Alcohol site are HIGHLY MOTIVATED to be there, and as such, a lot of the usability principles just do not need to apply. As a contrast to that, when user stumbles upon news site, via Google for example, then you need to use absolutely all knowledge to hold that user by making design easy to use, intuitive, etc.

    Users coming to Alcohol sites came there by their free will by typing in the domain name and knowing that they will spend their next 10 minutes there. You do not need to make such site super usable, super intuitive. You can give them intro that can be skipped, why not? Navigation can be “mystery”, let them play with the site for a while.

    Borderline conclusion: we, the designers, need not apply our entire knowledge of usability on every site. Sites vary in user’s will-to-be-there and as such we can vary our designs to fit the need.

    • 32

      well now, I’m just a regular user; I’d like to think my opinion on the entire branding (I include the usability of the website in this) was important to the company. I may go to an alcohol website voluntarily, my opinion of that brand changes when I realise it’s another horrible flash website. Most notably I was disappointed by the Bombay Saphire website when looking for their ingredients for the gin. A nightmare!
      I agree there’s more scope for play as it’s a free-time type site, but these websites should still feel intuitive and interactive, but generally, they don’t. Why just discount the users who are there to look for information & not play around?

      The Babycham website is also disappointing, but there’s a nice lot of info about the history of the drink. They could be so much better, it’s very annoying!

      • 33

        There is a difference between “horrible Flash site” and a well crafted Flash site that just lacks some parts of usability that are needed on high-volume news sites for example.

        All I am saying is that Alcohol websites and their usability should not be even compared, nor it is necessary to compare them, with news site like usability.

    • 34
    • 35

      I agree that a one-for-one comparison with news sites may not be apt, but if visitors can’t locate information, get lost, have audio they didn’t request or can’t turn off… I think none of these are good, no matter what kind of site.

    • 36

      Jewen Soyterkijns

      December 7, 2009 12:44 pm

      The author should stick to webdevelopment and freelance writing (well focus on the development…). Flash is a very good choice for nearly all those websites.

      – The range of users with flash is incredibly high.
      – Even the most daring design will render just fine in IE6.
      – Manager meetings at alcohol companies are fueled by cocaine and flash is the only way for a designer to meet their expectations and compete in the niche.

      These are not information presentation sites. These are interactive commercials. Compare these to the corporate sites that accompany these sites. You think a distributor of these beverages uses the same sites to get his information and prices?

      Click on the ! in the yahoo logo on Mystery navigation or (not so) subtle branding?

      You give a mute button on the remote control, just like everyone can control their own PC speaker sounds. You don’t start a commercial with: “Hey, if you don’t want to listen to this commercial, put your fingers in your ears: like this!”.

      “I am really sorry client. But my understanding of flashy, interactive, classy and dynamic websites is not adobe flash. I feel personally that is overused and often unneccessary. Why don’t you stop visiting us, a flash design bureau, and go somewhere else, where they can make javascript rotating menu’s and Silverlight that works in IE6”.

      “Ow and here are the numbers from the marketing department. It seems like our target online audiance is: over 21 years old. Hold the presses! We can use this valuable information to steer our online campaigns to great heights.”

    • 37

      I agree on that!

    • 38

      No mate, I think you’re wrong there. If I want to play around on a website, I’m not going to get far if I can’t use it.

      Molson Canadian website as an example: I couldn’t even enter because I couldn’t be arsed working out a valid Canadian postcode to be allowed to enter.

    • 39

      “Users coming to Alcohol sites came there by their free will by typing in the domain name and knowing that they will spend their next 10 minutes there.”

      People don’t go to a website on purpose without a purpose.

      The only people who go to a site to spend 10 minutes exploring all the cool Flash features of a website are other designers, and competitors interested in seeing what others in their industry are doing.

      The rest of the world doesn’t. They go there for a reason. They don’t want to “play with the site for a while”. They want what they originally came for.

      Web users aren’t passively cruising by. You don’t need to attract them with flashy gimmicks the same way you do in traditional advertising. They have come to your site on purpose, they want something from you! Are you going to give it to them? Or are you going to ignore them and hope like hell they want to listen to what you have to say instead?

      @Jewen Soyterkijns
      “These are not information presentation sites. These are interactive commercials.”

      Commercials need to distract a customer’s attention away from whatever they were doing. In print or TV, you use images, sounds and fancy motion to achieve this.

      If someone is visiting your website, you already have their 100% undivided attention! You don’t need to distract them from whatever they’re doing, because that thing is probably what you want them to do anyway! Anything you put in their way is just an obstacle.

      I can’t believe this sort of thinking still exists in the industry in 2009.

    • 41

      Actually, as someone who does use alcohol websites, I’m highly motivated but often disgusted with them. I don’t give a damn about your lifestyle pushing, I want to know ABV, main ingredients, calories, and what notes YOU think your product has. Sometimes, in the case of specialy liquors, I want cocktail suggestions, but usually I want basic info which is often hidden and hard to get to.

    • 42

      Thats just such typical BS. Brands need to wake up to the fact that they are just another brand. They’ve spent squillions to engage with consumers and then they blow it with a bad online experience. Crazy, daft…why?

      Consumers care way less about them (the brand) than the brand owners marketing team or agency of the day. It’s about time brands and agencies wake up to usability – otherwise they’re just chasing consumers away.

      We’re all maturing as web users, and as users we want better experiences.

  19. 43

    Nice Article. I’d say the age verification feature is only put in place due to a request from an alcohol regulation body. I’ve never made any beer/alcohol products website but have dealth with regualtors before. Your website can easily get ripped apart. It’s an external factor controlled by people who don’t know about usuability.

  20. 44
  21. 45

    I’m sorry but why is SVEDKA in there, based on everything you’ve just said SVEDKA doesn’t deserve to be there. Just because it is a side scrolling site doesn’t make it cool, If anything it took me a while to figure out that I was supposed to scroll sideways.
    It also took me ages to get past the age verification, I agree with you on that, they do drive me crazy.

    • 46

      As I mentioned, even the sites included in the “good” section have weaknesses. But I thought they were the best ones. I liked Svedka because it didn’t overuse flash and had an interesting design. I didn’t find the horizontal scrolling problematic at all.

  22. 47

    Ha, someone messed up again with the stylesheet… ironically this article looked way better in Google Reader than here!

    • 48

      That’s not especially the stylesheet that’s messed up. It seems to be the whole subdomain that’s crashed

      Difficult to red, but even more difficult to post a single comment

      I’l checck the article when it’s come back

  23. 49

    You can’t stand alcohol in any form? What on earth is wrong with you?

    We’ll never do business. We have nothing in common.

    Good day sir.

    • 50

      wow, that was constructive!

      I semi agree with a lot of that stuff, Daemon made a good point that these sites aren’t your daily use type of thing, and they usually are self-indulgent b/c they are using the website as free advertising. Would a crappy website stop me from buying a certain brand of liquor? No because I like the liquor, but a crappy website will stop me from buying online. Who would even go to their favorite liquor band’s website? I haven’t in the10 years I’ve been drinking.

      I think these sites are probably neglected b/c the company is so big in a lot of cases, the brand managers don’t understand the website standards and principle b/c they can’t sell anything online anyway, so who cares really if it’s not in their bottom line.

      Just my opinion, i could be wrong. But great article, great work and I had a blast reading it!

  24. 51

    Very interesting article.
    There are many large companies that knows nothing about usability, but are only dazzled by the “flashy” graphics.

  25. 52

    Purely as a usability analysis exercise, I would recommend anyone who can’t read Chinese characters to try their hand at one of China’s many such websites. Flash intros, intrusive sound and video, and, quite frankly, chaos… is the norm.

    This is the address for Snow Beer – the world’s largest selling beer in terms of volume… enjoy:

  26. 53

    Nice article! And so true..
    But there are also some really beautiful “alcohol websites” out there.
    My personal favorite: by resn!

    • 54


      Nothing personal, but that site is horrible! It has many of the problems I mentioned, and even a few new ones, making me wish I’d seen it earlier so I could have included it!

      • 55

        Jewen Soyterkijns

        December 7, 2009 12:58 pm

        Louis, you are an absolute dunce. That site has been featured in many showcases and touted as a visual experience. A complete design success and a wide audiance reached.

        It even has a flashless back-up site in sync with the main site. You don’t understand modern media.

      • 56

        Totally agree!! You are not a dunce as the previous reply stated (I think that bloke is struck with the same disease as the alcohol industry), you are right! I had to pass a quiz, enter my DOB and country, and work out where to click (I finally figured it out — the bottle) and all the while the entire interface was moving around on me, like one of those spam javascript emails my mates used to send me (you know, “click here” to close the window but the button moves when the mouse goes over it).

      • 57

        Haha Louis I completely agree with you.

        I didn’t even get to see the whole site, I looked at the loading bar for 10 seconds then left (latest Google studies show that you now have 2 seconds to load your site, or over half of your visitors will leave.)

        As far as Flash agencies go, resn are pretty close to the top of the list. But you almost have to feel sorry for these agencies – as far as technical skills go they’re at the top of their game and doing some insanely cool stuff with Flash. It’s just unfortunate that it’s not 2001 any more.

        As a web designer, I can appreciate some of the insanely cool Flash stuff they do. Brand marketers and managers love the way it makes their brand look. But neither of us are regular customers. Rarely is anything on these sites related to helping users complete the tasks that they came to the website to do, or enticing them to complete a task that will actually make the company money.

