April 30, 2010

Three New Labels

A few new beer label approvals, all courtesy of  beernews.org.

First Up: The Karl Strauss Whistler Imperial Pils
That writing on the right says: “The piercing howl of the SD#1 Whistler Buoy echoes for miles, hailing ships of rocky shores ahead. Like its namesake, Whistler Imperial Pils warns and welcomes at the same time. The grassy and floral bitterness of Saaz hops warns this is no ordinary pilsner, while authentic Moravian malts provide a toasted malt balance that welcomes another sip.”

This image keeps with Karl Strauss' simple, American Realist style, using a beacon and one-color palate on the natural-toned label paper. Very much in keeping with the style of the brewery. The fade out of the red over the sea gives a nice, ominous feeling to the sea, accentuated by the rings representing the warning signal.

The 7.5% ABV Whistler will be the second beer in the Coastal Reserve Series, joining the Hokusai-influenced the Big Barrel Double IPA:
I know everyone likes the Hokusai image, and it's one of those prints that's on dorm room walls everywhere, but sometimes there's a reason we make a big deal out of artwork. In the case of Hokusai, he was really that good, so I'm all about homages.

Okay, onto Odell's St. Lupulin XPA:

From the beernews release: "Lupulin (loop-you-lin) is the yellow resin in a hop cone that contains extraordinary oils that create flavor and aroma. The name St. Lupulin was inspired by a mystical legend of the archetypal hophead who devoted endless summers tending to endless rows of hops and their flowers."

I love it when breweries come up with backstories for the figures on their beers. Some take this to an extreme (like Ska, who bases their entire art story on an unwritten comic book), but even small stories are awesome. In the case of this artwork, they've clearly delved into the traditional Irish legend and hagiographic work, like that found in illuminated manuscripts or fantasy paintings. Here's your fun fact of the day: One of the more respected fantasy artists of the 19th century was Charles Altamont Doyle, father of Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle:
See the resemblance in theme and composition? The Odell label updates the ideas nicely while keeping the simplicity and tone of the classic pieces.

Lastly, I wanted to link the Central Waters Illumination Double IPA:
I rant often about the (over)use of hops in beer labels, but for some reason I like this. I think it's a combination of the color scheme, with the green, brown and then yellow lettering, and the intense light on the hop from a specific origin. The way the artist used the intense light source to create bright washout in the front and a dark, shadowed part of the hop on the back works for me. Maybe it's also because it meshes with the name. Am I crazy on this one?

April 28, 2010

New Brewery by Founders of Sprecher Has Some Great Artwork

Randy Sprecher, founder of Sprecher Brewery, has a new side project called Chameleon Brewing Company. And I'm a big fan of their opening batch of artwork.
That's the logo banner on the site. Already you can see there's more color and depth than most breweries put into their logo. Of course, that level of detail might lose something as it gets adapted to smaller marketing pieces, but you have to like the happy multicolored lizard.

There's also the first three beer labels. According to the brewery, "packaging design inspiration for the Chameleon line of beers came from Packaging Manger Kecia Sprecher. This was a collaborative design effort with Graphic Designer Krista Fornear, making the inspirations come to life."

The Witty Wheat has the chameleon (now blue) reading while a massive deluge of froth pours out of a brew kettle.

In the Fire Light, the chameleon's now orange and blending into flames. Fireworks in the back keep the warm color fade background interesting.

See, the Hop on Top might be my favorite, just because hops are so overused in beer label art, and this is actually a new spin on them. The chameleon's back to green and intertwined with the lettering as he jumps out from the batch of hops.

According to the site, the new brewery will be focused on producing beer that is designed "to please and tease a wide variety of palates, Chameleon beers are light in body, yet full of complex flavors and aromas." So the artwork's playful and detailed tone makes sense as the visual identity of the beer.

It's particularly cool coming from the people who did Sprecher's old-fashioned Germanic Imperial design. The look is so different that one never would have guessed the same family was behind it. I'll definitely be looking forward to seeing what other design comes out of this project.

