February 28, 2011

Pretty Things, Fort Collins Red Banshee, and an Elysian Redesign

This is one of those posts where I have to lump some stuff together to put up a post of labels that are gathering dust.

First, the Pretty Things "Our Finest Regards"
Poem on the back, typically cool and strange art. The guy with the shovel is either very short or the gopher and bunny are woodland creatures of unusual size. The fence in the background forms the backdrop for the poem on the rear panel. I like the somewhat unconventional (not really, compared to most of their artistic decisions, but still kind of) choice of making the ground white and the hollowed-out cellar brown. The color scheme is nice and warm and welcoming, like an alcoholic children's book.

Next, Fort Collins' Red Banshee

It's just good design. I like the lettering, the tilt and off-center composition with the woman's gaze and face directing your attention back to the left, and the use of the woodcut-esque look for the hair and face. The background is a little busier than it probably needs to be, and the gray background is a little more boring than it needs to be, but I really like artwork.

Lastly, Elysian has a new label for the Bete Blanche:

I think this is the old one:
If that is in fact the previous version, then to say this is an improvement is an understatement. First, the deep shade of purple is much more aesthetically pleasing than that bright blue. The picture of the woman in the white robe is well-rendered in a thick, painterly way, and the whole image both matches the color scheme and  creates a warm mood. I even like the tree behind the figure, though I wish the text didn't crowd it so much.

Some news and notes:

  • USA Beer Trends has word of a female-focused film on beer, looking for a small amount of funding through Kickstarter.
  • CNN Money has a nice profile of the Van Winkle craft bourbon brand.
  • Lastly, via Trendhunter, we have something near and dear to many of us: beer that comes pre-packaged in its own brown paper bag.

February 26, 2011

Two Corporate Advertising Campaigns by Foreign Beer Companies

From TrendHunter, the Diver and Aguilar "animalistic beer campaigns"

It's big budget and definitely European in, ahem, sensibilities, but as advertising photography goes, it's very good. It manages to be hot without being trashy, which is not that easy (oh, Heineken). What does it have to do with beer or buying beer? Not much, but still it's cool.

And, from The Dieline, the new Tuborg work by Danish firm Wearemega:

What do the designers say?

"Working with Tuborg Green is a dream job. Because Tuborg is a brand in which we, like most Danes, feel we have a stake. Not literally, but emotionally. Tuborg is ours, like SAS, LEGO and the Little Mermaid are ours. Consequently, we have approached this job with as much respect for what Tuborg is as for what it can be. We have tried to find a way of remaining loyal to both. We will start with the label – the Watchmaker. An expressive shape. A round and cheerful shape. A beautiful and powerful shape. Which can even be accentuated. When you isolate the Watchmaker shape from everything else, something becomes clear: It communicates. And in itself it actually already contains the entire Tuborg story."
It's a nice look at how to isolate one shape and use it as the basis for branding, and also a good example of how to limit that branding culturally. I'm not sure that shape would have the resonance in the US (it reminds me of a Mickey's "hand grenade" bottle) that it does in Denmark.

February 25, 2011

Widmer Redesign: Craft or Commercial?

The news of Widmer's new labels came to my attention late last year from the great Jeff Alworth.

It's fairly straightforward and bland. They cartooned the beer glass and added a lemon for the Hefe. The printing press-text on the background is faint and unobtrusive, and the rest is just simple bold colors. It's more modern, but not exactly special.

Alworth made a comment I found interesting.
"The largest loss is drifter, which was one of the truly beautiful labels out there."
This is what it looked like:
from The Perfectly Happy Man
With all due respect to Jeff, I don't think that's all that special or beautiful. But I acknowledge that a big part of how we perceive art and design is the associations we form in our memories, so this may carry a bit more history for him than it does for me. There is an identifiable simplicity to it, but I'm surprised to hear someone that attached.

Here's what the beer used to look like, more generally:
It's okay, but nothing special. The new design is certainly an improvement over this.

One iteration before that, when I had my first Widmer, it looked like:
This was a bit better, I think, because it looked old-school and traditional, rather than like it was trying to be something new.

And one before that:
In some ways, this was the best. It looks mostly like a wine label, and there's very little pretense.

Again, the new one:

I think we can all agree that the new look is the closest thing to an update we've seen, and the 2-D glass on the new art is a strong element that keeps it fairly contemporary. The composition and wordy background are hardly cutting-edge (trend-wise, closer to 2001 than 2011), but they at least look crisp and fresh. I don't love the hands clinking at the bottom, because it feels forced to have a sort of handcrafted look in a tiny space at the bottom of what is an obviously sleek and advertising firm-produced label.

