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First impressionsists: behind the beer label

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Weiss Trash Culture, label designed by Craig Gilbert

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.

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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

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Enough with the pumpkin beer, already!

There’s a time in every mild-mannered columnist’s life when the rage must bubble out.

I’m talking about frustration with something insidious, repellant and soul cracking. I’m talking about pumpkin beer.

Why pick on pumpkin beer? It’s the playful symbol of autumnal splendor! The nectar that introduces the casual beer drinker to exotic flavors! People are passionate about their pumpkin beers. They routinely stock up on Southern Tier Brewing Co.’s Pumking, a high-alcohol, rich and mildly spicy ale made with pureed pumpkin. Others celebrate Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale, Shipyard’s Pumpkinhead Ale and Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale.

I posit only this: we should stop buying so much pumpkin beer and encourage brewers to make better seasonal beers instead. I would rather drink a finely crafted porter that incorporates the spices we associate with pumpkin beer than the unappealing messes that most of these vegetable beers have become.

Reason 1: They either taste like a spice cabinet or not much of anything. Pumpkin meat, the gooey orange glop also known as Jack-o-Lantern brains, doesn’t really taste like anything. What we associate with pumpkin flavor is really pumpkin pie, which comes from spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. So when brewers try to translate this into beer, they use some form of pumpkin (sometimes roasted to bring out a little natural flavor) but a bunch of spices to complement the malt and hops. The result is either overly spiced or bland. Continue reading

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TWIB: New York, Old Kolschs and $1,000 Baseball Tickets

Will Siss:

Nice commentary!

Originally posted on Short On Beer:

New York City. Home of Brooklyn Brewery, Good Beer and McSorley’s Old Ale House. So why, as a craft beer enthusiast, did I drink a near year-old Kolsch (not on purpose) and a Guinness when I was sitting in essentially a king’s throne at a Yankees game?

$1,000 Baseball Seats

The greatest baseball experience

View original 999 more words

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Trip to the near east

Tasters sip it up at Cottrell Brewing Company.

Tasters sip it up at Cottrell Brewing Company.

While the explosion of new breweries is making shockwaves in central and southern Connecticut, it’s easy to forget the eastern part of the state. It’s well worth the ride to get tastes of seasoned veteran Cottrell Brewing Co. and brash newcomer Beer’d Brewing Co., which is just what a group of us did last weekend.

When you drive through Stonington off of Interstate 95 to get to the village of Pawcatuck, you’re met with some beautiful properties. It’s a world away from the hulking brick factory along the Pawcatuck River that houses Cottrell Brewing. The factory used to be the home of a printing press business owned generations ago by the Cottrell family; it wasn’t until 1997 that Charles Cottrell Buffam opened a brewery in the same space as his ancestors and named it after his mother’s side of the family.

Despite the size of the brewery, the tasting area is rather small: there are just a few taps set up near the entrance. However, the hospitality is great: we were treated to pours and full descriptions of Cottrell’s offerings. For many years Cottrell Brewing made only one beer: Old Yankee Ale. It’s a smooth, caramel-tinged amber ale that goes well with a lot of food, especially when it’s grilled. A few years ago it branched out with its Mystic Bridge India Pale Ale, which is certainly “English” in its appeal, meaning it’s not super-bitter like a lot of American versions of IPAs. Cottrell’s latest is the Stonington Glory Pilsner that drinks clean and has a few floral notes to it.

Continue reading

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Governor: Connecticut becoming known for its beer

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Gov. Dannel P. Malloy drinking a Stony Creek (203) Lager after a ceremonial groundbreaking for the brewery in Branford, Conn.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday at a ceremonial ground-breaking at Stony Creek Brewing Company in Branford that Connecticut was becoming known for its beer, and that he sees the craft beer industry in the state continuing to grow.

“When I travel, they know about Thomas Hooker [Brewing Company in Bloomfield], and those guys from Stratford [Two Roads Brewing Company] are becoming better known,” Malloy said after the ceremony.