      • 58

        Brandon S. Adkins

        December 8, 2009 1:55 am

        That site has a good aesthetic / design / color scheme to it, but I agree with Louis.

        Just picking a country was terrible! It took forEVER to scroll down to ‘United States’, as there was no way to make the scroll faster, even with the mouse down quite far.

        A site can be visually appealing and still an unusable mess. Some of the worst looking sites may be the most usable. Usability and aesthetic/visual pleasure are not the same thing. Many sites only have one of the two.

      • 59

        Whoops, seems I kicked off a discussion I didn’t intend to.
        Louis, I think you cannot approach a website simply in terms of measurable usability and conventions. Well, even those factors are hardly measurable but more subjective impressions.
        Speaking of .. In my opinion this site is not only beautifully designed but has also some interesting concepts concerning interacivity.
        I totally agree with you, that usability is a very important factor in web design. But you mustn’t forget to question, of whom the target audience consist of and if the site is appropriate for the target audience.

        Sometimes a not perfectly usable but way more playful approach is exactly the right way to go for a certain site.

      • 60

        @ Jorge Broadband,

        Try 2000, it sounds Y2K cuter .

        Then again, it’s more constructive when you list your intentions rather than “Your points would hold more weight if i were trying to read a news article, or purchase a new keyboard.” That’s what I meant with constructive criticism. Those are comments and put nothing on the table to create a synthesis of the discussion.

        Now, adding to your comment of the author being biased. How do you know. What do you offer in a way of deconstructing a website from a web user experience point of view.

        In your description of what an alcohol website should be, you are adding qualifiers to the experience without describing how to create that experience. The brand “should be aspirational and emotive”. It is vodka and they should mention why their vodka is unique, or different from the other ones.

        Your comment is the one that lacks weight when it comes to “delivering meaningful content”. This website has vodka secrets and I challenge you to find the total of vodka secrets on this website in an easy and straight forward way.

        Try to find out how many there are and how to get to them. If you like vodka and you are part of the “target audience” then you want to know more about the process, conservation and develop a taste for it. The vodka secrets in this page are great but you can’t get to them easily, instead you have to figure it out how to get to them in a very disorganized way. They did try to cater to that target audience and failed. They tried to speak the connoisseur language and failed at delivering it.

        Again, I challenge you to try it and when you do this you’ll find out: “why they didn’t add this on the menu “.

        This website lacks in information architecture, which would have solved a lot of problems of the navigation. The fact that the “back” button is respected is not nearly enough. That is a must and not something that they added so that the user would have a better experience. It is this kind of web usability , design and development that creates so many websites that “look” and try to “appear” modern but fail in the main point: to attract people to their business.

        Did you figure out how to get all the vodka secrets which are a great content but frustrating to get at?.

        That whole “target audience” has different degrees of success depending on the medium is delivered. Which is why there is more analysis on how to deliver content on a website because if you translate from print to web it fails.

        about your last comment, the article does mention good practices. Which makes your comment bias from the start in “defending” the website with no constructive feedback.

    • 61

      The replies from Jorge Broadband and Jewen Soyterkijns seemed to be coming from 1999, where everything built on Flash by Advertising Agencies was considered the best web experience. I believe that if you set your feelings for all Flash and advertising agencies with a reputation but a terrible website ( RESN ) then you might be able to learn something new.

      Take a look at that site of 26000 vodka.

      What is the first thing that takes place after quite an awkward navigation to enter the date of birth?.

      A question that you have to answer, and if you don’t answer it right during the first try you you get the “wrong” feedback. When you enter the right answer on a second try and displays “correct” you have to answer another one , because you didn’t get the first one right at the first time.

      So , fine.. they are using modern technology but the development and the design of the “reward” system is completely backwards and the audience instead of focusing on how modern this website is tends to think: “Why do I have to do this again?”. It has the appearance of a modern website but it doesn’t function like one. I encourage you to read books about User Experience and Information Architecture. It’s not a one man’s fight against all things Flash, there is a school of thought on developing this kinds of sites.

      Also, research a bit what “constructive criticism” really means because a semantic analysis of your posts renders “points of view” , “comments” in plain English. You are commenting on what the author should do without backing up why , and with no references or pointing to a direction that would make the author think: “I should look into this”.

      If you truly think of yourselves as perceptive beings of modern trends you would be able to see that “design and development follows function”.

      • 62

        Jorge Broadband

        December 11, 2009 2:36 am

        1999, cute.

        Your points would hold more weight if i were trying to read a news article, or purchase a new keyboard.

        Lets take the very first entry page. Don’t like flash? go to the html version. That wasn’t hard was it…

        As to your point about the question, colour me ignorant – but it makes no sense. The question doesn’t require you to make a correct choice – im not sure what you are talking about having to answer 2 in a row. Each section displays a question once, and only once.

        There are a couple of problems with reviewing sites in the way the author has. Let me explain why:
        – the author has an agenda. In this case it is “find something to like or dislike”. Why is this a problem? let’s say i go to website x to buy a new keyboard. When i go there i have a direct purpose, and that is “find the keyboards page” or if i come direct from google to that page “find a keyboard i like”. My goal is not to find something to like or dislike about the design/technology. This happens as a by product of the goal. When i go with intent to buy a keyboard, i want nothing to get in the way of that goal.
        When i go to an alcohol site (alcohol being something people generally consume in downtime) 90% of the time i am not goal driven to buy. The brand should be aspirational, and emotive – especially in the case of a vodka that is trying to position itself as top shelf.
        – If you want to get straight to business (contact info in a hurry) you have an html site at the very start. Im not sure what the problem is! The flash version doesnt want to be the html website – and nor should it. I would hesitate to say this site is more about positioning that truly trying to deliver meaningful content.
        – target audience, again. This isn’t, remember that. Horses for Courses as the saying goes…

        Some points you have conveniently missed:
        – Back button is respected. How many flash sites do you see that utilize that simple concept?
        – this also allows bookmarking to a direct space in the website
        – the age validation can be bypassed using remember me

        Your comment about my constructive criticism:
        By saying there are too many examples, am I not just saying there should be less?
        By pointing out that the good and bad should be posted together because the page is so long it is hard to determine which screen is good or bad, am i not offering a a direction?

      • 63

        @ Jorge Broadband,

        Try 2000, it sounds Y2K cuter .

        Then again, it’s more constructive when you list your intentions rather than “Your points would hold more weight if i were trying to read a news article, or purchase a new keyboard.” That’s what I meant with constructive criticism. Those are comments and put nothing on the table to create a synthesis of the discussion.

        Now, adding to your comment of the author being biased. How do you know. What do you offer in a way of deconstructing a website from a web user experience point of view.

        In your description of what an alcohol website should be, you are adding qualifiers to the experience without describing how to create that experience. The brand “should be aspirational and emotive”. It is vodka and they should mention why their vodka is unique, or different from the other ones.

        Your comment is the one that lacks weight when it comes to “delivering meaningful content”. This website has vodka secrets and I challenge you to find the total of vodka secrets on this website in an easy and straight forward way.

        Try to find out how many there are and how to get to them. If you like vodka and you are part of the “target audience” then you want to know more about the process, conservation and develop a taste for it. The vodka secrets in this page are great but you can’t get to them easily, instead you have to figure it out how to get to them in a very disorganized way. They did try to cater to that target audience and failed. They tried to speak the connoisseur language and failed at delivering it.

        Again, I challenge you to try it and when you do this you’ll find out: “why they didn’t add this on the menu “.

        This website lacks in information architecture, which would have solved a lot of problems of the navigation. The fact that the “back” button is respected is not nearly enough. That is a must and not something that they added so that the user would have a better experience. It is this kind of web usability , design and development that creates so many websites that “look” and try to “appear” modern but fail in the main point: to attract people to their business.

        Did you figure out how to get all the vodka secrets which are a great content but frustrating to get at?.

        That whole “target audience” has different degrees of success depending on the medium is delivered. Which is why there is more analysis on how to deliver content on a website because if you translate from print to web it fails.

        about your last comment, the article does mention good practices. Which makes your comment bias from the start in “defending” the website with no constructive feedback.

  27. 64

    Regarding the Age Verification screen:

    Don’t they ask for the country because different countries have different legal drink ages and some brands might have a different site for different countries (language) ?

    • 65

      Thanks Lea for posting your reply. It appears that Mr. Lazaris didn’t do enough research as many of these “Country” verifications are in fact present because a website, such as Bacardi, is in over 20 different languages. I’m a little surprised at Smashing Magazine for posting this article without doing their due diligence to see if all the facts stated were in fact correct. Additionally many of these sites have HTML versions for SEO / Accessibility.

      • 66


        I’m aware that some sites were in different languages. Like I said in the article, nothing is stopping anyone from entering a fake birth date, so the best solution is to have a simple screen that asks the user if they are of legal drinking age in their country of residence. It simplifies the process. Also, can you show me some alcohol websites that have an HTML version? Besides the fact that having a second version is old-school and terrible for site maintenance, I don’t remember seeing that option on any of the sites.

        But thank you for your thoughts.

  28. 67

    Michael Castello

    December 7, 2009 5:38 am

    A great read. It’s nice to see some examples of things done wrong once in a while as a contrast. I think you did a good job linking your criticisms back to the positive techniques and recommendations often found on Smashing. Thanks!

