November 27, 2010

Brew Masters, and the Saison du Buff Design

So I just watched Brew Masters (with DVR, the concept of a show being "on" at a certain time has totally eluded me), and since this is an obvious topic of interest, I thought I'd share my thoughts:
  • The show is well-produced and edited well enough that it's a great thing for the craft beer industry no matter what. Discovery has this down by now, and they've put up a good show that demonstrates what we like about craft beer.
  • I know Jim and Don at the Beer and Whiskey Brothers almost had this show, instead of Sam Calagione and the guys at Dogfish. I love their blog, and I would watch any show they run. If you're a podcast person, their podcast is one you should add to your list. But I'm glad this went with a high-profile, high-volume craft brewery, rather than roving bloggers. I'm concerned enough about the general public finding craft beer interesting that I think this show would be close to impossible to do without a charismatic brewer like Sam.
  • Obviously, I love that they talk even briefly about the packaging and supply chain decisions. I think those decisions are actually pretty cool insights that a lot of people can relate to from their own jobs.
  • Yes, I played the SAVOR scenes in slow motion looking for me or my friends. No, we're not in it.
  • Jack Curtin said that he noticed a real difference between Sam on camera and Sam on script in voice over; I heard this, too, and it was a little annoying to hear him slow everything down, but I think it's a necessary part of shows like this. Every show on Discovery has the same issue, so I assume they know what they're doing, and that what sounds scripted to us sounds understandable to those not freakishly obsessed with craft beer.
  • The ultimate question that everyone's asking is what type of staying power this show has. As someone who used to love Cake Boss and LA Ink before they got goofy, I think what we've seen is that shows like this get between one and two seasons on just the intrigue of the industry. Then, everyone knows as much as they want to about the brewery, and networks start bringing in reality show actors and guest stars and making up fake plots and the shows start to suck. Sadly, I see no reason this show will be different. Sam is really engaging and I love watching him go through the process, but unless they really can make Floris, Brian, City and everyone at the brewery compelling characters and continue to find new plotlines, I can't see how this is different from cakes or tattoos or anything else (and really, how many compelling Bitches Brew-like stories are there in the year of a craft brewery?). That said, I'm really looking forward to watching the season or two of good television this will make. And who knows? Maybe Sony will contract them for five other famous band tribute beers, and Sam will have 50 zany ideas per season for many years.
And to commemorate, here's the quick look at the Saison du Buff art:
Here are the three labels next to each other. As you can see, the three breweries forming a triangle is the unifying theme. The Dogfish puts their logo a bit higher and more central for their bottle:

Victory has the most different take on the design, using their usual font and limited color schemes with a swirl:
Stone's is probably the most restrained. What makes it distinctive is the fact that it's enameled on the bottles, as with most of Stone's bottle art:
If I had to vote, I actually like Stone's the best. It's tough to incorporate three different brewery logos into a design, so the decision to go with simplicity highlight the triangle itself is, I think, the most effective.

November 26, 2010

Beer Blogger Ventures Into Label Design

I've been slowly collecting some examples of design created or sponsored by beer bloggers, and I've got enough for a post now.

Mutineer Magazine isn't technically a blog, but many of its contributors (Like Ashley Routson) have roots in the blogosphere. Mutineer recently sponsored a collaboration beer with New Holland called the Mutinous Battle Chai. As you might imagine, I was waiting anxiously to see the design:

I think it's solid. There's no overreaching, just a straightforward three-color design, centered around a medieval-like shield crest. The bolt-like shadows add a little bit of complexity and the slant of the wording gives it a little dynamic image.

I also wanted to acknowledge Mutineer's other design effort, which is the award-winning work of their advertising studio, Plumbline. Here are a few of the award-winning subscription ads:

Mutineer Subscription Ad #4 (Alternate)

Mutineer Subscription Ad #7

Mutineer Subscription Ad #8

I love the work (especially love the Mad Men tinge of the last one and the tattoo love on the middle one), and I'd post them all if I had space. The Flickrstream for all eight is here at the Mutineer ad Flickrstream,

Alan McLeod of the aptly named A Good Beer Blog is another of those beer writers I love, and while I disagreed with him about Andy Crouch's whole blogging debacle two weeks ago, he remains a great voice and scholar on beer. He's lately been a bit obsessed with the idea of Albany Ale, a historical beer that was made in the early US and continues to inspire Alan and others to dig and research further. This research led to a project, which has led to a logo:

I'll let Alan describe:
It is always good to have a graphic designer on your side. Craig of Albany is an Exhibit Graphic Designer with the NYS Museum and, frankly, seems to taken on the hobby of making this project idea look far better and be better researched than I could ever have achieved. It may be a bit less than crisp due to my MS Paint scaling down. The original is t-shirt sized. Imagine that. You may watch my more clumsy attempts over here and here. Note that there is potentiall a quibble on the start date of 1614 as Henry Hudson claimed the river for the Dutch and was, it turns out, packing two sorts of beer on his ship the Half Moon as he travelled up the river in 1609.
I actually love this logo. As you've seen from other stuff I've critiqued, I like it when forms are created from words and symbols. The skyline of Albany is an amusing little touch as the stein's crown, with the arcing text creating a nice visual cap for the image.

There are few beer bloggers whose writing I read with as much respect and joy as I do "Velky Al," of the blog Fuggled. A homebrewer and writer, he's now in Prague, providing an awesome (and rare) English-language voice into Central Europe's beer scene, as well as commentary on things that happen back stateside.

Some time ago, he talked about his homebrewing outfit, which he has named "Green Dragon Brewing" and this label he produced for it:

For a guy who claims to have no artistic talent, this is a hell of a label. It's simple, but evocative and doesn't shy away from detail and simplicity. The green font stands out on the black and brings the "brewery" name to mind. Yes, it's just a rose, but I'd really buy this beer.

His friend Rob from Optadesign produced this:
This is a little slicker and more corporate, and not bad at all, but I actually  like it less. This could be the label for a mellow version of Bud Light Lime, not a craft-brewed Wit. The green dragon is the main nice addition.

November 19, 2010

A New Mess of Links, With ART!

I'll be checking out Bill Murphy's and the Fork and Barrel tomorrow in East Falls before hitting up the Gangstagrass show at The Fire. Anyone who wants good beer should come on out. If that made no sense to you, that's because you are not from the Philadelphia area and so probably are not able to join me for a beer, anyway.

November 18, 2010

Stacey George's New Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet Label Redesign

So you may recall a post I did on the Clown Shoes art, which I generally liked, but found one piece a little tough to look at. That piece was the Hoppy Feet Black IPA:
Sorry about the lousy quality. But you get the picture; kind of loud, a little creepy. Not bad, exactly, but not pleasant.

Anyway, the artist of the rest of Clown Shoes' oeuvre, Stacey George, emailed me to let me know they were changing the label art. It now looks like this:
Even better, the brewery blog posted process art and explained the thought process.
Why a new label? The original Hoppy Feet label never got where I wanted it to go.  The beer was ready, we needed to dress it up, so this is what we used. Some people dig it, but the circus feel and color scheme aren’t what I wanted. Alan Pearsal is a terrific artist.
That about sums it up. So let's look at Stacey's process art. First, the sketch:
Nice foreshortening on a basic image, and the shoes, rather than being larger than life, are now farthest away and small, but remain the focal point, even with no color.
When we add some color, we see the shoes as a real focal point. We see the beginnings of a cityscape that wasn't in the final design, and the colors are predictably bolder than in the final product, in part because there's little to no shading. Still, the image already has the tone of a relaxed, realist piece.

So why no cityscape?
Because nature rules.

EDIT: Because Stacey mentioned it below, I thought I'd share the Pecan Pie Porter image:
She called it Norman Rockwell, but I'd go more Winslow Homer:

Either way, I'm all for more American Realism in craft beer label art. Thanks, Stacey!

November 16, 2010

New Elysian Artwork, Including Joe Who's Tattoo Art

Normally, I'd be out at my local craft watering hole's Two-fiddy Tuesday, but a cold is beating me up and the DVR is filling up, so the blog wins tonight.

I got an e-press release from the people at Elysian with some excellent new artwork.

The Bifrost Winter artwork used to look like this:
Fine, but not special. I would never have blogged on it.

Now, it's been subtly - but importantly - redesigned:
The new label loses the dilution of the light blue field around it and the yellow field with the brewery name. Instead, the whole thing is a dark, icy blue that radiates a wintry feel. It's a more elegant design, and probably cheaper to print (these things do matter, you know).

