May 30, 2010

Philly Brewery Design: Yards and Manayunk

A couple weeks ago, as a sort of warm up for Philly Beer Week, I went down to the City of Brotherly Love and visited a couple breweries.

The first, Manayunk Brewing, can not possibly be done justice in pictures. First, the area of Manayunk is like an adorable arts town dropped on the Schuylkill River inside the city limits. So then add great beer, awesome art on the walls, some seriously good food, and you can see how, on a nice day, it might be pretty close to this Pour Curator's heaven.
This is the entry to the brewpub, which is in an old industrial building.
The walls of the brewpub are adorned with paintings of jazz icons. While no one could tell me the names of the artist(s), I'm a fan (disclaimer: I do have a small collection of art of jazz musicians, so I'm biased). The scale of this mural is impressive.
This is the outdoor mural on their sizable deck. Again, points for sheer size.
My buddy and traveling companion Russ shows exactly how nice the view from the Manyunk Brewing deck is. On a nice day, it is easy to see how some of us consider Philadelphia to be among the best beer cities in the nation.

I also got a chance to visit the (relatively) new tasting room at Yards Brewing Co. You'll get a chance to see Yards' label design work in the show, but their interior design work is something else entirely.
(Note: I didn't take these pictures, they were provided by Yards' people at Paragraph Inc.)
As you can see, the tasting room is spacious and bright, with banners of the artwork hanging from the rafters. Through the windows on the right, the brew house looks shiny and enormous (for a craft brewery).
On a non-art note, if you get down to Yards (and you should), try some of the $3 grilled cheese options, like swiss and mushrooms on pumpernickel. Seriously, stupidly, incredibly delicious. Just make sure you get a beer, like the Poor Richard's Tavern Spruce or the Brawler, that can stand up to the flavor.

May 27, 2010

War, Peace, and Tom Selleck

Three labels today as I try and clear some backlog.

The Dogfish Head Namaste, which is the traditional Indian greeting of peace.
The skeletal figure making the clasped hands gesture associated with the greeting has a fantastic-minimalist look. More Buddhist than Hindu in aesthetic sensibilities, but still could be subcontinent.

On a less peaceful note, we have a beer named after a bomb:
The Half Acre Beer Co. Double Daisy Cutter/Doble Cortador matches military-style stripes on the border with two-headed donkey with a sombrero ridden by a large munition in a field of daisies. Beersage at reports that the image took the artist only two days, which is pretty impressive.

And what goes with war and peace more than Tom Selleck?

Sweetwater Brewing has launched a beer to commemorate the anniversary of Magnum, P.I.
Titled the "Magnum, I.P.," the two-color label includes the Hawaiian shirt, the baseball cap, and of course the chest hair. Fun, nice use of limited colors, and a subject of great historical importance.

May 25, 2010

Three Creature Labels

Even though my tastes skew lighter rather than darker, I have a huge soft spot for North Carolina's Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, because owner Paul Philippon is a philosophy geek that named his brewery after a famous Gestalt image from a Wittgenstein text. Once upon a time, I was a philosophy major and loved Wittgenstein. I suppose I still do love Ludwig's work, though I embarrassed myself in a conversation with Philippon by screwing up Kant and Wittgenstein as the authors of the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (Kant) and Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Witt). Somewhere, my old advisor Nate is crying.

But that's neither here nor there. My point is, I like Duck-Rabbit's inspiration, and they make some great dark beer. Here's the logo:
They're getting into lagers, starting with their new Dopplebock, which has a clever play on the original logo:
The horns are a reference to the "bock" in Dopplebock, which is German for "goat." There are lots of theories about why the strong, dark lager got named that, and all of them are totally without evidence. But I like the play by Philippon (who certainly speaks/reads some German), and the adherence to the tradition of naming a double bock [something]-ator. The name "Duck-Rabbator" makes up in simplicity what it lacks in imaginativeness.

Speaking of things I like: Penguins.

Love 'em. They're adorable, they're endangered, they're a one-animal argument against intelligent design (it's a bird that doesn't fly but can swim at 20 miles an hour, so of course they waddle for hundreds of miles to mate and eat). And Spartanburg, SC's RJ Rockers is the latest to put them on a beer label.
Bonus points for leaving the more famous Emperor and King Penguins in favor of the more sprightly and colorful Rockhoppers. If I could buy this beer in PA, I would. Instead, I'll have to go to Maryland. Well, there's something else to do SAVOR weekend.

Lastly, the excellent Great Lakes Brewing Company put out a new beer, The Lake Erie Monster.
So far as I know, no such monster exists, but [make your own Cleveland joke here]. The artwork, if a bit reminiscent of Magic cards, is suitably frightening, and the blue-green color palette makes the red eyes pop. The beer in question will be an unfiltered imperial IPA, so I'll look forward to drinking it.