Drinking a Stony Creek (203) Lager, Malloy said that he is happy about the number of new breweries increasing in the state, with approximately 15 new breweries coming on line during in the past two years.

“We are promoting the Beer Trail,” said Malloy, referring to the line-up of breweries in the state that lawmakers have tried to have officially designated a “trail” like the Connecticut wine trail, complete with signage. “Breweries have qualified for economic development dollars.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (r.) with Stony Creek Brewing Company co-owner Edward Crowley Sr.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (r.) with Stony Creek Brewing Company co-owner Edward Crowley Sr.

Malloy joined local Branford-area politicians to take part in a ceremonial groundbreaking and blessing of the formerly contaminated land where Stony Creek has been building its 30,000 square-foot brewery on the Branford River since May.

“What we are celebrating … is entrepreneurship,” Malloy said at the ceremony. “We should be proud of what [the owners of Stony Creek] have accomplished.”

Stony Creek was founded in 2011 and has so far been producing its beers at Thomas Hooker Brewing. Its representatives say it hopes to be brewing beer at the new site by winter of this year.

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Tasting: Hardywood Park Singel

Hardywood Park Brewing Singel

Hardywood Park Brewing Singel

I have to hand it to my super-secret source here in Connecticut who fences me Hardywood Park Brewing Co. stuff all the way from Richmond, Virginia. This bottle of Singel made my day.

It’s a crisp, estery Belgian ale with a delicateness that makes it very food-friendly. I paired mine with shrimp marinaded in sesame oil, red-wine vinegar and red-pepper flakes, along with corn on the cob and green beans with sauteed onions. The Singel (a lighter take on the dubbel and tripel) blended nicely with the shrimp and cut through the sharpness of the red pepper flakes.

I’ve been a fan of this award-winning brewery for years now, and thanks to my super-secret beer mule, I’m a lucky guy. Hardywood Park’s Gingerbread Stout, is an amazing beer, and now I read that they have cream ale in cans, which sounds like an awesome summer addition to the beer fridge.

If you can get Hardywood Park Brewing, I urge you to. And feel free to shuttle some up my way if you have room in your trunk.

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Class is in session at Ski Sundown and elsewhere

Ski Sundown June 21

Beer festivals are more than just open-air excuses to revel: they’re also giant classrooms.

“What’s that, professor?” you ask. “Classrooms? But I thought that when the bottle pops open my brain turns off.”

On the contrary, misguided pupil. With schools closing for the summer, the education is only beginning. Beer festivals in the region are perfect for learning more about new beers on the market, new breweries, beer styles and the brewing process.

You don’t need to necessarily take notes, although I do. All I recommend is that you ask the right questions and use the one sense not associated with beer tasting: hearing.

Ski Sundown Connecticut Brewers Guild Brewfest
To gain knowledge about our great state’s breweries, there’s nothing like doing some liquid research all in one place. At Ski Sundown’s event, you can learn about established and newer breweries alike. At most festivals, you can talk to a brewery’s representatives. At this one, at least, you can talk to the brewers and owners themselves.

Like a specific beer? Ask the brewer how they achieved it. Was it the hops? The yeast? What effect does the rye have?

The festival, held at a beautiful ski resort, is named for the organization of state brewers, headed by Curt Cameron, who also runs Thomas Hoooker Brewing Company in Bloomfield. Connecticut breweries that make up the 35 overall breweries on hand will include big Two Roads Brewing of Stratford and little DuVig Brewing of Branford.

Ever wanted to sample something from a brewery that doesn’t (yet) bottle or can? Check out beers from Firefly Brewing of Bristol or Stubborn Beauty of Middletown. Curious about what makes a Belgian beer “Belgian”? Try some Overshores Brewing of East Haven. Can’t make it all the way to Willimantic Brewing? Do your research more locally at the festival.