Big Boss Diablo Diablo Blanco and High Roller IPA

Raleigh, NC's Big Boss Brewing Co. has a couple labels that came through Beernews.org that I really like.

The first is the Blanco Diablo, a Belgian White with a devil theme. Devils and demons are a big theme in beer artwork, and a little bit of a pet subject for me. First, here's the image, designed by McKinney Advertising and graphic artist Scott Pridgen (ed. The hotlinked images were gone, so I replaced with a bottle picture and a t-shirt graphic).

Pridgen has a retro style that I dig, spiced with punk stylings. The things about this that work for me are the small subtleties that distinguish it. For one, the use of white and gray for the devil is a nice change for the black and red motifs we see so often. I also like the asymmetry of the devil's expression, with the cocked eyebrow. I don't know what the nine skulls on the right side are about, but the color palate keeps the work light instead of menacing.

Here's the label art for their High Roller IPA. It's not new, but has a similar design motif:
More straightforward. Pridgen clearly has established similar compositional elements with the abbreviated names in the bottom right, and a choice of two humorous options running up the left side (I have no idea if those are actually functional for something, or just stylistic).

April 27, 2010

Free State Brewing's New Labels

Beernews.org has great images of the newly approved logos by Free State Brewing Co. in Lawrence, KS.

The Oatmeal Stout label has a nice soft texture to it. I like the color palette, and the impressionist-style buffalo over the hills.Something about the scale works for me. Obviously, if the perspective were to scale, the buffalo would be about 100 feet tall or the viewer the size of an ant, but I think it's cool they way they made the buffalo the focal points.

The three remaining labels are straightforward. The Ad Astra makes a constellation out of a bird, the Wheat State Golden is a bunch of grain on a silhouette of Kansas and some sunflowers, and the Copperhead Ale is a bird (not a snake, surprisingly) with a perturbed look on his face and some hops along the bottom:

While none of them are doing anything revolutionary, I like the style, which seems to match with a plains state vibe and is consistent across the different art works.

Three Links I've Been Meaning to Share

Howdy Beerfriends.

In between criticiques, I wanted to share three beer art links:

April 26, 2010

The Anti-Ad Campaign As Brewery Performance Art

By now, many of you have seen the Dogfish Head "Robot Brewery Tour" video. As the description says:
Imagine a terrifying dystopian world where the international, robotic, brewing conglomerates successfully automated flavor and humans out of brewing process and reduced beer to a generic commodity....

This super cool short film pokes fun at the big business breweries and their quest to automate the personality of beer and reduce it to a generic commodity.

Sam Calagione (of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery http://www.dogfish.com/) plays a robot who explains the process of personality automation to a reporter, played by the amazingly talented indie actor/musician Will Oldham (heres a cool story on him: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/20... ).

And this strange video reminded me to post on one of my favorite topics: Where do we draw the line on the definition of art?

This blog obviously takes the position that marketing and design can be art, but videos like this push the envelope a little further.

For example, some of you may have seen the anti-ad campaign of Rotgutzen Beer-Flavored Product. Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that the campaign is the brainchild of a craft brewery, aimed (like Dogfish's video) at the macrobrewery industry. It, too, included viral videos, in this case a debate with Ska Brewing Co.'s Dave Thibodeau. But is it marketing, art, or both?

Rogutzen and the Robot Brewery share things beyond thematic "damn the man" sensibilities. One important distinction is that both are not exactly advertising something as much as they are warning against something. Unlike, say, label art, these pieces are not designed to sell anything. They are created, instead, to keep you from buying something, or at least to humorously remind you of what you or your friends might be buying. In both cases, veiled references to alternatives give some level of name recognition, but the point here is creativity and meaning, rather than raising of revenues.

Anyway, these anti-ad campaigns, which have ideological roots in efforts like Kalle Lasn's work at Adbusters and the Reverend Billy's Church of Life After Shopping, are really a type of performance art.