May 21, 2010

The Odonata Logo

So, being in PA, I have access to a great beer culture and lots of beer. I do not, however, have access to many West Coast breweries, and so I rely heavily on the network of beer bloggers to find out about stuff. One of my favorites, Drink With the Wench, is high on Odonata Beer Company.

Now, I don't know this brewery per se, but I do recognize the name of brewmaster Peter Hoey, because he was formerly at the now-defunct Sacramento Brewing Co. before opening Odonata in 2009. Sac Brew had some sweet design, and I was sorry to see it go.

Being relatively new, Odonata has limited artwork, but I wanted to look at the logo, which I like a lot.

The first thing one might wonder is: "Why an insect?" The stylized dragonfly is a nod to the name, which, as the brewery describes:
Odonata (OH-DOE-NAH-TA) is the order that encompasses all dragonflies & damselflies. We're big fans of these mythical insects and they tie in great with the Belgian theme we hope to cultivate in our beers. For instance, there are nearly 70 different species of odonata in Belgium, all visually stunning and evocative in their own way. We want our beers to be as delicate, as beautiful and imaginative as the odonata of the world.
So that's why they're using a bug. But obviously, the use of the swirling lines for the design work keeps it from the "icky" category of bug, and safely within the "pretty" category (yes, both of those are technical art criticism terms that you need a degree to use).

What I like about the image is that it not only makes a bug design look attractive and delicate, but that it also has the cardinal virtue of logos, which is versatility. When a place designs a logo, from a branding standpoint, that logo has to be able to look good on a huge variety of products and backdrops.

Take a look at the Odonata logo on the art for their Rorie's Ale:
With just a simple red-black fade and some repositioning the logo now has a look of classy elegance, which makes sense for a limited-edition Belgian-style Quad (certainly a high-end beer) named after the brewer's daughter.

Now look at how the logo functions on their Saison label (it's down at the bottom):
Now that bug fits perfectly with the laid-back, agrarian feel of a saison. The checkered yellow, simple tractor and typeface, and small sprig of wheat on the right all make the dragonfly look like it was made to represent the summer weather for which saisons make one's throat yearn.

Choosing a logo is one of the more important steps a business takes, and it's particularly difficult because most of the time one is trying to visually represent a brand that doesn't exist yet. Peter Hoey could easily have had this logo before the first batch of Odonata beer ever came out, so there's a certain amount of guessing about the company's future that comes with logo creation. Ideally, a great logo should express the values of the business, be visually appealing at all sizes, and be adaptable for a wide variety of purposes. And by those standards, the Odonata logo is a great success.

May 18, 2010

The Can Revolution's Effect on Art

So there's been a rush of breweries releasing their offerings in cans. Beersage over at estimates more than 80 breweries are doing it. Most of the reason for this is economic; it's cheaper to ship cans and cans are cheaper to buy. There's an argument to be made that aluminum cans are more environmentally friendly than bottles, but I find that dubious.

This includes some large breweries, including Pyramid, whose Haywire Hefeweizen is now available in 16 oz "pounder" cans. I've written here earlier about the brewery's particularly masculine artwork, which would seem to lend itself to cans. But they've toned it down and the bright colors and sharp angles are gone in favor of background texturing on the blue and the logo and text work.

Certainly, cans provide aesthetic challenges for those trying to make design work a priority. Unlike a label, a can is not one relatively small, defined canvas. It is potentially a 360-degree mural that can be seen from many vantages and directions. Of course, many will just continue to see can design and art much like bottles, and so they have small squarish fields of images and large blocks of blank space with legal text or whatever. That's not a problem; plenty of good work is obviously done on labels. But it is definitely not all a can could have to offer in the right hands. Let's take a look, for example, at the new labels for Grand Canyon Brewing Co.'s cans:

There are still clearly defined fields, but they've taken the locomotive theme and expanded it throughout the label, building a backdrop of riveted iron to match the name.

Expanding on this idea is the Sunset Amber design:
The "label" on the right with the name of the beer and the small sunsoaked yellow scene is totally overwhelmed by the gorgeous image of the canyon that is the backdrop for the entire can. It's almost enough to make you wish the little logo field wasn't in the way.

We'll look at two more can labels here, starting with 7 Seas Brewing:
This is more of a traditional approach, with clearly defined areas of art on a neutral monochrome background. In this case, it fits a bit with the British style design. You'll note that the logo is repeated twice, once above the image and once above the descriptive text field on the right.

Okay, the last brewery from that particular crop of updates is Indiana's Sun King Brewing Co:
This is somewhere between the approaches of Grand Canyon and 7 Seas, still keeping defined areas of images and text, but making the background an intentional, designed piece as well that sets off the fields while still incorporating the Egyptomania themes. You'll see the same idea in the can plans for the Cream Ale:
The trend - at least for the moment - seems clearly toward more cans. While some of the uses here are encouraging, I very much hope that we'll see some truly innovative artists use these larger canvases in different ways.