  29. 68

    I personally respect SM team and writers who make excellent — and long, what is rare now — articles about many sides of web development and comfortable user experience in general. But I want to disagree with some of claims author made in his work.
    Vertical menu, why it is named as outdated? Who decides? Why several designs are outdated also? I think any site can perfectly have a look that was in fashion one, two, four years ago, and it’s not even because certain alcohol manufacturer want to make an emphasis on product’s long life. These sites don’t look like teenagers personal pages, so why aren’t they “OK” for modern world and get lower marks during test? If somebody says: “Be modern, make horizontal menu. No place for all of them? List is too long? Something’s wrong with your menu, shorten it.”, here’s the pattern way of thought framed by opinions of famous web developers which are trusted in too much.
    “Best sites” for me looks like containing a couple of dozens of web sites, 70% of which seem like one another. A bottle, 2-4 images from exclusive photostock, short horizontal menu and artifically aged pieces of paper stick out of screen’s edge. If it’s creativity, then a narrow one.
    Apart of that, article is great as usual and a pleasure to read!

    • 69


    • 70

      Opinions vary, Evgeniy, but I strongly feel that a vertical navigation bar weakens a site for a number of reasons that I’ll probably save for a future article. :)

      • 71

        Jewen Soyterkijns

        December 7, 2009 1:33 pm

        Dear Louis. This has nothing to do with opinion. Count the number of links in that vertical menu. Now tell me with a straight face you want a horizontal menu with 12+ items, because that is more usable or modern.

      • 72

        @Jewen Soyterkijns, tell me with a straight face that this particular main navigation needs 12+ items.

        Why on earth are “Previous Events” and “Events” seperate items in the main site navigation? Or “Locations” and “Featured Spots”?

        This navigation should have been drastically cut back in the planning and wireframing stage (which, let’s face it, never took place in the graphic design department of whatever “full service” agency is responsible for this)

      • 73

        Leonardo Baptista Lopes

        December 8, 2009 5:02 am

        I’ll be looking forward to seeing this article, since I agree with the above user in both thinking this article is very good, and disagreeing with the vertical navigation being “outdated”.

    • 74

      Scrolling down to find navigational targets is just plain wrong. Vertical is fine, if the links are kept to a minimum so the user doesn’t have to scroll to find where they need to go.

    • 75

      Vertical menu is fine. Just look at Facebook! It just shouldnt be your main way of navigation, especially if it has 12 items in the list.

  30. 76

    Don’t forget the ever influencing client critiques. You can have a good argument for a more simplistic design, larger type, less flash, etc., but sometimes the client just insists on doing it their way. Maybe they’ve been fixated on the design that struck them eight years ago, or maybe they see their competitors housing poor design on their sites and think that that’s the current standard. Either way, this was a great article. Thanks for the post!

  31. 77

    Have you tried the Heineken website? It would be nice to have your comments on the brazilian website.

    I’m from Brazil, and we have a lot of different beer websites around here. If you are interested try some of this ones:

    Congratulations for the article!

  32. 78

    Speaking of Alcohol websites,
    You could be a little more positive by showing some good examples like this one:

    • 79


      That site is very creative and interesting, but a terrible user experience. It has almost all the weaknesses I discussed in the article.

      • 80

        A horrible user experience? Please define, as I truly enjoyed the havanamojito site, finding it so much more than a flashy, inaccessible commercial. I actually found it “authentic”, if you can imagine that. I guess I must equate a vivid, cinematic simulation of a Havana nightclub with plain old bad web design. I do agree that much of the flash stuff is way overused and the inevitable age verification screen should be short and sweet. But one really gets the sense reading your article that you don’t like what you’re writing about at all, begrudgingly throwing in a few “positive” examples at the end just to provide some semblance of balance, which is nigh impossible after the lambasting at length already done.

        And with all due respect to SM, who assigns someone to write about alcohol websites who “can’t stand alcohol in any form”? That’s like asking Ann Coulter to write about the merits of the Democratic Party. Sorry, but this feels like a grudge piece, “moany” as someone else mentioned. And speaking of UX, it’s fair misery trying to navigate around this page once you’ve begun a post, trying to find the various references one wishes to cite.

        Louis, I imagine someone else has already made this suggestion — I’m certainly not going to try to navigate around to try to find it — but overall it sounds like you need a drink, or whatever it takes to loosen you up a bit. Cheers.

      • 81

        Relax, Steve. I’m writing about websites, not about alcohol. There’s a big difference there. And, maybe I didn’t make this clear enough, so I apologize, but in the first few paragraphs I said that I embarked on this project in order to showcase alcohol websites in a positive way.

        The end result was honest and objective because I had no intention of writing anything negative. But it’s only my opinion. I think people need to look at this as a positive way to encourage discussion on these issues, and stop viewing this as if I’m personally attacking these designers.

        A post that encourages 200+ comments is a good thing, regardless of what it says. Don’t you agree?

    • 82

      Christopher Anderton

      December 7, 2009 7:45 pm

      1. A flash intro that maked my CPU run wild (yes, i have a pretty new computer with 6 GBS of RAM)
      2. Enter a bloody birthdate (why? Can the flashsite detect that i’m lying when i say i was born 1901?) If must have this, do it like this: “To enter, you must be of legal age in the country you live in” Buttons: Enter – Exit
      3. Enter the coolest thing around, 2003. Pixel fonts in small, not resizeable sizes.
      4. Music, while nice nice soundtrack, but i took a while to find the tiny pixel speaker that sits in it’s tiny glory on the right bottom. I shut it off.
      5. Now it’s time for recipies. I clicked recipie for one Mojito. Enter a link to a PDF. Nothing wrong with that. But the download button should inform the user what type of file (and size) you are linking to. The same thing apply to the iPhone game. One click and iTunes is bumping in my dock. Inform the user.
      6. Navigation. While at the “Goodies” section. You cannot use your browser back and foward buttons. Instead we have a tiny pixel type in the top right corner that says “BACK TO THE WALL” and has a “universal” close symbol next to the text.

      Most of theese things are quite easy to fix. I was clicking the link to the the main company site. And there we could talk about big fail. It crashed my browser 2 times, took over my mouse pointer, and the stealed a rather huge amount of the CPU cycles.

      “And with all due respect to SM, who assigns someone to write about alcohol websites who “can’t stand alcohol in any form”? That’s like asking Ann Coulter to write about the merits of the Democratic Party.”

      It does not take away the fact that most of these sites are terrible in user interaction design. Or is your point that you need a drink to endure all this flash and bad user interaction design extravaganza? ;)

      • 83


        From your description, I feel like I was visiting a different site. I’m on a two year old laptop on wifi, and had no bandwith or over-cycling troubles. Yes, the age verification thing is a pain in the neck, but apparently, reading other comments from folks who have actually worked on these things, it’s something that has to be there. Other than that, I found the site effortless and enjoyable — what can I say? It felt more richly cinematic than shallow and flashy, not a lot of goo-ga’s popping up pointlessly. I did not spend more than a few minutes on the site, just to get past the doorman and watch the demonstration on mixing a mojito. That was enough — I left satisfied with the UX there.

        I’m apparently in the minority here in finding Louis’ commentary more than over-critical. And I really can’t tell you where he draws the line between good and bad. I’ve read many critical articles on this site (heck, I’ve bought the book), but by this article’s end I don’t even care if the majority of the sites are rancid — they have to provide a more edifying UX than reading the rant here about them.

  33. 84

    I always assume the “age verification” was more for collecting age-range data for marketing. But once again what’s the point when you can lie

    • 85

      Yes, that was my initial thought. By using this “login” method, they have useful data about the target audience that they are reaching. Even if some of the the data entered is fake, they should be able to extract something useful out of it.

      • 86

        I have never entered my correct age on these sites. I just click something close to it. Being precise takes too much effort.

    • 87

      I’ve always assumed this too. With a product like alcohol I imagine that knowing your target audience would be incredibly important. Now, having many countries requiring that only persons of legal drinking age visit the site, you suddenly have a government enforced marketing survey for your site – best of both worlds.

      As a bonus, because most alcohol sites have this verification it is a marketing survey that is accepted by the community as a whole.

  34. 88

    Evgeniy, the first thing on my mind was the comment about a vertical menu being outdated. So everybody should use horizontal navigation, really every site on the web? Why don’t we all use 1 template for all the sites in the world?

  35. 89
  36. 90

    Callum Chapman

    December 7, 2009 6:33 am

    Great article, Louis. There are some great sites showcased above, I especially like the el Jimador Tequila website. That age verification form on alcohol websites is incredibly annoying though, especially when most people start drinking much younger than 18 (UK), and it’s not hard to make up a DOB!

  37. 91

    Aw, you left out the most interesting man in the world.

  38. 92

    Henri Guilloteau

    December 7, 2009 6:36 am

    Excellent review, we learn a lot about accessibility and what we should or should not do as webdesigners. Thanks.

  39. 93

    You are spot on with your analysis!! I work in the wine and spirit industry and it seems that most websites are made useless and certainely do not encourage me to stay and look further that the landing page. Thank you again for such a good article.

  40. 94

    Not usable? Off course, because they are all drunk! Nice article, thanks.

  41. 95

    To be fair to the breweries, especially in the UK there is a lot of bad press if they are not seen to be acting responsibly.

    Given the different legal drinking ages between countries (21 in the US, 18 in the UK for example) I think it is perfectly acceptable for them to have a country/age check prior to page entry. It may be annoying, but I think it is necessary.