April 21, 2010

Two New Labels From Terrapin's Side Projects

Two of Terrapin's new releases are Volumes 11 and 12 in the Side Project series, a double IPA called Hopzilla, and a Bavarian Imperial Lager titled, amusingly, Boom Shakalager.

Both are extremely busy, which is a little different from some of the flagship labels, and neither feature the turtle prominently.

Wow, that is a busy image. There's a tank and a giant lizard and a field of hops (I think), and lots of text going in and over and around and getting eaten by the imagery. The dude in the tank is drinking a Terrapin beer (very meta), and appears to have an abnormally long arm.

Germans! Lederhosen! Ricola! Little-known fact: playing a tuba in fields of grain gets a Teutonic blond chick bearing cleavage to bring you mugs - nay, steins - of beer.

Neither of these are particularly ambitious artistically, but they're fun and the big circle with the volume number keeps them from being totally divergent. Definitely guilty of some machismo, though.

Is Beer Art Too Macho?

Bloomington, IN's Upland Brewing released this new label art a couple weeks ago (I found it at at Beernews.org).
I like the "painterly" look of the piece. I can't find out if the work is actually originally a painting, or just a clever digital piece, but either way I think the muted color palate, thick brushstrokes, and the fantastic/romantic dragonfly figures all work to create a mythological ethos (mythos?) for the image.

What's also interesting is that this piece showed up on an article in Chow, titled "Craft Beer Labels Too Macho." In the words of its author, Lessley Anderson:
Do chicks want to drink out of a bottle depicting a naked dragonfly girl getting done from behind? I ask you. 
Okay, first off, I really liked Anderson's piece, I wished it were longer, and I think her overall point is interesting (more below). But I did not get that from this piece. Maybe I'm sheltered, but I didn't really get the doggystyle vibe at first glance from the image. I mean, I don't know how Dragonflies mate, let alone fantastical dragonfly creatures, but it looked mostly like an embrace to me. Is the female even naked? I mean, she's half bug, for crying out loud.

But more broadly, I actually saw the image as appealing to a feminine sensitivity. For one, the softness and brushstrokes are more stereotypically feminine in style. And I saw the subject matter as owing more to Harlequin than Ron Jeremy. Again, I saw more romance than raunchy.

Look at romance novel covers. See any similarity to the bug couple in the Upland piece? And is there any doubt that the target market for such products is women?

One of the great things about art is that two people seeing the same piece can see wildly different things, and I guess that's what we have here.

More to Anderson's overall point, though: Are beer labels too macho? And of course, no one (least of all Anderson, I imagine) is saying women can't like scary gargoyles. We're using generalizations here to examine a larger sociological point.

She also cites less equivocal examples such as Stone Brewing's gargoyle and the Mamie Battleship art (see here if you forgot that) as evidence of the overall trend. And if we want more, we can look at the Rogue bottles being suitable for "mandles," or any of the other manly tattoo-inspired art we've seen in the short life of this blog alone. Perhaps, as Anderson seems to suggest, the marketing staff at craft breweries are too focused on (or comprised solely of) men. Given the gender demographics of the industry, that would make sense.

But I don't know if that's the best way to look at it. Let's look at the top ten craft breweries by volume this year (I started after Yuengling and Boston, because their art is more branding at this point):
  1. Sierra Nevada Brewing
  2. New Belgium Brewin
  3. Craft Brewers Alliance
  4. Spoetzl Brewery (Gambrinus)
  5. High Falls Brewing
  6. Minhas Craft Brewery
  7. Pyramid Breweries (IBU)
  8. Deschutes Brewery
  9. F.X. Matt Brewing
  10. Magic Hat Brewing (IBU)

I suppose it's possible to see Sierra Nevada's nature-themed art as masculine, but look at their new Glissade work.

Does it seem macho to you? Is the desire to spend time in gorgeous natural scenery a male thing?

New Belgium we've looked at a little bit already, but their artwork is similarly soft and gender-neutral, featuring lots of bikes and sustainability.