May 13, 2010

Avery Brewing's Updates to its Labels

Thanks to the beersage at, I've got a nice lineup of images of Avery's new label art.

First, let's look at the White Rascal. Old design is first, new one second.

So as you can see, the main artwork didn't change much. Instead, they've updated the backdrop on the label and made the framing more sharp and vertical. The lettering has also been made sharper, larger and more central, and the "Avery" has been updated to the A logo. The orange is scrapped, and an old-style building is now the main background image behind the necessary legalese and text.

Onto the Karma:

In this one, a sprucing up of the deity image accompanies many of the same design updates seen in the rascal. More detail is apparent in the swirls of the blue background.

Same dog, similar backdrop changes. Rather than that bright blue, there's a soft earthtone background with shading around much more of the dog.

Well, the world hasn't changed, but everything else about the label has. The brown palette and old-style lettering accompany waves on the backdrop and the structural changes we've seen in the other designs.

They've taken a sizable chunk out of the image for this label, and the change to the label background is the addition of subtle candy stripes. Lettering's the same, but the color is now white.

The Out of Bounds Stout has what appears to be the same image, but now there's an ice blue and mountains instead of the plain black.

For some reason, there aren't a ton of hi-res images of the old label, but you can see it's still the map with a nice deep green and verdant-looking hop vines replacing the drab background.

All in all, this is a pretty good example of how to update a design without reinventing the brand. And honestly, every business should be doing this every five-to-seven years, because our cultural aesthetics change. The old labels, especially when put next to the new ones, do look dated, just as the new ones will in 2016 or so. And the decisions, like making the frame sharper or changing the color and lettering, may seem minor, but all together they can freshen up appearances incredibly. Good work by the design team.

J.J. Bitting's Brewery Design

On the aforementioned Woodbridge, NJ, beertrip, I also got the chance to see JJ Bittings, a brewpub in an old train station. Since it's a brewpub, it has no label art, but it does have some great interior design. I grabbed a couple shots.

The first one, though backlit, gives you a sense of what it looks like to look up from the bar area on a sunny day. The brewhouse is on a loft on the third floor, and the layout of the place allows you to see up into the rafters. In nice weather, it looks spectacular enough that if the bartenders were blue it would resemble a scene out of Avatar.
Also, I'm a fan of the carved-wood tap handles.
This is just a big piece of folk art hanging opposite the brewhouse on a massive brick wall over the second floor.

Again, it's hard to capture in still shots, but the interior design (and very good beer) make it worth the stop for beer road trippers.

May 11, 2010

Pizzeria Uno's Attempted Brewpub Marketing Campaign

So, on a road trip for beer with my buddy Jim yesterday, we stopped in Woodbridge, NJ, at a Pizzeria Uno. What was strange about this Pizzeria Uno is that it made beer.

According to our charming bartender, Elena (I could be spelling that wrong), there once was a corporate dream at the central Uno offices of a franchise of pizzeria/brewpubs. Then they realizes how much mashtuns and fermenters cost, and they scrapped the idea. But before they did, they launched one brewpub, in New Jersey, where it remains.

And apparently, they paid a marketing firm to make logos and all sorts of crap for their beers. Below you can see the image for the Bootlegger Blonde repurposed as a wall mural.
Though I was warned off the Blonde as a beer too light to follow the delicious pale bock, I was able to have one of Ike's IPAs. Ike is apparently the founder of Uno from back in the day, and it is with his visage that corporate branded the beer. And created neon fixtures.
I seriously wonder if there's a huge warehouse somewhere of all the marketing products Uno commissioned to market their beer. The work is pretty good, if understandably a bit bland. And the neon lights are pretty damn intricate.

Shameless Self-Promotion: Design Drink and Be Merry Opens June 26th

So I curate an art show of work by breweries, and it opens June 26th. You maybe already know that. But I run this blog, so here's the press release anyway:

GoggleWorks Hosts Third Annual Design, Drink & Be Merry
One-of-a-Kind Exhibition Dedicated to the Art of the Craft Brew Movement

(Reading, PA, May 11, 2010) — For the third year, the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts will present Design, Drink & Be Merry the only art exhibition in the country devoted to the craft brew art movement. Featuring art created by America’s craft breweries, Design, Drink & Be Merry showcases the talent, energy and hard work that go into shaping a beer or brewery’s visual identity. By taking the art off a bottle label, case or brewery website, and hanging it on a gallery wall, this exhibit aims to open people’s eyes to the truly remarkable work that is going on in the design world of the craft beer industry. This one-of-a-kind exhibit runs from June 26 through July 21, 2010, and this year features art from 22 different breweries.