    Although I guess “Please confirm you are of legal drinking age in your country” would fit the bill.

  42. 96

    Johnnie Foxtrott

    December 7, 2009 6:58 am


  43. 97

    Thanks for this great analysis. It made me realize that I never ever went to an alcohol related website. It’s everyday you learn something new about yourself ;-)

  44. 98

    I was going to say check out The Macallan’s site, but they recently updated it and added way too much flash. It used to be much classier.
    I then proceeded to look at a few of my other favourite scotch’s sites only to discover that one of them actually has a looping animation of water. Seriously? Is this the late 90’s?

  45. 99

    I’ve always found that of liquor sites about the dates being useless. Most often, just in spite, I just tab through and select the first item in the list, I end up with a date such ad 1900 jan 01.
    At first I did it because I was ‘testing’ their site.
    I’m hoping the statistics make it back to the top of the chain and see that 109 year old people still drink!
    I can just hear them say “Amazing! 109 eh? How many hits on the site again?” :)
    I like these sites for their entertainment and creativity, but I also agree on the functionality being so poor.

    cheers to micro breweries

  46. 100

    Quit hating on Flash dude; jQuery animation is gash in comparison

    • 101

      A couple of the sites I included in the “good” list were Flash sites. I have no problem with Flash, but if you can do something just as nice in jQuery, don’t use Flash.

      • 102

        Or don’t do it at all. Crazy jQuery animation effects are getting just as irritating as Flash.

      • 103

        I agree that Flash is often used unnecessarily and that JavaScript should be used instead in many circumstances, but I think that developers who know very little about intelligently optimised Flash/Flex development, argue far too quickly for the use of JavaScript libraries instead of swf output.

        Although the use of js with html can improve SEO, it very often in de facto usage doesn’t improve accessibility in any real way, and the http load requests can take far longer to perform than well developed flash animations/effects, whereby the pre-installed Flash player takes away the need to download and parse entire base classes/functions.

        Louis, you say you don’t have a problem with Flash sites, but your article clearly shows that you do. Also, Ben, comments like “jQuery animation effects are getting just as irritating as Flash” don’t really help the debate at all. Sure, bad animations can be annoying, but creating interfaces with reactive movement and depth often deeply enrich not only the aesthetic experience, but usability as well.

        One more thing, not related to Flash at all – I was completely confused by this crtitcism in the article: “The Miller Lite website is too small for modern screen resolutions.” I have no idea why you have a problem with this? I had a look at the site, and it wasn’t hard to read in any way, nor was it restrictively narrow, so I’m completely stumped by this. A lot of the sites you listed as “good” were too big for 1024 screens (like Aviation Gin), which a large majority of users around the world still have – especially entry level laptop users.

        On a positive note, I fully agreed with all you said about the age verification and intro pages, as well as auto playing videos and sounds.

        I’m probably not going to get a response, but clarification on the Miller Lite comment would be great, as I am really struggling to understand that criticism.

      • 104

        @Alex M, let me explain what I meant there.

        What I am saying is that bad animations – that is, those animation effects that are really pointless and even detrimental to the user experience – are bad regardless of the technology used to create them.

        There seems to be this idea lately with the Smashing Mag crowd that if you recreate some fancy Flash effect using JavaScript, it’s automatically OK.

        It’s not, and in many cases you would be better off just using Flash rather than rebuilding a clunky, cheap-feeling JS version.

        That said, I feel that animation effects, whether Flash OR JS, are still way too overused on websites created by big ad agencies, like those featured in this article.

        They are purely self-indulgent features that are there to please the client, the agency and the designer – basically everyone except the customer that actually has to use the site.

  47. 105

    I have to agree with Maik… He is right. You may think you know that you can design a better website… hell you probably could. The problem is not with the designers. Its with Marketing and mainly THE CLIENT. The Beer or Alcohol company. I work in this type of industry and I know exactly how this game works. Its very sad. Corporate America at it’s best or worst in this case.

    The Company lets say Schmoo Beer comes to your agency and says I want you to create a website for me. This all goes through marketing first…”The sales person”. Then marketing comes to you the designer and says, “Here is what they want.” Design around these guidelines.

    So you do and you come up with something you think is pretty fantastic. Marketing shows the client. The client is not happy and they make a few changes. To make a long story short this goes on for quite some time and goes through all the CEO’s at Schmoo’s hands. And of course they all ad what they think looks best because they are the “Real Designers” right? Before you know it your site which once looked great has been chopped up into an ugly cheap looking mark up that you would be ashamed to put out.

    But that is why the agency pays you so much. So you bite your tongue and let your company sell a website that is mediocre looking at best if not just down right disgusting.

    Like I said its a sad thing. But it is also sad that a Freelancer who knows no better will always look at something and say they could do better. But it happens everywhere and not just in the alcohol industry.

    This is why you should probably bite your tongue when knocking on the designer of a website. He may not have had a choice. Just because you say you could do better doesn’t make you a better web designer. It just makes you fortunate that you are free from corporate hands.

    • 106

      nightmare clients are all around. I hate doing websites that i don’t want to include in my portfolio… is there a disclaimer we can add, “This site looked good before the client took over. love -designer “?

      • 107

        I’d recommend googling for The Oatmeal’s article “How A Web Design Goes Straight To Hell”… would be entertaining if it wasn’t so accurate.

    • 108

      Christopher Anderton

      December 7, 2009 7:52 pm

      You are right. However, i don’t understand why you have that site listed in your folio, if you did not think the result where any good (because of the client) (i rather list the client name instead of the site).

      If you list the site, then you are fully responsible for that site, even if the client wants animated cats that sing christmas carols.

  48. 109

    I never understood why brewery websites would ask for your age since at least in the USA it’s not required by any law. What exactly is this age check preventing? Nobody is getting virtually drunk, and its not like these same breweries go to great lengths to protect under-age users from viewing their tv commercials or billboards?

  49. 110

    Most stupid article so far , Gratz!

  50. 111

    Great article ! Keep them comin`!

  51. 112


    December 7, 2009 7:34 am

    Why the hell is wrong to make a full flash based website?
    It’s up to the developer/company if they gonna make it in flash or html/css/javascript.
    Who are you to tell others what technology to use?
    If you think that javascript is better than acrionscript it’s a very personal matter. i don’t care.

    Some sites insist to enter your country because in some countries alcohol is illegal from 18 and above and some others from 21. That’s why. It’s not useless at all.
    If the user enters false details the company holds no responsibility. They just can’t let you enter if you don’t have the appropriate age.

    You asked who? From Where? Canada?
    Each country has it’s own laws. But the internet is global.
    So the company has to be protected to all countries and laws.

  52. 113

    Although I don’t regard many websites as “outdated”, I think that the overall tone of this article is well put. Critique on the overuse of flash, video intro’s, audio players etc.. is something that needs to be said more often !

    I get too many clients, work who want some multimedia flashing thingy site, but don’t have a clue what to communicate…
    SM is a reference on the web, as they raise their voices on this subject, that may convince those “I want a full flash site”-people..

  53. 114

    author of the post…

    what can I say?

  54. 115

    This was a fun article, I tend to prefer it when you guys show BAD examples of design to teach people what NOT to do.

  55. 116

    “Why Not JavaScript-Based Animation?”

    I got the answer: Because JavaScript sux. Its an unusual script language for the web.

  56. 117

    Great article! I just agree 100%.

    • 118

      By the way …stop the fake comments… the Article is not great and share only his own opinion that is full of fail.

  57. 119

    Thank you for tackling this. I have the very same gripes when I enter these websites. I’m over the U.S. legal drinking age and still just pick any numbers to enter the site. “How would they know I’m not 99 years-old? The “hidden-egg” technique was cool YEARS ago and I found it annoying then. And overuse of Flash is unacceptable.

    I would like to point out that the focus of “blame” for these poor practices, while executed by designers, is the final choice of the CLIENTS. More than likely, these designers have done the best they can with the little options they were given.

  58. 120

    Very funny reading!

  59. 121

    Svedka is my favorite vodka, which I bought the first time because I liked their font/packaging! Monday morning, I could use a drink! ;)

  60. 122

    unbelieveable! 4 Irish drinks and nothing not even one single beer brand from Germany!

  61. 125

    Louis my compliments, i hope some of these designers will read this article and take your advice in there next alcohol projects :)

    Asking for a date of birth can also to do with marketing, it is a way to know how old there consumers are.

    Keep up the good work

  62. 126

    I wonder if the people creating these sites were sampling the products they were promoting?

  63. 127

    Funny the Blue Moon site got a bad nod and Coors got a good nod. The Coors company makes Blue Moon. Another marketing trick to make people think a product is not made by another huge conglomerate.
    Either way, Flash is way overused. Cool intros but when the whole site is Flash, bad practice and usability. Not to mention bad on the search engines.
    What ever you views on alcohol itself is not relevant to the article. The article is about a specific industry and their designs and usability. Not promotion of alcohol. Whether you drink or not or choose to design for a specific industry or not is your own decision, but don’t make these comment areas about your personal views about a personal choice people decide to make.
    Design is design. This article focuses on a specific industry. It is much more engaging to focus on an industry, rather than to pull and compare layouts from 10 different industries. It doesn’t work. That is what research is. If you have a client who is in a specific industry you research their competition to get a feeling of what others in their area have done. This works the same for alcohol companies, furniture companies, toy companies, etc.