The craft brewers alliance (Redhook, Goose Island, Widmer, and Kona) is a group of often good but slightly more corporate craft breweries (they are backed in part by Anheuser-Busch) that have fairly neutral design that is mostly branding. Same with Spoetzl, High Falls (Genessee), Minhas, and F.X. Matt (Saranac).

Deschutes, Pyramid and Magic Hat all do more interesting things with label art, in general, but I struggle to see an overwhelming masculinity. Deschutes uses a more minimalist style (which I guess is a masculine artistic tradition in literature, with Ray Carver and Rick Moody), Magic Hat a more zany contemporary one. Since it's a long post, let's look at their new labels:

The HIPA logo is a sci-fi image of a woman's face. Unlike some of the more sexualized images, it's hard to see a desire to sell sex in this label.

Skeletons are pretty masculine, I guess, though the bright colors call to mind a Dia de los Muertos feel, which is festive and happy, rather than the usual imposing skeleton. I guess men might like things like this more than women, but I never thought of Halloween or its Latin American equivalent as a particularly "macho" holiday.

Pyramid I'll give you. Owned by the same people as Magic Hat, any brewery with heavily angled graphics and names like "Thunderhead," Curve ball," "Audacious," and "Hay Wire" is probably aiming at young men. Add in the dudes surfboarding in neon, and I don't think there's any way to claim that Pyramid is not guy-centric.

Still, that's only one of the top ten. Clearly, the more successful breweries have marketing and label art that is widely palatable. Anderson is really talking about the "long tail" of the craft brewing industry, that huge number of tiny breweries run and marketed by men whose art deluges our shelves. Scientific examination of the industry is above my pay grade, but I believe she is right.

I think the key is whether the beer itself is as aggressive as its marketing. Stone is growing rapidly on the back of its gargoyle and confrontational marketing. But so is Brooklyn Brewery, with its image of a refined brand and classy drinking. And so is Dogfish Head, whose art is every bit as diverse as its beer. The point is that art should be a visual identity of the brewery and beer. For many (who are run and drank primarily by men) that means chest-thumping, testosterone-laden images, or more breasts. But for others, it may mean that there is a growing space in the market for more women-centric craft beer. As we see more female brewmasters and beer drinkers, I expect we'll see the gender dynamics of beer art change.

April 19, 2010

Star Wars Inspired Beer Label

One more piece to hit tonight:

New England Brewing Company has announced (as happens so often, I heard via beernews.org) that it will be releasing the Imperial Stout Trooper Stout. Actually, it'll be released this Saturday, on Dark Lord Day.

I assume this label is by their marketing company, Heavybag Media, whose portfolio is an interesting blend of punchy and creative. If nothing else, the New England Brewing Web site is worth a stop.

The Imperial Stout Trooper Stout label is
1) Redundant in name, 2) Not high art, and 3) Awesome.

Yes, I'm a geek. Not as big a Star Wars geek as most, actually, but I still like it.

Look, great design does not need to be cerebral; some of the best work communicates its message quickly and humorously, and doesn't need to be layered and complex. This is one of those pieces. They even somehow made the storm trooper helmet look like aviator glasses from the warden in Cool Hand Luke. Good, solid stuff.

New Left Hand Label Art

One of my major goals for the show next year - if I live through this year and we do this again - is to get the artwork for the Left Hand redux pieces. I talked with some of the guys up there this year and they seemed into the idea of exhibiting but we ran out of time.

Here is a delicious smorgasboard of their new work:
Sort of like a Wes Anderson-meets-Pixar thing, put on a beer label. One of the recurring themes you'll see in these images is the immense time devoted to texturing the background. Here, that design adds a very Birtis Empire-retro exoticism befitting the name.
The Polestar label is almost all texturing, with those swirls forming figures inspired by Northern traditions like those of Canada and Washington. I love how this piece really takes time to look at and understand, and how there's more the longer you look. And they did all this with basically one color.
The Oktoberfest looks much less subtle, with a giant lion's mouth screaming at you (and informing you the style of the beer in question). The mouth/shield/style piece is flanked by a dragon and what might be a gryphon, both hallmarks of imperial styles from basically all of Northern Europe. The use of the checked swooping background further enforces the imperial feel to it. Check out the faces hidden in the lion's mane and you begin to see this work is more interesting than it first appears.