And then there's this little bit of badassery: 
Nicely done, and by now you can probably recognize tattoo-influenced art when you see it.
For Dragonstooth Stout, we partnered with Seattle tattooer Joe Who of Pierced Hearts Tattoo. We raise a glass to Joe for the great new design! Check out more of his ink here.
Who is definitely a talented artist (insert your own Abbott and Costello joke here), and this label is excellent example of how tattoo art can translate well from skin to another small surface like a beer label. The dragon is intricate, engaging, colorful and they even used a beige background to call to mind a (Caucasian) fleshy backdrop.

Okay, some housekeeping:
  • I've added a poll asking what type of posts you want to see. The reality is that time has kept me posting sparsely, but I think I could crank out more frequent posts if they were shorter. Problem is I'm not sure if you, the readers, want that. So if you could please vote and tell me your thoughts, I'd appreciate it.
  • In my last post, I gave you some saltiness about established writers trashing blogs. If there's an anti-anti-blogger organization, it's Wikio, which compiles blog rankings. This particular blog is currently the 121st most influential beer blog, according to one of their rankings. That may be sad, but I've already climbed 17 spots, and anyway Andy Crouch has pushed me into the arms of the Wikio army. So I've added a little badge thing to the blog, and a little button to let yinz share the content (which apparently boosts my influence). Truthfully, I care little about rankings like this, but it's fun and I want to give Wikio the advertising because an actual human being there sent me an honest-to-gosh email asking me to.
  • Stephen Jannise, a software writer, is running a poll about what you do when your favorite beer is out of stock. His point is that logistics software could help even out kinks in the supply chain of craft beer, which are numerous and annoying. I actually think that bars - which need to turn beer over and maintain variety - aren't the place for it, but that some of the larger craft breweries could find an advanced system helpful in forecasting demand. Of course, they may already have ERP-like systems keeping track of such things, but the ones I've seen know there's demand when their distributors yell at them for more beer, by which point it is of course too late. Anyway, go vote, especially if supply chain stuff is interesting to you.
  • Cigar City Brewing Company has constantly had to battle the city's civic government to keep its tasting room open. I was one of the many people who emailed the city council about Cigar City. I'm a little proud of the letter(s) I wrote, so I figured I'd share them with you:
Dear Tampa City Council:

I received word that you will be making a decision on December 2 about letting the tasting room of Cigar City Brewing remain open. As someone who lives very far away from your municipality, I wanted to impress upon you a few things to consider as you make your decisions.
  1. Craft beer is a big business. Just a few numbers courtesy of the brewers association: Craft brewing is an almost $7 billion industry, providing about 100,000 jobs. In 2009 2010, it grew by double digits while the overall economy stank and overall beer sales were down more than 2%. So it's not just an issue of people liking beer; this is real money.
  2. Please realize how immense a name Cigar City is to the craft beer community. I know it's tough sometimes for us to see things that are in our backyard. As the old saying goes, no man is a seer in his own village. But CCB is a major name in the craft beer industry nationwide. I'm in Pennsylvania, and I watch eagerly for their releases, and I'm not in any way out of the norm.
  3. Craft beer in Florida generally stinks. It's got a lousy reputation in the rest of the country as far as craft beer goes, with a few notable exceptions. The most notable of these, in my humble opinion as a beer geek, is Cigar City.
  4. Craft beer people travel. We really do. We go all over the place to see breweries, taste beer, and get the culture that produced it. Your own state features a blog dedicated to such trips, Silly? Maybe, in the sense that all hobbies are a little silly, but it brings us some joy and, more importantly for you, we are willing to spend money on it. The next time I go to Florida, I will likely make a stop in Tampa, and it has nothing to do with the rich cultural history of the city (which I'm sure I'll enjoy once I'm there), it will be to visit the best craft brewery in the state and arguably one of the hottest in the country, Cigar City. At least, I will as long as there's something to visit.
  5. This is a big thing for Tampa. Of course, there are bigger things, both financially and culturally. The Bucs are bigger to the city, I'm sure, as is the aforementioned cultural heritage. But in our humble, $7 billion community, Cigar City is big. They're a fast riser in a high-end, high-spending, intellectual and travel-heavy niche. They produce interesting, exciting, quality products and do it from a state that was previously an afterthought for many in the craft beer scene. And they do it all by embracing Tampa. Their name, their design, their beer names... everything about the brewery screams pride in the community. When a lesser company might have decided to shy away from a place that was previously not much of a beer destination, Cigar City decided to highlight their location and love of the City of Tampa.
I can totally understand that a council like yours has tough decisions to make. Sometimes, you have to be in the unenviable position of enforcing rules people don't like for the greater good. But my understanding is that the tasting room at Cigar City has an exemplary record of safety and behavior, and, really, I just can't understand why anyone wouldn't want to help businesses like this. I work in a small city in PA, and trust me, our civic and community leaders would be thrilled to have thriving, nationally respected small businesses that made a point of celebrating our area's history and heritage. You've got something great in your city, and I'm looking forward to visiting it. For those of you who voted to keep the tasting room open, thanks for protecting it, and if you're considering voting to close it, well, thank you for at least taking a moment to listen to the thoughts of a prospective Tampa beer tourist.