  64. 128

    Nice post, very funny like STPo said. I too hate the date-of-birth-picking pages ;-).

    I don’t fully agree on your point regarding using flash. Personally I’m not a great fan of full Flash websites, but I do think beer and alcoholic drinks are the perfect products for these type of sites. These products/brands are in essence quite generic, thus the brand itself, or the brand experience (and in this case user experience) has to have a huge impact on the (potential) user. Also, I think most users don’t visit the website to get information, at least it’s not their primary goal. These two arguments make it acceptable to make full Flash websites.

    I think you’re right about the other two situations in which Flash websites are acceptable.

  65. 129

    Rafael Dourado

    December 7, 2009 8:45 am

    Why Guinness is on top of best sites showcase if they also made the first mistake said: painfull age verification screen?

    • 130

      Even the “good” sites have weaknesses, which I mentioned. Also, the good sites were not in any particular order, that was just a coincidence.

  66. 132

    Helge-Kristoffer Wang

    December 7, 2009 8:58 am

    I love how Smashing Magazine only publish fullhearted articles, and they are actually thought trough. I mean, you give alot of effort into your articles and I LIKE that!

    I enjoyed reading this, and I learned of others mistake! Long live Smashing Magazine.

    And btw, I’m going to buy that book soon. :-)

  67. 133

    Great article wich shows good references of wht to do – or not to do!

  68. 134

    We tried to take a different approach with one of the alcohol website’s we designed by making it more of a game. The product is no longer available, but the site still exists here:
    We also did these two, which have more basic yes/no age verifications:

  69. 135

    Great and interesting article! Thanks!

  70. 136

    @Jables – I sighed at your post, I’ve had that many times, and have disassociated myself with each and every project that has been bastardised.

    I like this site by Adnams, a brewery in East Anglia, UK:
    It’s one of a few sites about the brewer which vary in styles and approach, but this one is a simple, no nonsense, blog based site, that doesn’t have any flashy stuff, nor an age check, as folk who drink their ales probably aren’t underage, nor want any fancy crap.

    Just the job I reckon. Their ales are damn fine too.

    • 137

      Thanks Birks,
      I will check this site out. I have a scout here at work so I gotta wait for home but, its funny you mention its a brewery in the UK. And a UK agency probably tackled the job right? Which is why it came out so great. Not saying all UK agencies set the Client aside and do what they want, but where I work we have a Division based in the UK… Sheffield I believe. And the Artwork that comes out of that department is fantastic. Our Creative Director is in awe of the work they do over there, and she is having the hardest time getting our board of directors to jump aboard here in the U.S.. With the limits they put on us it makes it hard for the client to see what we can really do. But your right its the job i guess. (I love Fine Ales I’ll have to order some or track it down from this site and give it a try.)

  71. 138

    Good useful post! As someone who has had to implement the age verification for sites for other vendors, I’m not sure there’s always a choice with doing auto country detection and age verification checks. It may be a complete legal matter, or a companies stance to always do it the same way, which doesn’t take into account usability.

  72. 139

    Hi, I’m the creative director that worked on the corona site. I think your frustration is one shared by many of the designers and digital creatives that have produced the above sites, including myself. There is nothing I would have liked more than to get people into the site experience as quickly as possible. However, your solution is a little naive and US centric. Unfortunately the age verification gates are a mandate from the various global governing bodies of alcohol. If you have a single global hub (which many .com’s are) and have content that is targeted to specific countries than you need to abide by the laws of that country. Obviously the legal age for drinking is NOT 21 around the world, and varies, additionally an IP sniff on a users computer is not considered accurate enough to circumvent country selection. It’s easier for smaller brands to bend these laws as they arent globally distributed or their content and promotions are purely US focused.z

    Also, if you havent figured out how to turn down the sound on your computer, you might want to look into that.

    • 140

      That’s what I figured. When I had to implement those verification boxes, I wasn’t given a choice in how it was done.

    • 141


      I just want the sites to simplify the age verification screen, that’s all. I don’t see any reason, legal or otherwise, even in light of what you just said, to ask the user to enter their exact birth date. It’s a waste of time, and provides no better entry than simply saying “are you of drinking age in your country of residence?”

      But thank you for that info, I hope more people involved in these sites will comment here, and I’ll be glad to correct any statements.

      • 142

        How is anyone in that much of a hurry that putting in their date of birth is a waste of time?

        Alcohol sites are required by law in most cases to have the users go through this step to verify their age. Similarly age gates are required by the ESRB (video games) and the MPAA (movies). Simply having a “are you 21” yes or no link isn’t sufficient for legal requirements. Yes, it can be forged and in many cases metrics show that a majority of people are born on January 1, 1900, but it’s all apart of the due diligence process that the brands have to go through.

        All of the comments regarding usability, poor design, and “too much” Flash come across as someone ignorant and naive to digital advertising and marketing. The choice to use Flash and interactivity is a business and strategy decision that drives the creative and execution. Have you ever considered what method better tells the brand story and engages the user? As much as you’re opposed to Flash and interactivity the fact doesn’t change that it engages FAR more users for FAR longer than HTML counterparts.

        Your assumptions about what should and should not be simply don’t hold up to what is reality.

        • 143

          Could you link the law that specifically says putting an age verification with date, month and year is required?

    • 144

      Your closing sentence was a little snippy was it not Cyrus?

      Having sound auto-play is horrible for many reasons. But the reason it annoys me most is if I have music playing while I am surfing/working. Its nothing to do with speakers being up too loud.

      If I want to hear sound from a website, I’ll press play.

      Auto playing sound/video is only acceptable on pages you expect to get it from, like youtube or last fm for example.

  73. 145

    You hate alcohol? Oh man…

  74. 146

    I agree with you in most of the points, Flash is out of date nowadays, I think it just should be used in really-necessary interactive designs, but most of the clients have not the same mentality, they believe flash makes their sites more attractive when it makes them less visible.

  75. 147

    The Jett Vodka site asks if you are 21 years of age, not if you are over 21. I’m 28 and I still can’t get in their site. But then again, I hit the back button and lied. Oh to be 21 again.

  76. 148

    I can’t stand articles where people spew their highly informed and educated opinions without actually knowing why things are the way they are.

    Having been the art director on the Budweiser age gate, I know a little bit about why it is the way it is. It is 100% the client. We did usability and focus testing on a great variety of simpler, more “usable” age gates. The solution you see live is not the one we recommended. Legal departments and alcohol governing bodies cannot be budged from their policies. Design is NOT the issue.

    Also, I agree with Daemon. Not every single site has to follow every usability Commandment. If you want to pick on true usability abominations, try sites like eBay.

    • 149

      Carl, thank you for your thoughts on this.

      If you read the article in full, you’ll see that I acknowledged the possibility that there were legal issues involved, and that the designers were not necessarily to blame. Also, as I mentioned in the article, I interviewed someone from a couple of different beer makers, and they did not indicate that there were legal issues involved, just company policies — which I suppose are linked to “legal departments”, as you mentioned.

      But regardless of who made the decisions for these terrible user experiences, they still provide an excellent case study of “what not to do”.

  77. 150

    Well, the article itself was pretty nice but I don’t think it was necessary. We all know that there are sites with poor usability. What will we see next? A showcase of blogs focusing on lemons or sites of shoe stores?
    Too many showcases of sites you don’t want to see in my opinion.

  78. 151

    This is the best beer site I have seen in a long time: (Narragansett Beer). It has a dead simple age verification system, a cool blog updated regularly, good usability and awesome graphics.

  79. 152

    The thing that really confuses me about the age verification on the web site is that these sites are essentially extended advertisements. There are no regulations where television commercials are concerned – “You must be 21 or over to watch this commercial. Leave the room if you’re too young.” Nor are there age regulations in print advertisements. Just what do they think they’re protecting minors from with age verification on the web site if they openly advertise on television and in print?

    • 153

      That’s a very good point, kelly, thank you.

      And yes, many of the age verification screens had huge bottles and other forms of advertisements right there, so they’re still technically risking advertising to minors with the initial screen.

      Thanks, I could have used you in my research. :)

      • 154

        Your talking about Corporate responsibility, not web site design, and it is an area you both seem to have very little knowledge on well as far as the Alcohol industry goes any way.

        While there is no strict regulation (i.e. as part of law) there are plenty of guidelines in the US and the UK for the advertising of alcohol. Most of the major brands/companies abide to these rules (as failure would result in bad press). For example in the US alcohol advertisements can only be placed in media where 70% of the audience is over the legal drinking age.

        While it may seem futile to have these age gateways on web sites, that kind of solution is not appropriate in other media, and so other restrictions/measures are in place.

        This whole area is separate to the discussion of web design as it is a requirement set out by the industries governing bodies, its probably wise to take it up with them rather than slating the designers.

  80. 155

    Hugely popular beer in northern Germany, site was last updated in 2004

  81. 156

    I really disagree with the author! And like I understand, I have maybe the same opinion like other users. He’s being very petty about it. Yes you can find always little failure, but there are a lot of great and interesting design ideas.

  82. 157

    Warning: bad engrish follows.

    I agree with most of what was said in the article. Overuse of flash, intros, annoying music, bad usability…but “Rombauer Vineyards” and “Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey” showcased as one of the best, while “4Copas Tequila” seems “old”? I’m sorry, but I have to disagree there.