The Sawtooth piece works by balancing warm and cool color palates, with the warm starting at the center and working out and the cool blues vice versa. The artist cloaks the Left Hand logo in a stylized burning sun flanked by mellow-toned trees. There are sign language signs hidden at the points of the diamond around the sun, which spell out "L-E-F-T" moving clockwise from the top.

A skull face formed by swirling, seemingly chaotic images that are actually Santeria/Voodoo totems and symbols. We've got lizards, snakes, crustaceans, frogs, bats, and more than a healthy dose of creepy/cool faces floating in the background. Use of the yellow both calls the ginger character of the beer to mind and keeps the red-green palate from looking Christmasy.
This beer came out a the end of last year, but you can see in its design the roots of the new Left Hand style. Straight line work gives way to a bird, and the lettering both stands out and fits in with the overall style of the piece. Here's the label art, which is arguably even cooler:
All in all, this is first-rate work from Left Hand, whose old labels were fairly straightforward branded pieces with the massive hand logo and some other predictable image.

Clean, fine, nothing to right home about. Nothing like the great pieces above.

Here's hoping the revamp continues at Left Hand!

Beer + Candle = "Mandle"

This one comes at you via The Wench, whose blog is more than worth checking out. A boutique called Koi Kouture is selling candles for men. They wind up on this blog not because they have names like "Stripper Breath" and "Oh No It's the Cops," but because they come in recycled bottles from craft beer:

While the $25 price tag is far too rich for this Pour Curator's budget, I have to admit these are candles I could actually display in the man gallery that is the Curatorial Pad. And we're all about recycling such things. A wide selection of beer bottles, too, including the New Belgium Lips of Faith, a few Stone, and a ton of many Rogue Ales bottles.

April 18, 2010

Activism in Art: Terrapin's Georgia Theatre Series

One of the coolest things breweries can do with beer is tie it to a greater cause. As someone who runs a beer show for a nonprofit, I'm particularly biased toward those efforts.

One of the cooler ones out there now is Terrapin's support for the Georgia Theatre with their series of beers created to help raise awareness and money for the theatre's restoration. Below is the image for the first beer, the Iron Tankard, and beernews.org has an image of the second beer, the Double Feature. Each of the series (only released in GA) will have one bottle with a Golden Ticket that gives the lucky winner lifetime tickets to the theatre.

Each beer commemorates different incarnations of the theatre, first as a YMCA with an iron swimming pool in the basement in the 1880s, and then as a movie theatre in the 1930s. The last  two installments will honor the theatre's time as a music hall, and finally the fire that caused the need for the renovations.

I love the matching of style to the historic era, with the Iron Tankard in one-color outline and the use of silhouettes for the Depression-era Double Feature. One of the toughest things to do is to create different images in a series tied together by a common element that doesn't dominate. Terrapin does that on a larger scale by often incorporating their turtle into designs. Here, the common element is the way the images are composed. The composition is similar enough to tie them together, with a bottom image (either the heads or the "Old Stock Ale" banner) flanked by two foreground items (tickets and popcorn or hops).

Maybe not high art (no Italian Reniassance references here), but some very nice design work by the people at Terrapin, clearly well thought-out and executed, and all going to support historic restoration.

April 17, 2010

Just Beer's Simple, Elegant Design

Westport, Massachusett' Just Beer has a new series of beers coming out, each with a distinctive black-and-gray text-based design to go with the new bottle art.
The Elephant Rock Bock design uses negative space defined by big, bold black letters. The fairly adorable elephant looks dwarfed by the enormous font, lending a sort of thematic irony. But the real beauty of this design (and the next two) is how clean and easy to read the design work is.
The thing I like most about the Golden Flounder design is the massive shadow cast by the flounder. It definitely adds to the slant of the lettering to make the font look massive and imposing. The thing I like least is the runningallofthewordstogether thing they do at the bottom. That's in that category of stuff that was possibly cool the first time someone did it, but now just makes something hard to read.