It's probably an improvement overall, but one thing it won't help is that Widmer is still spiritually on the outside (and technically, too, when it comes to definitions) for many craft beer enthusiasts, thanks to its membership in the Craft Brewers Alliance, a publicly traded conglomerate with Anheuser-Busch-InBev backing. Readers of this blog know that I'm all about making smart business decisions, but this seems aimed more at suits than craft beer drinkers. For those who see craft beer as a way of life as much as ingredients or finances, this clean but ultimately lifeless redesign will only confirm the feeling that Widmer is more corporate than craft.

And, with this news that the Craft Brewers Alliance is broke, that's probably not what they are shooting for.

February 24, 2011

Half Acre Brewing's Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

So Chicago's Half Acre Brewing is one of those that consistently puts out interesting, novel, and often disturbing label art. I'd say it's punk-influenced, but that doesn't seem right because, unlike, say, Three Floyds (with whom Half Acre has been known to consort), there are no traditional punk elements. Rather, the artwork just seems intended to sort of screw with you. More than anything, they remind me of dystopian works, where the future (or parallel present) is a darker, twisted version of things as they are. As we'll see, they tend to achieve this discomforting effect by juxtaposing very different ideas.

Here's the Thunder and Son:
So it's like Clint Eastwood as Abraham, except that instead of tying Isaac to an altar, he gives him a lightning lasso and a .357 revolver, and lets him ride a buffalo? Or maybe the kid is Death from Revelations ("I looked and I beheld a pale bison")? The color scheme here is pure dystopia. Barren brown wasteland, lightning storm from grey skies, slightly bluer grey clothing, aforementioned pale grey plains beast that's looking sadly (and quite human-ly) out at us... all grim and a little scary. It's impressive that everything is distinct and ever stands out, despite a really limited color palette. Here, the juxtaposition was the use of the father-and-happy-son, in Western garb, with the TS Elliot-meets-Book of Eli backdrop.

Next, the Big Hugs Imperial Stout label art was... changed.

Here's last year's:
Mmkay. Lots of red and pink, almost Valentine's Day-esque, but, you know, with a kitty smashing Chicago.

Here's the new one:
Way more Japanese influences. It looks like something out of Katamari. But the bright colors, the monster kitty now smashing a rainbow and castle, and the fake-Asian lettering are all hallmarks of a Japanese pop aesthetic. Compositionally, it's a little better, but the real change is in the vibrancy of this large and strange image. Now, we're juxtaposing bright happy rainbows and colors and flowers with destruction in the form of  a gigantic adorable fire-breathing cat. Sensical or no, it's effective.

Lastly, the Over Ale can art, done by artist Phineas X. Jones:
Okay, nice. Sort of an early-1900s Germanic thing going on, with some subtly unsettling undertones, like Fritz Lang's Metropolis meets Slaughterhouse Five. Is that dirigible for military or transport purposes? Limited colors, retro design... pretty straightforward, right?

Well, as the artist said: Really happy with this design as it's coming along. The sad part is it's a pattern tile and 99% of the people who have it in their actual hands won't even notice it."

It's okay, Phineas. Can I call you Finn? Thanks. This is what the Pour Curator is here for.

Let's take a closer look:
The zeppelin is probably the most focal image in the piece, other than text, and we can see now that it floats in a sky of strange figurative tiles. What could those be?

Here's a closeup of the pattern tile:
So it's an owl on top of a squid, holding a sign with the brewery's name. Have to admit, didn't see that coming. That, friends, is juxtaposition and disturbing stuff. Contrary to the text that it is "quite possibly exactly what you think it is" I have to say that the intricacies of Half Acre's art are in fact very surprising and strange.

It's cool work, and I'm confident Half Acre will continue to crank out interesting stuff. It is proof that common thoughts about macro marketing schemes don't always apply to niche markets like craft beer.

A few quick links:

February 17, 2011

Avery Redesigns

Avery Brewing, in Boulder, CO, is one of the great American craft breweries, and they've recently redone many of their labels. We took a look at the first batch last year, and these are in the same vein. In most cases, the central image is the same or similar, and the surrounding design is updated.

First, the Maharaja Imperial IPA:


The shade of green has been deepened to a much more pleasing color, and the Raj has been enlarged to the point where he is much more engaging. The banner is replaced with the Avery logo, and the beer's name is incorporated into the image, rather than put in huge letters over it. Very successful updating, and the template they use for most of the labels we'll see. 

The Hog Heaven Barleywine:

Same template as the Maharaja. We see the use of stylized lettering in both frame and banner that makes the image more natural and cohesive. The hoppy trellis makes for a lively and bright border. This border-frame-Old English lettering will be one of their most used. Note the tiny A logos in the stained glass above the pigs. Both the pink background and blue sky are softened to be more realistic.

