January 27, 2011

The Design of British Columbia's Driftwood Brewery

Late last year, a reader suggested that I take a look at the design by British Columbia's Driftwood Brewery. Let's start with the Sartori Harvest IPA:
Well, it's an IPA label, so we're probably seeing hops, and in this case big hops. There's a strange-but-cool little lineup of the four ingredients of beer on the right there, which is a neat recurring device that only sometimes blends well with the label. The best thing about this label is the use of different shades of olive and blue that form the waving background. It's a nice cascade (get it?) of color fields that gives the image dimensionality. That goes well with the hops, which in this case actually are in some perspective  as they retreat into the background.
This is creepy, and I hope is for a seasonal barleywine that occurs late in the year. Note the little cracks and clouds surrounding the text at the top. The best thing about this label is the use of a tiny bit of red. I know I often laud the use of limited color because it keeps printing costs down, but in this case that little accent adds a lot of interest to the piece, whether making the cellar door more sinister or making Igor's hair pop against the background. No four ingredients here; maybe they were off the page.
The BlackStone Porter brings back the ingredient lineup, this time with enough room to accommodate them comfortably. They're balanced by some stylized fronds and flora on the left, which would be better if they didn't sit behind text and thus make it really hard to read. The major design element, the dirty boots, are positioned nicely, and overall the composition is well-done, with framing arc text and the hard lines of the porch floorboards. Again we see hints of the wavy color fields from the Sartori Harvest in the little pools below the dirty soles and laces.
Lastly, the Fat Tug IPA label is probably the best of all of the designs. The wavy color fields we've seen before are back, and this time carve out very distinct areas. Those fields work particularly well with the comic-book depiction and perspective of the "Humulus Lupulus" boat (name of the hop plant). The cool color palette is consistent without anything getting in the way. The ingredients are back and, while the tugboat could have made a little more space for them, they're easy to see and understand. The marsh or dock represented by the green line on the left keeps the image interesting. The typeface is a military-industrial stencil look, perhaps calling to mind the famed German U-Boat film of 1981...
In all seriousness, I'm glad "Dan" drew my attention to Driftwood. Like a lot of Canadian breweries, our exposure stateside is really limited. I like the design, and I particularly like that they have a distinct style that stays consistent from beer to beer.

Some notes:

January 24, 2011

Three More Label Designs by Short's

You may remember that the simple, creative work by Grand Rapids, MI, Short's Brewing Company was some of the most intriguing and delightful that we looked at last year. Between the fall and now, I've collected a few new pieces of label art by them.
The Autumn Ale, an ESB, is a pretty good example of using a warm color palette, which we usually see for autumn designs to remind us of leaves. Nice use of the orange-yellow gradient to allow for different font colors between the top and bottom. I like the use of long, brown trees in the pint glass. The canopy looks a little like the head on a beer. And of course we have florid prose we have come to expect from Short's label descriptions: "Lore of the season captured in Ale"
The Black Cherry Porter label is less good, though I like the angles and composition. The diagonal tree doesn't quite get enough across about the beer, and the font doesn't stand out well against the trunk and cliff. Putting the dark teal text over the green leaves doesn't exactly scream contrast, either. Because of the dark-on-dark, they lose the black-burgundy gradient that is really the most telling element of this label.

Most recently, Short's released the Woodmaster, "the auspicious blueprint of savory fermented delight extracted by gallant humans of the world." The image is mostly white from the snow covering the ground, with no perspective. The figure cutting the tree (who seems to me to be vaguely out of proportion) is turning his head to look at us, adding intensity as his face and hair add some color. I like the way the tree branch grows through the text. The only thing I'd like more is if the tree was off center a bit, and then the text could balance the label, rather than the right side appearing empty as it does now.

All in all, Short's is continuing to show that interesting design does not need to come from lots of color or detail, but from good use of color and figure combined with creative subject matter. I think I'd like to see them branch out a bit in the coming year or two and try to do some more things with their style. A few small changes could take some of these from good to really fantastic.

