July 12, 2010

DuClaw's Dark Design

The Maryland microchain craft brewery DuClaw Brewing Company has built a brand based on a dark, aggressive, almost creepy ethos. In May they released some new label art, so let's take a look at some of the more interesting work in their portfolio.
The Nemesis Imperial Alt (an uncommon style of beer) is fairly indicative of their overall style. The thing DuClaw's art brings to mind for me is actually something like what one might see in a video game marketing campaign. It's a type of lively, aggressive dark look. This is kind of like the latest Batman video game, actually:
So as you can see, this brewery might fall on the masculine side of the great beer label gender debate.

Onto the Black Jack Russian Imperial Stout, which appeals to the Western gambler/gunfighter in all of us:
I like that the jack is holding a beer, and the incomplete background fading gives the text field on the right and other elements an almost burned look.

Back to more video-game-esque beer art:
If this were an ad for something in the Quake or Unreal series of computer games, would you be stunned? If you don't know what those are, they're industrial shooter games where you traipse through dark futuristic worlds and kill things.

Then there's the Mad Bishop and Devil's Milk, where the typeface and imagery remind a gamer of the ad campaigns for Diablo or Dante's Inferno:
I want to make something clear, here. I'm making these analogies out of respect, not derision. I'm not a huge gamer, but I have immense respect for the art of video games, which has grown in the past 10-15 years to be a legitimate and compelling art form in my view. I was never a big fan of shooters, but there is a reason Quake and Unreal were huge, successful franchises. Diablo and Dante's Inferno have some of the best art direction, as far as creating a compelling world and style, of any games I've seen. The Dante's Inferno ad campaign (featuring a gorgeous cinematic trailer with Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone" playing) raised the bar for game marketing.

Without getting too far into a region on which I am unqualified to write, creating a mood is an important part of branding an immersive experience like video games or, yes, drinking beer. Every bit of research we have on perception (and we have lots) tells us that context matters (telling someone a wine is more expensive makes them like it more, for example). In a video game, then, your expectations and experience of the virtual world is a major part of whether you will enjoy the game. In beer, your expectation of the beer's identity could very well affect how you taste it.

I've never had DuClaw (though I will definitely hit their Bel Air location soon), but I am intrigued by this attempt to mix a hard, dark design with what is clearly a fairly corporate mindset (they have four locations in the Baltimore-DC area).


  1. Greg, are you in the Baltimore area? If so I cant believe, as a beer lover, you've never had the honor of sipping DuClaws bounty of brews. They are in my opinion, the best micro-brewery in MD.

    The barley-wine Devils Milk is heavenly. Serum, DuClaws take on a double IPA will easily cure your desire for hops. They have a ever expanding variety of beers, and their sampler special can not be beat. One 8 oz sample of everything they have on tap. Between seasons this can mean up to 15 different beers, and for only around 12 bucks.

    Go. Now. You will not be disappointed.



  2. I'm not a beer drinker, though I'm a great appreciator of label art. I have to say that the label art for "Serum" is downright freaky to me. It says to me, "This is poison! Use this to kill weeds! For God's sake, don't ingest this!" And even as an avowed religious skeptic, I don't know that I could ever bring myself to drink something called "Devil's Milk." Maybe it's a recovering Catholic thing.