    Besides, what’s wrong with vertical navitagion bars? If you have ten or more links, (wich in itself could be a symptom of bad information architecture, but that’s another story) you actually improve the usability by chosing vertical navigation. Anyway, I’m curious to know why you think it’s bad.

  83. 158

    It’s an alcohol based company’s website …. of course it’s not going to follow the same basic usability rules. These sites are driven by campaigns. They do not have a standard flow or traffic.

    Also, does anyone care whether or not you drink alcohol. Focus on a topic and skip useless personal details.

  84. 159

    I’m surprised dosequis didn’t get a mention in this article

  85. 160

    In most countries; users consent must be collected meaning that user has to select his/her location, age etc. so that the company eliminates any potantial legal liabilities. This is therefore requıired although I agree with you. Bu something are as simple as that.

    If you ask me; most of these sites do not even sell alcohol. The kids can see alcohol on supermatkets why can’t they see them online. And again if you say someone that he/she drinks and he/she drinks therefore; to me it’s his/her liability. No one places a gun on your head; or do they? :)

    • 161

      That’s why the person that I spoke to from Labbat (a Canadian company) said that it had nothing to do with laws, it was just a company policy. I don’t think there are legal issues, it’s just that the companies are trying to portray a positive and responsible image.

      So again, I ask: Why not simplify the age verification process, like a few sites do?

  86. 162

    Hello Louis, Nice article! However, I don’t have a critic at all on your project but more on how you deal with your critics. I recommend you to accept critics and know that you are not always right.

    I agree with Evgeniy that Vertical menus are not outdated, but even though I don’t share some of other user’s opinion I don’t try to AGAIN say what “I” think is right.

    Just a recommendation, if somebody doesn’t agree with you, do not “defend” your point of view, try to understand what the other person is saying. If you see all YOUR REPLIES have been quite negative to Smashing Magazine’s users.

    In any case nice article, congrats for your research!

    • 163


      Thanks for the comment.

      My responses are just for the purpose of continuing the conversation and get people thinking, that’s all. Smashing Magazine is trying to encourage more constructive discussions nowadays, so I’m complying with that.

      I didn’t mean any offense to anyone, so I apologize for that. We’re all entitled to an opinion, and I’m expressing mine. No harm intended.

  87. 164

    These sites have to be discus compliant, which requires the age gate. the country information is used to see both if the reader is of age in one’s own country and to customize the information presented in recipes to make sure that measurements and ingredients are correct for that country. So when they are giving away a Bacardi Mojito “Hamper” in the UK, it’s not the same as what a “Hamper” is thought of in the U.S. The industry is highly regulated, so to complain about something that is required of every site in the U.S. seems a waste of space.

    • 165

      Christopher Anderton

      December 7, 2009 8:02 pm

      Yes, but the question is why not do it easier? Some of the sites do have a dead simple “age gate”. While some is just annoying in it’s implementation.

  88. 166

    Nice article!
    I can think of so many other kinds of websites that have these problems, too.
    Anybody else having problems with the background on this page being #000?

  89. 167

    According to the following article the age verification issue seems to have been mostly resolved for the US. While the now defunct law dealt mostly with sexual explicit material it seems to cover any age restrictive activity.

    You mentioned not knowing what US (and Canadian) laws required and contacting a few breweries to find out. I found this article using Google. It’s great for that kind of research.

  90. 168

    check out this site, it makes great use of CSS …..

  91. 169

    Hiya Louis,

    I really got a sense of a moany and negative vibe running through your article. I’m sure the points you are making are very valid but perhaps they would reach more people if you presented your arguments in a positive way, rather than simply saying ‘what NOT to do’.



  92. 170

    Just wanted to thank the author for a great article with substance, and not just style. A lot of people really have no idea how much effort goes into writing an article of this length and scope.

    I’m disappointed to see how many so-called “web designers” still cling to Flash like it’s some great new thing. Unless used sparingly and wisely, it’s a nightmare for usability, bandwidth, SEO, and versatility. In addition, a lot of these beautifully designed Flash sites with complex animations and video run like a slideshow on my work computer, connection speed aside.

    Dozens of people seem to have felt the need to let everyone know that the age and country selectors are to make sure users are over the local drinking age (which is obvious and doesn’t really need to be pointed out), but they all seem to be overlooking the fact that a simple yes/no choice accomplishes the same goal, and that these checks aren’t even necessary in many countries. If nothing else, the developers should use IP info to set the initial choice to the user’s country, and set the initial age choice to something legal so that the user can simply click the button and be on their way.

    Anyway, hopefully web designers and marketing teams will soon realise that full screen videos and animations are for TV, not the internet, and a combination of HTML/CSS, JS and sparingly used Flash really make for the best websites, and that the less barriers between the users and the content, the better.


  93. 171

    Nice article. Well researched and written too. Got to agree with the ‘Flash’ mind set.

  94. 172

    lots of good bad things said in bothartcile and comments… But I do agree with this : Don’t blame designers or developpers because they aren’t the ones who decide what’s to be done.

    And I’ve tried this one :

    Funny thing, I’m redirected to a page where I can’t even put my date of birth although I have to… Anyone has the same problem?

    • 173

      Louis Lazaris

      December 7, 2009 2:10 pm

      Actually, I made a small “strikethrough” correction in the 2nd paragraph so as not to incorrectly target the designers and developers.

  95. 174

    I came across this Australian beer website recently, and was suprised to discover it was all animated in JavaScript:

    Now drop the whole idea of Flash like effects, and we’re there!

  96. 175

    I did enjoy parts of this article, but there are some things I would have to disagree with. I won’t go in to them as many already have, however I was disappointed to see the author include himself so much in the comment conversations. While I think a comment or two is fine (usually to correct something in the article), I think participating in the discussion is something an author should avoid as they come off defensive and in this particular case that is what I’ve seen. I see it as a good article with some valid points, and some not so much such as the vertical menu comment, but it left a sour taste in my mouth after reading through the discussion.

    Personally, I would recommend SM make it a rule that their authors do not participate in article discussions.

  97. 177

    While most of these sites are quite unusable (especially from an accessibility standpoint), they actually do quite well to hit their intended audience.

  98. 178

    Using a vertical list of links for navigation is outdated? How uncouth. Seriously, stick to design fundamentals and skip the fashion critiques. You were doing good up until you started letting your personal preferences substitute for objective assessment.

  99. 179

    I have to say that I agree with most of what is said in the article, not finding a mute button or a volume control in a website with music can drive me mad.
    But on the other hand I also like “flash” sites, and couldn’t help imagining you shouting through the reading of the article : )

  100. 180

    Blue Sail Creative

    December 7, 2009 3:17 pm

    This article is great, and I think it exposes a huge market opportunity for websites of this nature that take UI and UX into effect.

    Next on my call list! CORONA!


  101. 181

    I almost learned more from you all picking these sights apart than you just showing me the good stuff. Awesome post!

  102. 182

    I have worked on a few alcohol-related sites in the past. Here in New Zealand, as far as I know (and Australia as well) the age verification is a legal requirement and you have to ask for full DOB.

    As to the design, my experience is that the design is done by print-focused agencies, and they want their designs to “stand out”. Too often this desire, and lack of understanding of web best practices, results in the type of sites you listed. They want to be clever and different. They want it to be a “journey of discovery” (hence the mystery-meat navigation). They want your attention. They want “interactive”.

    An example of an actual question from a designer: “Where can I put the navigation? The top and left is too cliche. We want it to be different”

    And the worst part? The sites you pointed to as the worst probably won multiple ad awards for “breaking the mold”, as voted by other like-minded designers.

  103. 183

    Andres Jaimes

    December 7, 2009 3:55 pm

    Excellent! another great article…

  104. 184

    I can’t see the comments

  105. 185

    You spelled “Labatt” wrong… and got the URL wrong. But apparently they are used to people spelling it wrong and registered the misspelling too.

  106. 187

    Nice article… how do I get to see the comments?…. thankyou smashing mag – every day you give me something great to read and see… cheers!

  107. 188

    Dont get me started on flash sites, flash is good for adverts, video & designer showcases – someone just forgot to tell the marketing department a department whos’ last revolution was foil labels. Now if we can only get car makers to abandon flash as a “solution” rather than an enhancement to usability the world would be a richer place.

  108. 189

    I spent a lot of time researching the vodka category this summer, and the age verification screens did get very tedious. Why the complication? A simple yes or no question should make everyone happy.

  109. 190

    what no pabst?

  110. 191

    I really don’t think this is just limited to alcohol companies. Large corporations seem to think what ever marketing plan they pop out can be modified to the web.

  111. 192

    WebDesign is not easy as I thought… Beautiful WebSite doesn’t mean beautiful…

  112. 193

    some worth checking… , ,

  113. 194

    Guinness falls into an script execution error when trying to enter and have not set date of birdth (Notice: Undefined variable: locale in /opt/rmt/guinness_com_locales/global/lib/gateway.php on line 84). What a shame…

  114. 195

    “But in many cases, animation and effects could be implemented through good semantic code manipulated unobtrusively with jQuery or another JavaScript library.”

    There are still a lot of people thinking flash = shitty timeline animation. But it is not! Actionscript 3 is a good object-oriented programing-language, no timeline needed.

  115. 196

    While I agree about the inherent usability issues that these websites have, one might say that seeing as all these websites have the same, or if not similar, set of issues, that this is the expected norm for users of such websites. I don’t really surf these sites (I prefer to drink the stuff not read about it) but for those users who do, one would imagine that they surf a variety of them and not just their one favourite beverage.