January 21, 2011

The Dumb Tool Culture Hits Craft Beer

So this is going to be another post that's not about label art so much as it is about the marketing, branding, and business of craft beer. Unlike the onion rings post, however, this will contain no reporting, and perhaps no particularly deep thoughts. This (as the title implies) will mostly be a rant. I say this so that you can skip it and tune back in later if you want more label art.

If you read this, you know I'm an avid fan of Jay Brooks. This week, he shared a video with a couple ads by Atlanta's Atlanta Brewing Co./Red Brick Brewing. He wrote that it was good to see craft beer on the airwaves, but wanted to stay away from commenting on the content, which he noted was potentially controversial:

Like Jay, I agree that it's good to see craft beer on air. Unlike Jay, I do not believe I'll be staying away from this one.

I've written here before about the fine line craft breweries walk when it comes to masculinity in branding and design. Most beer drinkers (and brewers) are male, but there are plenty of women who drink beer and even more who might drink craft beer. Furthermore, masculinity is different from chauvinism. Stone, for example, thrives on an aggressive masculine aesthetic but has many women devotees, employees and followers, and no one thinks they're pigs. Perhaps that's because their marketing is tongue-in-cheek, or because their beer is so aggressive and so there's an element of accuracy in the identity, or because we just recognize they've made a strategic decision and if their branding alienates a few women, well, Greg Koch probably knew the risk he was taking.

This is different. This is pathetic.

First of all, it's offensive. There is no other word for the thinly-veiled implication that women of a certain hair color provide sexual favors more readily. Hell, I'm offended and I'm neither a woman nor a blonde, just a person who has a vague feeling that consumers deserve at least the appearance of respect regardless of their genitalia and chromosomes.

But, leaving morality aside, these ads are bad. For one, "Get it? Cuz blondes are easy and the product is called a blonde!" should never be the implicit punchline to anything in marketing. It's not new, it's not creative, and I can't imagine it makes someone like your product. Acting with sensibilities out of the 1950s is not cool unless you're Don Draper. For another, they're not particularly well done. There's one camera angle, and two puns (it is easy to get a blond woman to perform fellatio = our blonde beer is easy to drink; falling down = euphemism for said fellatio), and nothing else.

Most importantly, though, this is a stunning miscalculation of the craft beer audience.

Look, the first rule in marketing is that you have to know who you want to buy your product. In this case, one assumes it's craft beer drinkers. Generally speaking, such people are persuaded by flavor, the artisanal nature of the beer, local ties, cleverness, or even quality art or design (okay, okay). Look at the Sam Adams commercials; totally filled with beer geekery, and they've done all right. Red Brick looks like they've made a beer commercial to pry people away from Bud Light.

It's one thing when a MillerCoors decides their beer tastes too much like beer or ABI launches a years-long ad campaign which has the sole message of "If you are an inept idiot, this is the beer for you!" They're in a basic duopoly battling for market share and profit, and most tricks have been tried, and there's every reason to believe their consumers don't actually like beer so much as they like crisp things that get them drunk. It's even understandable when Heineken or Bit Copa or Corona decides that the highly sophisticated strategy of "Look! Boobies!" is the way to go. People do look at hot things (and even come up with stupid reasons to justify the fact that we like sex), and in the macro market, you're chasing crowds.

But a craft brewery like Red Brick? What the hell is the point? First, in craft beer (as I have often written), the problems are usually on the supply, not demand, side. If you're a small brewery having difficulty selling your stuff off, chances are the problem is with the product, not that people are unaware of it (moreso for a brewery  that's 17 years old). So you need to reach niches, not just more people. And, even if you do (by getting guys like me to give you free exposure), WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO COMPETE WITH BUD LIGHT? The one thing ABI has is a massive advertising budget, and they'll keep their customers more easily than you'll pry them away with your oh-so-clever sex jokes. And, in this case, you also lose the respect of craft beer drinkers, who probably should have been your target market. The ones who have 20th (let alone 21st) century consciences don't like this douchey stuff, and the other ones haven't been given one good reason why your beer is any good.