    November 8, 2010

    A Note for the Next Famous Niche Writer Who Wants to Trash Bloggers...

    Stop. Just stop.

    (Ed. Skip down if you don't care about beer bloggers.)

    I'll make this brief, since I feel, as many do, that navel-gazing is not particularly interesting to the rest of the world, but the short version is this: One of my favorite beer writers, Andy Crouch, whose book I just gleefully received for my birthday, I guess had a bad day and decided to write a long rambling post that almost dealt with cool questions but eventually came down to asking why people would write about beer if they didn't get paid to do it. 67 comments later, he did a second post and asked a good question about the Beer Bloggers Conference that occurred this weekend (namely, what's the value in that?). I'll look forward to hearing BBC10 reports to know if the experiment was, in fact, valuable, but the bigger issue is that the craft beer community had a bit of an ugly online weekend where those who have book contracts looked generally mystified as to why anyone would write about beer for free.

    To the rescue came Jeff Alworth, Wikio's #1 Beer Blog author and general man of sanity, who got right to the source of what the issues were, and did so with his usual insight and clarity. Here's the takeaway paragraph on the nature of blogging:
    Although it's not easy to define "professional" anymore, blogs are not so murky. They are unfiltered personal opinion. Whether we're talking about an anonymous knitting blogger or Paul Krugman, the nature of the blog is personal. Krugman's blog is a lot different than his column. It's pricklier and funnier, shorter and more oblique, more casual and sometimes way more technical. It is a reflection of his mind. Blogs exist because humans have to talk. We talk about the things that interest us and, if there's no editor getting in our way, in the way we want to. Long ago I came to the conclusion that a "writer" had almost nothing to do with success. A writer is a person who can't help but write. Good or bad, it's a part of the way they navigate the world.
    This is why I'm a Jeff Alworth fan. Go and read it if you want the insider baseball.

    Okay, onto more beer and art.

    I want to follow up on the Witch's Wit issue, which generated some really quality discussion and debate here and at places like The Beer and Whiskey Brothers, and some less quality stupidity on some other sites. Beer and Videogames tried to do their part by reminding us that the label was at least intended in humor. Then Alan McLeod tried to remind us that the label depicts an actual murder, which is at least "icky" and people can be forgiven for not finding that a suitable subject for label art.

    I do want to just have a Coda to the debate.

    As many have pointed out, there are many issues going on here. Let me first say that I don't buy the argument that says Lost Abbey should not change the label out of some resistance to a "PC" movement. The label depicts an act of violence, and if you think being against violence is PC, well, I can't help you.

    There is also the issue of business. Burning witches, this argument goes, do not beer drinking inspire. Maybe, but this has been the label for three years, so it's doing something right. I don't really buy the idea that Lost Abbey, a phenomenal success in the industry, is terrible at marketing, though I do accept that they might not want to fight about this label for any number of good reasons.

    Then there is the issue of the difference between art and marketing art.

    In a long conversation with a reader named Zen, who was insightful and patient in allowing me to ramble, I said that one of the main questions comes down to whether one believes that art designed to sell something is fundamentally different from art designed only to be perceived. If you do believe that, then this label probably strikes you as offensive, because showing an act of violence to sell something is not justifiable morally.