    Is it really that bad that they have the same level of usability expectations for those websites? I don’t expect every genre of website to be used in the same way but I do like sites within the same genre to follow similar conventions. I would imagine this is why these large alcohol companies request sites like these, they see every other site in their niche as having the same elements. Isn’t that what usability is all about, presenting recognisable site conventions to aid usage?

    I feel that even though these sites aren’t the most “usable” in the everyday sense of the word, the quality of design, use of flash and creative uses of branding evidenced in these sites is actually quite amazing. I wish I was half as good as some of those flash designers.

    Personally, after looking at Louis’ own website, I’m not sure why he is writing posts about design anyway. It leaves a lot to be desired…..

    • 197


      You brought up a good point which is worth discussing: Whether or not it’s acceptable to design according to your niche’s standards, and not the web’s standards. That’s an excellent point.

      Now, regarding the latter part of your comment: If you think this article is about “design” in the graphical sense, then I think you should go back and read it again. The article is about “design” in the usability sense. Nowhere in the article did I ever state that the graphics on those sites were not attractive. Maybe you didn’t read the whole thing, so that’s fine; but towards the end I fully acknowledged that the designers of those sites are talented and that they created experiences that I could never accomplish.

      But thank you for your thoughts, you added a good point to the discussion.

  116. 198

    Sorry, couldn’t finish the article, I have read better bashing articles in which respect for other’s people work is still considered. Who is to say what works or not? I find this article kind of disrespectful, but that’s just my opinion anyways.

  117. 199

    steven benjaminson

    December 7, 2009 6:58 pm

    This is really one of the worst articles I have read on smashingmag. I also couldn’t read past the first few points the author makes without feeling like I am reading an incredibly naive and inexperienced author. Not well researched and obviously created for a quick article payment.

  118. 200

    That was quite detailed, but I felt it was a bit too long. If you want complicated, try going to Marlboro’s website and try and get in.

    I am wondering though, why the ‘Skip Intro’ part is a no no? I have had clients who insist on flash intro’s, which I hate, and really feel the need for the skip intro link. Not everyone wants to sit through a flash intro even if you are forced to put it there.

    • 201


      The “skip intro” is a no-no because the “intro” is a no-no. Maybe I should have made that more clear. It was a shorter section anyhow. Thanks for pointing that out.

      • 202

        Not a problem! I hate when clients demand them, no matter how much information I give them about how it holds up your site. Flash has it’s uses but not for intros!

  119. 203

    Eduardo Guerrero

    December 7, 2009 8:47 pm

    wtf? you don’t mention absolut vodka in this article, remember that vodka has a good management of photography, graphic design and packaging, well done anyway

  120. 204

    Nice post

  121. 205

    Fuad Ahasan Chowdhury

    December 8, 2009 1:03 am

    Nice share indeed!

  122. 206

    I had a hard time reading this article, I agree with a lot of the points made in regards to usability however as most developers/designers know most of the issues mentioned here are basically down to the fact that big clients work with big agencies for all their media and generally have very little knowledge of usability or best practice and simply work to make sure their client is happy with the end product. If your new to design or development there are some good points for usability etc in this article however I feel a lot of the issues are there simply because with such big sites and big brands they are unavoidable or non-negotiable and new designers/developers should be prepared for requests from agencies that go against their better judgement.

  123. 207

    Brandon S. Adkins

    December 8, 2009 2:16 am

    A very thorough article compared to some articles on SmashingMag. Good to see an extensive review of this problematic niche of websites.

    I think saying that ‘this type of site’ doesn’t *need* usability is an ignorant cop-out. All sites should have some degree of good usability.

    I’ve left many alcohol websites, because I couldn’t find the information I was looking for such as ingredients, mixes, nutritional facts, and more. It’s rather frustrating to have to go through hoops to get the information I want.

    I believe the audience of alcohol websites is severely misunderstood. Many believe that those people that are visiting these sites are looking for some kind of flashy party-like experience. I beg to differ. I don’t believe that the stereotypical party drunk is really the main audience for these websites.

    I believe more often then not it is someone looking for information, since the purpose of an alcohol site isn’t really to give the user a “crazy experience” and is generally more commonly used to introduce someone to the brand or heighten their involvement by giving them mixes and recipes along with company information and history.

    Unfortunately most of the useful information is hidden behind wall after wall of lousy attempts at giving the user some kind of unnecessary, generally unfulfilling “experience”. If I want the experience, I’ll actually drink the alcohol. If I want information, I’ll visit the website.

    Being an alcohol website is absolutely no excuse to abandon usability. That said, many times it is up to the client, so I understand the designer/developer are not necessarily at fault. It is unfortunate.

  124. 208

    Bilal Çınarlı

    December 8, 2009 2:28 am

    Very interesting round up

  125. 209

    Really professional listing and we getting inspirations of latest trend designs. thanks

  126. 210

    One reason that most of the sites are so over the top, is because it is all they have, all style and no content. Beer is just beer (of varying qaulities) but after that there is not much to say. Hands up how many of you aside from a design perspective have ever wanted or more importantly looked at an alcohol site, I have been working on design and drinking for quite some time, and have never felt I a need for inspiration or guidance. Alcohol is not alone, that is the whole principle of advertising to create a desire and interest in things that are usually not very good and we are not interested in. All the very best products of any sector never need to market heavily because they have a reputation earnt through performance, excellence and simply communicating what they do, without claiming to change your whole life or get you laid.

  127. 211

    Fernando alcantra

    December 8, 2009 5:31 am

    I not fully agree with your opinion, i think all this overused flash sites must be considered hotsites, without apply the usability rules, cause they just wanna sell their product, is not a system that the user have to work, the user just will enter in the site if he want…

  128. 212

    Would have been an interesting article had the writer not first complained about “bad habits that were carried over from the old days of the web design industry” and then ran headlong into misinformed anti-flash snobbery.

    I think the point of ‘branding’ is completely missed. It’s never about usability.

  129. 213

    Great article. I’d like to see your thoughts on this recent post on SM:

  130. 214

    I’ve designed MANY websites in the spirit industry for a long time now. Two points I can add insight to are the legal driking age verifications pages and the use of Flash. The form fields presented for determining age and location are determined by the legal departments of the company and the trade groups they belong to. The marketing teams, designers and developers involved have absolutely no say on what information is gathered. We’ve tried many designs over the years and done lots of user research and the net result is that there is really no perfect way to require someone to fill out 5 or 6 form fields before the enter the site. User drop off at the LDA page is huge and everyone knows it. Go talk to the lawyers and the government about fixing that.

    While many people use flash because of it’s production value, we’ve used it (more specifically Flex) because of it’s flexibility for global sites. It’s cheaper and easier for us to maintain a consistent look and experience in general across 20+ languages if the site framework is built in Flash. It also allows for easy integration of local promotion sites into the main global frame. That means every country can easily and cheaply build their own micro sites and plug them into the main global site/url. Of course that’s possible to do with other technology but Flash/Flex does the job pretty well.

    Maybe there are bigger reasons that all of these sites have the same flaws beyond the designers being stupid?

  131. 215

    I really liked this post. With all these fancy jquery plugins, crazy SEO marketer and different browsers, we tend to forget who we are doing all this for: THE USERS!

    Thanks for the great post, I try (and not necessarily succeed) to blog about usability on my blog. I’d love your guys feedback.

  132. 216

    One of the things that the writer of this article is not knowledgeable about is that extreme legal requirements that all wine and spirits sites must go through before they can even be launch. While the writer might not like the LPA there are hundreds of legal requirement that go into the back end of the LPA. Each region of the world has many different regulations and the programming that goes into the age gate can often be extensive.

    Check out or for some good examples of great design and great content.

  133. 217

    Nice to see a critical and somewhat tongue-in-cheek but fair article.

  134. 218

    Like the article. I’ve worked on a few beer sites. and find its quite a big waste of money because its all fluff usually.

  135. 219

    A big, old industry using big, old print techniques. Flash helps support the ‘big lie’ (about how drinking their brand will make you sexier or more important, well liked, etc.).

    TV and Print ‘Sexy’ just falls flat in an interactive environment.

    Enjoyed the article ;’)

  136. 220

    Yep, wanted to test some of the sites, but left after the “enter your birthday”

  137. 221

    Fantastic read!

  138. 222

    I thiink everybody is waaaaaaaaay over thinking this and missing the purpose, they are alcohol websites……..people don’t visit them to find vital information and they don’t need to be super efficient. The purpose is just to put up some big, cool looking, flashy, billboards that make people think “cool, Ima go drink some a that stuff now!”

  139. 223

    The author is missing a key aspect there. The alcohol websites do not SELL, they only serve as a point of reference to the coolness of the brand. And excuse me but FLASH is the tool for that. Btw some of the alcohol webs out there are fantastic. The author did not find them but they are there. just go to fwa or other gallery.

  140. 224

    Armando Alves

    December 9, 2009 4:15 am

    Most of the alcohol industry is self regulated (in the EU: ), with several standard established practices in communication. Much of what is produced is thus a consequence and not a web designer’s fault, per se.

  141. 225
  142. 226


  143. 227

    These websites are advertisements!

    This is not Facebook or Ebay. It is not a news site or a blog. Its a big flashy advert. Finding the info is not as important as making an impression and reinforcing the brands image. (no, really) If you want important info for your favorite booze, you read the bottle.

