As beers from all over the world crowd the shelves, it’s tough to stand out. Your beer might have the quality ingredients, but if you don’t have the winning typography or graphic spark, your bottle with the sunset might get passed over for the can with the leaping pigs bumping bellies.
Part commercial art/part fine art, beer labels merge with the beer-drinking experience. Mega-breweries have known this for generations: you can’t separate Coors from its Rocky Mountains or Budweiser from its eagles and coat of arms. By comparison, craft breweries are just as creative outside the bottle as in. From splashy, bold logos to arresting illustrations and photographs, these labels grab your attention and even tell a short story.
To delve into the world of beer labels, I talked to the authors of a new book on the topic, as well as some local artists whose work appears on Connecticut bottles and cans.
Beauty by design
To get an overview of the industry, I turned to “Cool Beer Labels: The Best Art & Design from Breweries Around the World” (Print Books, 2014), from Wallingford co-author Steven Speeg and Pittsburgh-based co-author Daniel Bellon. It’s a mix of stunning photography and insightful commentary from a designer’s perspective.
It covers smaller U.S. breweries in geographic chapters. Speeg writes about breweries on the East and West coasts, while Bellon focuses on the Midwestern, Southern and international breweries. Their profiles focus on the breweries, but go deeper into the packaging. Their interviews with the designers (sometimes in-house, sometimes from design firms) and brewery owners include those from BLINDTIGER Design in Seattle, Wash.; Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Brew Dog in Scotland; and 8 Wired Brewing in New Zealand.
Speeg works as an associate creative director at World Wrestling Entertainment in Stanford, but he’s also a home brewer, and even has his own line of beers from what he calls Spooky Brewery. The design for his Possession Pale, which makes an appearance in the book, reflects his love of horror movies. It’s basically a demonic woman or long-haired man who looks like he’s torn from a poster from a 1970s splatter-fest film with a thin plot and a big fake-blood budget. Does it make me want to drink the beer? Not really. But it makes me want to stare at the bottle; and while I’m staring, I might as well try what’s inside…
Speeg said he relished doing the research for the book, discovering beers from breweries he’d never heard of. “It was inspiring to see the range of art styles from all of the different regions,” he wrote in an email. “From the bold use of diecut labels of Crux Fermentation [of Oregon] to the playful graphic approach of Partizan Brewing [in the United Kingdom], I was left motivated to create new labels for my own homebrew.”
Beer label design is a bit like album design, Speeg said, drawing a parallel between buying a bottle for the imagery and taking a chance on a CD for the same reason.
“Labels sell the beer,” Bellon agreed, during a phone interview. “For example, I’m not a big IPA person. I was at the store and I saw an amazing can: it’s an IPA, and I’ll pick it up.” Continue reading