    But I don't believe that is always the case. And part of why I believe that is because I believe art is not separable from its audience.

    Of course, using burning witches to sell beer is a suspect idea, but it's not just any beer. Craft beer's market is very different from mainstream beer's market. I would never suggest MillerCoors use images to sell Blue Moon, for example, but then they probably wouldn't adopt a whole label series around Catholic satire, either. And that's where my rambling to Zen translated to a part of the issue I hadn't thought about before.

    Part of what made this an issue for Lost Abbey after three years is, in fact, Lost Abbey's success. When you're a niche label in a niche industry, it's easy to be playful and edgy. But as the brand grew, it became more mainstream, at least within craft beer. And, as one of craft beer's success stories, Lost Abbey attracted more eyes, even though it was using the same marketing as it always had.

    That's why I still believe the answer is education. Yes, I realize this makes me a softie liberal twit. But in this case, changing the marketing would have real costs, and it would be at least a tacit admission of guilt that I don't think Tomme Arthur wants. Instead, embrace the original intent, which is derision at the ignorance of the Church-sponsored Inquisition. Do some good, and let's all drink a beer.

    Okay, we're done with that. For sitting through it, I give you art:

    Here's an example of some art that is unpleasant to look at, but is that way because of its desire to raise awareness and money for a cause:

    The tribute to the Goonies:

    And finally, yes I know this is wine, but it's still cool alcohol packaging:
    Single serve booze? As the WSJ and Box Vox say, more socially acceptable than little bottles.

    November 1, 2010

    Some Label Art in the Spirit of Halloween

    So those of you who know me know that I'm not the world's biggest fan of Halloween, thanks to an unfortunate childhood incident where I moved to a town that changed Halloween so it didn't fall on a school night, and thus devastated a costumed 5th-grade me who suddenly found himself the only kid in town that had missed his favorite holiday. Yes, that was both a long sentence and a brief rant about why moving holidays for political reasons is the epitome of evil.

    I'm better now.

    Still, it's the season and there are a ton of creepy labels, so let's take a look at a few.

    First up, the famed Surly Darkness can art:
    Simple, stark and creepy. We see the red-and-black color scheme (get ready for lots of that in this post), the homage to traditional monsters (in this case, a vampire, which is a bit played out lately but this one is a bit more terrifying and less annoying looking than Robert Pattinson), and a clear use of a throwback serif font. Not special, maybe, but solid work. From the brewery release:
    In 2008, tattoo artist, Nik Skrade, designed the label... In 2009, local artist, Dave Witt was commissioned for the Darkness artwork, and the City of Brooklyn Center joined the party. This year, Aesthetic Apparatus has designed the label and is beginning the new tradition of a yearlong series of original artwork for our beer. So, that’s how this humble little/big beer became the unexpected juggernaut you now hold in your hands. Let’s raise a glass to all the artists and beer geeks that have made it possible!”
    Looks like we'll be seeing more from Aesthic Apparatus (not a bad name for a design studio), so I'll look forward to it.

    Next up, Flossmoor Station's Beelzebeer Ale.
    I'd be okay if brewers gave up the need to make a demon beer with every 666th batch, but this label is pretty good. It's a little busy at the center, but the sharp lines generally make for an interesting image. The demon is suitably defined from the background and has ample horns to display his evilness. This is a particularly good example of how to create variety of images in grayscale.

    The most interesting creepy labels we'll be looking at are from Freetail Brewing in San Antonio:
    Both labels seem influenced by the brewery's proximity to Mexico. The Outlaw Macaw (great name) has a slightly doctor's office version of the Dia de Los Muertos happy skull. I also like the bird. The Witicus has a nice half-demon half-citrus. Both are also showing influences of the silkscreen concert poster design that's becoming more prevalent in beer label design.

    The last Halloween labels are from back in July, but fit thematically.
    The Left Hand label art series continues to be excellent. In this case, the background shows creepy Dia de los Muertos-esque skulls around a large skull. The text, as with the other labels in the series, emerges from the image. In case you're wondering, the second one is the barrel-aged version. What's interesting is how the artist blends the creepy wavy lines into an image that is at times sensual (look at the female figures next to the skull's cheeks on either side). The image might be steeped in traditional Halloween colors and themes, but there's a lot more going on than your standard eeriness.