The last design, the Mamie Battleship Ale, uses a stark black outline of a battleship over military stencil outlines for font. Like the others, simplicity is the major virtue, portraying a starkness and elegance that makes sense for a brewery that focuses easy-to-drink session beers. All in all, I think this is solid design work that shows how well basic elements can be used for compelling style.

New Lost Abbey Veritas 007: Framboise de Amorosa

Beernews.org has a "bootleg" image of the new Lost Abbey Veritas series offering, the Framboise de Amorosa.

The picture, clearly taken on a phone and sent from the brewery rep, has a bit of glare, but is definitely good enough to make out the hedonistic imagery of the label. This work owes a lot to the Italian Renaissance,* with the cherub, the reclining woman, and the drapery of the curtains and bedstuffs. Even the composition is Renaissance, with the two figures in the bottom two corners and the lady on the bed/Lost Abbey cross forming the triangular layout that was supposed to call to mind the holy Trinity. Which is odd, given the sensuality of the work. At first blush, this is more Venus of Urbino than Madonna of the Meadows, but I have to hand it to Tomme Arthur and the Lost Abbey art department; they've managed to combine classical themes into a cohesive picture. And they did it on a beer label.

* On how many beer blogs will you find that sentence?

April 14, 2010

Recycled Enameled Bottle Glasses

The guys at Hop Talk have linked to Makers Market, where one can buy glasses made from Rogue Stone Arrogant Bastard bottles:
 These are awesome, and especially because they provide an easy plug for my show, "Design, Drink and Be Merry", which exhibits the best art in the craft brew movement every year at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts. This year, on June 26th, our hot glass shop will be selling similar glasses, made from a wide variety of craft beer bottles.

If this type of thing is up your alley, we have a deal for you: Give us a case of empties any time between now and June (12 22oz bombers or 24 12oz bottles), and we'll give you a glass for free. For details, you can email beer@goggleworks.org. The bottles must be painted or enameled, of course, so think Rogue, Stone, Red Stripe, Speakeasy, etc.

New Three Floyds Labels are Deliciously Dark

The Chicago-area Three Floyds Brewing Co. has gotten approval for two bad-ass (art criticism term) new labels, the Arctic Panzer Wolf Imperial IPA and Blackheart IPA.

The Three Floyds punk influences and artistic friendship with tattoo art are readily apparent. Compare this with the recent post on Lee Verzosa's work for Stillwater, and you can see how much breadth there is in tattoo art. Two breweries both influenced by tattoo style, and two completely different looks. The Three Floyds work revolves around large swaths of colors to display a chilly (Arctic Panzer) or chaotic (Blackheart) ethos. In both cases, the lettering is a classic style font picked to match the feel of the piece.

Apparently the Arctic Panzer Wolf is based on a mural on the brewery wall, which is one of the cooler things I've seen in brewery decoration:

Additions to the New Belgium Lips of Faith Series

There are some additions to the fine line of labels in New Belgium's Lips of Faith series.

The Belgo IPA and the Imperial Berliner Weisse both follow in the same artistic tradition as the Biere de Mars from the series, using simple images on dark backgrounds. These use a '1960s-'70s color scheme with bright, repeated images.

New Belgium has consistently excellent artwork, in everything from advertising to label art (they won Best in Show at last year's "Design Drink and Be Merry" exhibition). These are good additions to the series, though I don't know that they hold up as well as some of the earlier labels that are more pictorial. Take a look at the art for the Transatlantique Kriek:

Still simple, but it's a bit more ambitious, and manages to hold a little more visual interest. Generally, I think the Weisse is more successful, but again both succeed in delivering the ethos and continuing the visual identity of the series.