The Kaiser:

This is one of the more startling transformations. From a staid, boring flat look to a deep, ornate history-tinged appearance in just a few adjustments. The frame, lettering, banner and enlarging of the picture are there, as is a simultaneous de-cluttering of the background..

The Reverend:

One of the things we're seeing in these is how Avery enlarges its canvas to use more of the label, even in the background. Now, the whole label is a church, and the elimination of the unnecessarily colorful stained glass lets the rev stand out more. It gives the work much more ethos. Again we see the little A logos in the familiar frame.

The Salvation:

Sorry I couldn't find much in the way of a good image for the old Salvation. But we can see enough to know the strategy stayed the same: Enlarge the canvas, declutter the image, mute the color and bring out the central picture into the stained glass frame. They ditch the overt colors and distortion of the illuminated manuscript look from the original, but the new one still suggests medieval art.

Lastly, the Dugana IPA:


Most of the work here is in the frame and background, which they keep dark, but add some embellishment to suggest richness, exoticism and decadence. Rather than confining the flowing vestments of the central figure (who's definitely close to breaking that nudity barrier), the frame now allows that billowing image to overflow and show depth of an image. It may not be much bigger, but that subtle change sure makes it look bigger. The A logo is in its new usual place, cementing the brand while still allowing the beer's name to be central and focal.

All in all, this is a great study in redesign and refreshing an image. Avery continues to do great work with design, and this is a great example of how to update a look without having to reinvent the wheel and get totally new images for every beer. 

February 15, 2011

A Whole Slew of New Brewery Branding

Before you start: Yes, some of these aren't that new anymore, maybe. That's part of me trying to save up images for thematic posts. But all of these are either relatively new or so new they don't exist yet.

Inspired in part by PJ's recent post on his thoughts as he considers his new brewery branding, I thought it would be a neat idea to take a look at some logos and identities of fledgling breweries.

A new all-organic brewery in Lancaster, OH, Rockmill Brewery, whose labels are all variants on this:
Captures the simple, rough-hewn ethos of an organic, Belgian-style craft brewery. The charcoal-like sketch of the horse and the ground on which it's standing is very earthy, hazy and almost primitive. At the same time, it looks neither unfinished nor unsophisticated, just intentionally anti-sleek. I've not had their beer, but given that we know it is rural, organic, features bottle-conditioned beer, and the brewery site talks greatly about nature and Belgian farmhouse styles.

The Doodle Brewing Co., in Liberty, MO, has been in planning stages for a couple years, but appeared ready to bottle as of October:
This is one of those times where it is very tough to walk the line between rough and amateurish. The brewery is named "Doodle" after the founder's penchant for scribbling shapes, so it makes sense that it not have a polished look. But it can't look like a real doodle, either, or else drinkers might not take the beer seriously. This gets a little to close to cheap-looking for my taste, though subsequent labels could position it a little more on the professionally simplistic side. Part of the problem is that constant delays, combined with a brewery website that is outdated, threatens to really damage the brand before any beer gets out there.

Heretic Brewing, due to launch in Spring, is a gypsy brewer, in Pittsburg, CA:
I am not 100% in love with the logo, for a couple reasons. For one, I don't associate demons with heretics, so I'm not sure the demon is all that appropriate. I'm also not totally wild about the oddly-shaped brown-on-black look as a replicable image. The demon's just a little too goofy, as well. But the real reason I'm not thrilled about all that is because the placeholder website linked above looks great:
Dark, classy, sophisticated, with an evocative but replicable text logo. Also, the definition indicates that they are aware of the non-demonic nature of the word after which they have named the brewery, so now there's really no excuse for the silly brown imp. Here's hoping the site is more of an indication of their artistic direction than the logo.

Jackalope Brewing, in Nashville, TN is a venture by two self-described "New England Girls," making it one of the too-few all-female-led brewery efforts in the country, and it will be the first such commercial brewery in Tennessee. Here's their logo in silhouette form:
Straightforward. Here it is in its natural habitat:
And here it is in its adapted habitat of a blog logo:
It's promising. They have the cornerstone in a versatile, replicable one-color shape logo, and they've shown they can use it with bright colors or on a plain pint glass to excellent effect. The blogalope image shows a keen eye for color and composition (the seafoam sun with radiating rays is well positioned), and the fondness for pastels doesn't even hurt the image. Good stuff.

On a related note, this piece of advice from Mental_Floss, should you ever encounter a real jackalope:
The best way to capture a jackalope is to lure it closer with whiskey. Most people who have survived an encounter with a jackalope had plenty of whiskey with them. The jackalope presents a particular threat to tourists, and is most commonly seen displayed taxidermy-style.
Now, you're prepared.

Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, half of a gypsy-brewing pair with Funkwerks in Fort Collins, CO, also unveiled a logo late last year
The artist is a man named Travis Olsen, who (unless I have mis-Googled) appears to have little to no online presence (odd, for a graphic designer). It's not bad; I like the barrel shape, the C and S, the A/V inversion, the rough appearance and the bright red on black. The one failing is the white text, which gets hard to read on the yellow part it crosses over. A small shadow or black outline on the text would make that stand out more.

Lastly, Pipeworks Brewing, a brewery funded through Kickstarter. Full disclosure: I am a funder of this brewery... I donated the $5 on Kickstarter that pushed them from $39,995 to $40,0000.
Pipe is just a funny word/object, and it goes well in this humor-infused brewery. The use of a pipe wrench is just an amusing juxtaposition with a brewer's paddle and a Belgian tulip glass. One quick look at the site reveals that humor is a big thing for Beejay and Gerit. Generally, that's a good thing to have such an established part of a brewery identity. And in this case, that crossed and circled logo is a solid piece.

They do have one label posted, their Abduction:
Bottle art, we learn is done in this case by Beejay Oslon, who is a brewer and designer with "10 years of graphic design experience" according to the site. This label is amusing and brightly colored and a really good amateur effort, but not exactly professional grade design. The perspective is off, and the Photoshop effects look... homebrewed. Now, for a brewery fueled by humor and Kickstarter funding, this makes perfect sense and fits well within the branding goals. But as the brewery grows, we'd hope and expect to see that humor outsourced to professional artists and designers who can give the brewery a look to match the beer quality to which it aspires.

I always get nervous when I see designers open breweries. On one hand, there's the immediate excitement at better aesthetics potentially in the field. On the other, they have a tendency to think they can design and run a brewery at the same time, which most can't. Look, it's not about talent; it's about time. Running a brewery takes lots of time, and I tend to find that it's worth it, if you're going to have any branding and marketing ambition, to let someone other than the founders handle the execution of the visual identity.

Still, lots of good stuff going on; hopefully we'll be seeing more from some of these breweries soon.

February 12, 2011

Rahr & Sons Transforms Tragedy Anniversary into Label Art

The Fort Worth, Texas brewery Rahr & Sons has impressed the Curator before with their retro-looking design. They have some more work to look at.

First, their winter warmer label:
My first thought is that's a lot of text and not much space for an intricate, snow-covered scene. Text is good and all, but they've got a beer description right, a brewery story left, and a big texty logo over everything. That works when your art is a pinup girl or a ship, but for a picturesque look at buildings, that's a lot to ask of a tiny space.

The new label for the Summertime Wheat:
This is a little better, keeping the image to just a single figure with wheat stalks forming a multi-layered line against which the figure rises in front of the logo. The use of the yellow is obvious but the shade works well. One thing Rahr consistently does in its design is avoid flat, straight lines, and here that lends to a swaying feeling with the wheat.

The rodeo-themed Bucking Bock:
Okay, well here they design around the big lettering well, with it seeming like the R's tail is what caused the horse to buck. Here they've got a straight line in the fence, which serves to contrast the horse and the flying rider. Not sure how I feel about the shade of blue. It's a pretty hue, but when I think rodeo, I think more on the warm color palette, like a dark orange or red or something.

Lastly, as you may remember, last year a storm took out Rahr's roof. For the anniversary, they released the aptly-named Snowmageddon, with this 22-oz bottle label:
From the brewery:

February 11, 2010 – cold dark and snowing. Not any ordinary snow – but instead a heavy, mean, ugly snow that spilled over the brewery. Leaving the brewery that late evening – who would have known there would be no brewery that next morning.
February 12, 2010 – awoke to the sounds of twisted metal, gushing water and alarms as tons of snow came crashing down through the roof and into the brewery. We tried to save what we could and accept the loss of what we could not.
As the day waned, through many a friends helping hands, a new beginning was forming. This was not the end, but alas a start to something new and wonderful.

Scary stuff to anyone who's ever owned a building, let alone put their own livelihood at stake by starting a business. The label departs from their usual template just a bit, losing the Alamo-inspired center bulge and shrinking the lettering a bit while also shifting from the dusty tan-plus-one color scheme to a full color image on a white background. The image itself is what you'd predict; a brewery with a twisted, broken roof-like structure with a bunch of snow. I suppose my only thought is that this snow is really white, puffy and friendly, nothing like the "heavy, mean, ugly snow" described. This might be one of those cases where you need to balance approachability of design with accuracy of depiction.