To kick off the exhibition, the GoggleWorks will host a Design, Drink and Be Merry Beer Tasting and Fundraiser in the Cohen Gallery. The event will be held on Saturday, June 26, 2010, with a VIP reception from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. and the main event from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Proceeds from this special event benefit the GoggleWorks After School Arts Program (ASAP), which allows students from the Reading School District, ages 6-17, to take free art courses in a safe and constructive environment. The evening will include a silent auction, food, entertainment and a traditional beer tasting, as well as affordable  Design, Drink & Be Merry-themed artwork from local artists. An award will be given to the brewery voted “best in show.”

Participating breweries exhibiting in Design, Drink & Be Merry range from the far-reaching Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, CA, to Stoudts Brewing Co. in nearby Adamstown, PA. Some breweries are entering their third year of participation including Schmaltz Brewing Co., Fegley’s Brew Works and Troegs Brewing Co. Other breweries, such as Furthermore Beer and Gritty McDuff’s, are first-time participants. Sierra Nevada and Furthermore Beer have donated original artworks, which will be auctioned to the highest bidder on June 26.

A complete list of the participating breweries, as well as information on the Design, Drink & Be Merry event are available online at

The GoggleWorks Center for the Arts is a community art and cultural resource center for Berks County, Central and Southeastern Pennsylvania, and is the largest, most comprehensive interactive arts center of its kind in the country. The mission of the GoggleWorks is “to nurture the arts, foster creativity, promote education and enrich the community.”  The GoggleWorks is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Free parking is available in the GoggleWorks parking lot, accessible from Second, Third or Walnut Streets.  For more information, call the GoggleWorks at 610-374-4600 or visit

Utah's Uinta Brewing Uses Local Artists for Crooked Line Series

As my friends know, living in Pennsylvania has given me a soft spot for breweries in states with antiquated liquor laws. That means I love breweries in Utah.

So when I saw the new Crooked Line series by Salt Lake City's Uinta Brewing Co. (via, of course, and Utah Beer blog), I was intrigued. I was particularly curious about the variety of styles you can see in the label art.

Lindsay Berk from the brewery filled me in:
Our news labels were done by local Utah artists.  Uinta wanted to reach out with our new Crooked Line and support local artists by choosing different artists to design the different labels.  For our first four releases for this line we used 3 artists, Leia Bell (Tilted Smile and Detour label), Travis Bone (Cockeyed Cooper label), and Trent Call (Labyrinth label).  The process was really great.  We met went to their studios to meet them and see their individual styles and from there we assigned them the beer names and gave them the artistic freedom to design the labels. It was a really fun process and we are excited to work with more local artists for all of the Crooked Line releases to come in the future.

Trent Call's Labyrinth Black Ale label is a pretty cool look. Kind of Frank Stella in the background (one of my favorite postwar artists), combined with a playful figure to keep it light.

Poster/printmaker Travis Bone uses a much more retro style to make the image for the Cockeyed Cooper label. I find this funnier the longer I look at it; the dude going over the falls in the barrel is just a little bit hilarious, and it makes sense for the big aged beer. I mean, there's even a monkey on the side of the barrel. Nice choice to keep the palette simple; using a ton of colors here would have screwed up the look.

 Lastly, we have the two images by Leia Bell (caution, there are adorable animals on her site).
Both simple, line-driven pieces. The Detour is mainly driven by the dog and the big color fields with the visible pencil marks for texture. The Tilted Smile piece is obviously driven by the wry smile, with the kind of weird-looking friendly guys behind the chick who is in color. The style is similar to some of that found in graphic novels (aka comic books). The interesting thing for me is that they are so compositionally similar, with elements along the bottom and up the right side, with a space in the top left for the beer name.

So Uinta (pronounced you-in-ta) has opted to develop a visual identity for this series that is united only by the local nature of the artists, rather than a crafted branding identity. I admit, I was a little surprised to realize this is the same brewery that makes the overly slick design of the Four Series.

They also do the Uinta line, which puts all sorts of more mainstream images on the same shape of label, like the Solstice (a delicious Kolsch):

I admire the cohesion of the Four Series design campaign, but I love the use of local artists for the Crooked Line series. All of which goes to this point, which is also definitely true in beer: You can not judge a brewery's style by one beer, or even one line of beers. There are many, many breweries that produce a line of beers (even flagship beers) that are mild or even underwhelming to sophisticated palates, but that also produce insane seasonal or specialty beers. And there are breweries whose art on one label might scream macro, widely-acceptable branding, but that do immensely interesting and challenging design on another label (or inside the brewery, or wherever).

One of the great things about craft beer is that the same people at the same brewery are capable of incredible diversity and breadth. Uinta now has at least three lines of beers, each with visual identities so distinct you have to be told their from the same brewery in Salt Lake City. At certain large, corporate breweries, that might be considered bad business. At a craft brewery, it's quite often par for the course. Is that cool, or what?