Now, for a little self-promotion: I’ll be leading small tasting classes at the festival once an hour at my own booth. I’ll talk about ways to get the most from a beer tasting, and serve up Connecticut beers. I’ll talk about the history of their respective styles and pass along some info on the beers themselves.

The rain-or-shine event includes live music from Flyin’ Blind and food from The Meat House of Avon, available for purchase.

Time: 4-8 p.m., this Saturday, June 21
Location: Ski Sundown, 126 Ratlum Road, New Hartford
Tuition: $25 in advance, $30 at the door
More info: www.skisundown.com

The Half Full Hop Skip & a Run
If you want to focus your research on a single brewery, and get some physical education in while you’re at it, sign up for the “Hop Skip & a Run” 5K and Festival. Continue reading

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Pouring your own

BPA homebrew

I’ve been an on-and-off-again homebrewer for about four years, and there’s a reason I go off again. I’m not very good at following directions, and I’m easily frazzled when something goes wrong, especially when dealing with things that are boiling. So I’ve made a few stove-top creations with mixed results, including a nut brown ale that yielded bottles that exploded upon opening.

When I get a chance, I jump on-board and assist a real homebrewer, and this recently happened when I worked with Tom. Tom and I are in the same homebrew club, but that’s like saying the batboy is a member of an MLB team. Tom’s the real brewer, and it was with his equipment and recipe that we made a Belgian pale ale (pictured). I bottled my share of the brew day, and now, nearly two months later, it’s ready to drink.

I’m really happy with it. It starts out very sparkling, but smooths out quickly. It’s got a solid malt backbone and enough hops to give it a summer bite. We over-hopped it late, which gives it a slight citrus tang. The saison yeast comes through by giving it a freshly-baked bread quality.

It’s a pleasure and a privilege to pour my own beer. I might just be on again.

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Journeyman John

To get a taste of John Watson's dedication to authentic brewing, you've got to see his cobweb collection.

To get a taste of John Watson’s dedication to authentic brewing, you’ve got to see his cobweb collection.

In the back corner of a cluttered garage in Southbury, Conn., a reggae record spins on a dusty turntable, providing the soundtrack for fermentation.

The man who dropped the needle on the record is John Watson, slowly sipping a sample of his sour cherry lambic. To his left sits his simple brewing system, based around two converted Sierra Nevada kegs. To his right is a chest refrigerator dedicated to packaged hops.

It’s in this laboratory that Watson has created dozens of award-winning beers. But beer judges aren’t the only ones paying attention to Watson’s work.

The owner of his own plumbing and heating business is now also the head brewer for Pies & Pints restaurants, which recently added a downtown Waterbury location to pair with its Southbury spot.

“Beer has been my life’s passion,” says Watson, who at over six-feet tall is built like an ex-linebacker. “I want to be able to stretch myself in terms of what I can do with beer. Now I can turn other people on to what beer should be.” Continue reading

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Jesse Camille’s CT Craft Brew Fest: A Pleasant Mudpie

Twenty years in craft-beer years is a lot. For anything to last since 1994 in this little world means it’s got to be special. Such is the case with Jesse Camille’s Connecticut Craft Brew Fest in Naugatuck, Conn.

The “little fest that could” still does. Tucked into a grassy corner outside of Jesse Camille’s restaurant, the modest, four-tent area was plenty of room for the hundreds of beer geeks who wandered purposely in search of the perfect quench on Saturday, May 17. The annual event not only helps kick off the festival season, but raises money for the Camille B. Perugini Charitable Trust Scholarship Fund.

The Connecticut Craft Brew Fest isn’t very large, but it has enough offerings to keep the scavenger for new beers satisfied. In the muddy field, on a bright, post-shower day, I ended up drinking samples of nine beers, and gorging on a pulled-pork sandwich.

Here’s my sampling breakdown, in order:

Rogue Beard Beer (Oregon) – This quirky curiosity is known as the beard beer because Rogue created the yeast from samplings found in a brewer’s beard. Turns out that the yeast helps create a bright, citrusy blonde ale. Continue reading