    The authors blind negativity towards flash is obvious. For those of us working in online advertising, we know that Flash is the STANDARD for this type of content. Proposing javascript animation as an alternative is a joke. This type of sites are where Flash really shines and I advocate them. The fact that he mentions an applauded FWA winner as a “bad” site makes me seriously question his judgment. I enjoyed reading the article and the debate regardless.

  144. 228

    An interesting and informative article.

    The users would have to be drunk to navigate some of these sites and even then, they may induce motion sickness…that 26000vodka intro is enough to give you vertigo!

    Nice work, keep it up!

  145. 229

    Why is a developer writing an article about design inspiration? Many of the sites you call “outdated” actually ARE from a couple years ago so of course they won’t include the latest web trends from 2009. I agreed with many of your usability critiques, but you just seem to be complaining about how many of these sites weren’t made recently. You don’t seem to understand marketing. For instance, the 26000vodka site is an EXCELLENT brand builder and a great advertisement that speaks to their young, affluent target market of club-scene types. If you get motion sickness from that site, your probably not in the target market, so sorry grandpa, your opinion is irrelevant.

    Why go back to writing code; not articles about how you are smarter than those “superficial” folks in the advertising industry.

  146. 230
  147. 231

    You’ve stated clearly why each of the above websites didn’t work and went so far as to explain why. But when it came to the best sites I got a huge link list and that’s it.

    Why not explain why each of them were included in the list like you did above instead of just throwing a massive pile of links on the page. I read the top part, but just skipped over the bottom. I’m not very interested in a mystery link blob, I care to read an article.

  148. 232

    Wow. I don’t know much about web site design. I am, afterall, just a liquor salesman who happened upon your article. I’ve just got to say, you are right on the money.

    I’ve often wondered who creates some of these pages, but more importantly, who approves this garbage.

    I will say, though, it is great to work in an industry where my basic understanding of complex and confusing programs such as excel and paint shop pro makes me tech geek.

    Thanks for the article. I can’t wait to pass it on.

  149. 233

    To be entirely honest I disagree with your opinions on these sites. The goals of the client in these cases are very specific; create a visually stunning web site that acts like an interactive commercial. They aren’t intended to be updated constantly, or search engine friendly. Sure there are major problems such as load times, unintuitive navigation, and missing mute buttons but for all intensive purposes many of the sites you seem to dislike greatly are very successful, fun and enjoyable experiences. They are intended to be visually stunning multimedia pieces that function as an augmentation of the brand, not information sites about alcohol. These people are trying sell booze, one of those magical products that happens to sell it’s self. No one will decide upon their next alcohol purchase because of a web site that doesn’t navigate well, they will buy alcohol because of cost, experience, word of mouth, image and the intention of getting their drink on.

    In a traditional sense, sure many of these sites are abominations. But in the same vein many of these sites are wonderful experiences and do their job extraordinarily well. So, I think you’ve missed the point.

  150. 234

    I love this beer page of Slovak beer called Golden Pheasant

  151. 235

    that Molson Canadian site was terrible, unusable for everyone except canadians.
    it requires you to insert a postal code.

    after 5 minutes of trying to enter i gave up :((

  152. 236

    EXCELLENT brand builder and a great advertisement that speaks to their young, affluent target market of club-scene types. If you get motion sickness from that site, your probably not in the target market, so sorry grandpa, your opinion is irrelevant.

  153. 237

    Great article, you should also check the 2600vodka, it’s super clean and realy nice looking site done completely in XHTML/CSS –

  154. 238

    I cannot agree more with this article. I was just talking to my buddy about this.

    I actually made my own beer website with wordpress. Drinking one new beer a day for a year.

    Let me know what you guys think of the design!

  155. 239

    Really, really, really bad article in so many ways. I thought we took jakob nielsen out the back and shot him years ago – it is mind boggling to still see morons still campaigning against flash.

    The web is not text – get over it. It is an amazing place full of life in all forms – get used to it. Flash is a fantastic medium and makes the web a much more enjoyable place to be – if everything were text I would be reading this on a kindle.

    Further genuine full screen only became available in the last three years – oops. Outisde of that it was a hack.

    when ever I read stupid blogs like this I can not help but think of the fact that most companies before TV believed it was a novelty and would not last – most of them no longer exist.

    Campaigning against flash is the last vestige of incompetent old men who cant code, cant design and have no idea.

    Finally the purpose of gathering this information is for demographics on a scale you sir, have no idea about –

    You should take this blog down – it is for html coders and only serves to embarrass you.

  156. 240

    Well..if your goal was to create A LOT of fuss about website design and get a bunch of comments to your article..CONGRATULATIONS, YOU DID IT! Anyway, I do agree that age/country verification – in spite of being a legal requirement – is, at least for not-so-innocent people over 10 (this being a decreasing age these days), a waste of time, as anyone can lie about this. I also agree that some parts of a website DON’T NEED to be made with Flash. But, then again, why not? Flash Player is installed in most computers, anyway…and maybe some people don’t like Javascript…but we could be talking about this forever. What I don’t agree is the “Mistery Meat” part of your article. I do like websites where the clickable parts are not immediatly visible to the user – that’s a consequence of IMMAGINATION AND CREATIVITY from the developer/designer and it helps creating a not-so-grey-and-standard Web. If everyone was making “standard websites”, with standard menus, etc, there wouldn’t be any of those interesting/funny websites and web applications – I guess you can say that the Web 2.0 concept wouldn’t exist either. So…as Dev said on his comment “the web is not [just] text – get over it”. Peace

    • 241

      Where is it a legal requirement? My research says it’s not (in most markets).

      Just everybody following along like sheep because somebody did it first. There ARE voluntary codes of practice and corporate ethics/policies that insist on age verification – but they are completely pointless in my view.

      However we continue to build client sites with age verification because clients want it – mainly because they don’t have the time or courage to buck the trend or face down corporate/head office mandarins.


  157. 242

    age verification… besides getting information such as which region your IP is located, the website’s market research system now has the age of the visiting individual… providing of course if the said visitor is indeed telling the truth which is found by yet another market research system that finds the percentage of who is telling the truth.

    so, just for a few numbers… 10 people visit the site, of the 10 there are 3 underage and 2 are them are male (beer just for argument sake) so to grab more lady drinkers, they decide to develop a “corona” type drink called bud light with lime and promote it using fun loving smart-sexy covered 20-something girlies… you know just to break into another market. :)

    seriously people, you really needed to ask?

  158. 243

    There isn’t a legal requirement for age verification, however there is an industry requirement established by DISCUS (Distilled Spirits Council of the US). DISCUS has created a code of responsible practices, and the relevant section states:

    “Age affirmation mechanisms, utilizing month, day and year, should be employed for DISCUS member- controlled beverage alcohol advertising and marketing websites. They also should contain a reminder of the legal purchase age.” From

    In light of this, I would love to see this article updated to show a proposed best practice that has great usability AND is DISCUS compliant.

  159. 244

    Captain Quirk

    April 11, 2010 5:27 pm

    Most of them were visually appealing (more so as still image thumbnails on your site) and all of them had something that made me ask “how the hell did they do that?” but that doesn’t excuse the fact that none of the ones I visited offered the user anything of any real value to warrant all of the noise, ruckus or ………………..waiting.

    Alcohol companies have truckloads of cash…..this compilation certainly illustrates that money doesn’t buy good taste.

  160. 245

    Good article- I’ve had to visit the web sites of 187 microbreweries (and that’s just getting started) for a project I’m doing. By far the worst is the dreaded all flash site, which seems to be extremely pervasive. The age verification is very irritating too, however it seems much more prevalent on us sites than Canadian (like 99% to 75%), and as you mentioned, on many sites it’s very hard to figure out how to enter your birth date.
    I’ve also noticed several sites are noting but several jpegs (in one case the entire site was a single jpeg).

    The sites I’ve been looking at are all microbreweries (very small businesses) but they seem to be copying the big companies as closely as possible.

    This was a spot on article. I think a good web designer could make a killing redesigning microbrewery web sites!

  161. 246

    If anyone’s still following comments on this article here’s a great example of good age verification and a nicely interactive site with NO flash.

  162. 247

    Samuel Bednar

    May 25, 2011 1:31 am

    Great article but linked pictures are missing – pls. repair it, thanks!

  163. 248

    Sven Lennartz

    May 25, 2011 2:49 am

    fixed! sorry for this

  164. 249

    Awesome article! Building a site now and these will come in handy :)

  165. 250

    “…very beautifully-designed but nightmarishly-unusable…”
    When related to the web, this is an oxymoron. Surprised to see this written in a smashing article!

  166. 251

    I found this article because I was interested in other people’s opinions about the unneccesary age verification screen.

    I’m working on an alcohol related website, and I have noticed that it is a very fad driven industry. What one brewery does, another brewery wants to follow. It’s hard to get the client to allow creative freedom on the designer’s part because they want their site to look like “that one,” and they really like the sound the site makes when you load a new page, so they want that effect too.

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. Here’s to businesses in the alcohol industry maturing in their individuality.

  167. 252

    In the UK, age verification screens aren’t a legal requirement per se but guided by industry best practice, see: .

    While, it is obvious that the best practice solution is as feeble as any more simplistic versions in reality, IMO ,the author of this article really should update it to show examples of good ‘compliant’ design


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