Jeff Alworth has already done a short, scathing indictment of these ads, including a hilarious takedown of the nigh-illiterate label copy on Red Brick's beer, and assured us that they will be up for a 2011 DMS award. It's worth clicking that link and reading it. But one thing he said I do want to quote:
Not only is it offensive, it's stupid. Craft brewing has been fantastic at shedding beer's sexist image--and as a consequence watched their sales grow. Retrograde "girls are for laughing at and screwing" beer ads are a sure way to turn them (and me) off.
His point is well-taken. Craft beer has achieved success by doing what macros never were able to do, which is attract serious beer-drinking women. Women are a major part of the market now, and it has dramatically affected craft beer as an industry for the better. Deciding to be openly hostile and derogatory to that massive customer base can not help you long-term as a business. And, in the short term, you will lose those of us who take the culture and industry's gains as a point of pride.

January 16, 2011

Left Coast Redesign by Sabemos Marketing

More catchup from last year...

Left Coast has hired Sabemos Beverages to handle their marketing.

They were one of the breweries using enameled bottles, and that will apparently continue. But it looks like some of the bottle art will be redesigned.
Hop Juice is the most different. The old one, still seen on their site, looks like this:
So yeah, the new one's better. I like the frog and the vaguely Native American/Southwest design scheme. It'll look a lot less cluttered on the bottle, I'm sure. And, as I may have said before, we really don't need more label art with big pictures of hops.

"Hop Juice" is one of those names for beers by multiple breweries, and I'm glad no one's fighting over it.

The Voo Doo doesn't look very different:
And I frankly have no idea whether the Ale Epeteios Imperial Stout art changed or not. I can't find any old pictures of it, and I've never seen it this far East. I really like the design, though:
I sent an inquiry to Sabemos, but they either didn't understand my question or just decided to answer a different one, so I'm a bit at a loss. Any input from those of you nearer to the brewery would be much appreciated.

January 14, 2011

What Does "Craft Beer" Mean? What if it's on Onion Rings? And Does ConAgra Really Have to Care?

Editor's Note: The following blog post has nothing to do with art, though it concerns issues of package design and branding often addressed on this blog. If you're just here for the label art and want to skip this, no hard feelings.

So it all started when a friend, knowing I'm obsessed with craft beer and a big fan of onion rings, bought me a box of these:
As you can see, the note on the box declares them to be "Craft Beer Battered."

Now, for those of you fried-food Philistines, these are high-end onion rings. This is not some normal, frozen-aisle bag of stuff. Alexia is home bar food for ballers, generally to be found in yuppie-frequented places like Fresh Market and Whole Foods. Alexia may be owned by Deathstar-sized food magnate ConAgra, but this is their posh line.

That marketing to discerning palates (I use the word even in a non-art post! Different spelling, but still...), combined with the promises of small batch hoppy deliciousness augmenting the noble onion's inherent flavors, certainly excited me, but only as much as the knowledge that I was patronizing one of the great small businesses that make up my beloved beer industry, even in the purchasing of gifted frozen snacks.

Like anyone, I was curious. To make such a claim, I figured Alexia would enjoy trumpeting the brewery or breweries it used. Perhaps a small, snow-covered microbrewery in Vermont, or one of the many hop-fueled firms of the Pacific Northwest? Which fine beverage maker sent its out-of-spec beer to Alexia for a second life as a delicious batter?

Alas, such information was nowhere on the box. Nor was there even really an acknowledgement that Alexia had made a claim to use a specific type of product.

No worries. To the Interwebs I went, and found the contact form. It's an oddly specific question, I realized, so was it really surprising that Alexia didn't feel the need to tell yuppies which craft beer was used?

I received the following response to my polite query (I centered it for you, for dramatic effect.):

Dear [Pour Curator],


Thank you for your email concerning our Alexia® Beer Battered Onion Rings.



The information you requested is proprietary.



Sincerely,

Heather
Consumer Affairs
Ref:  053169732A

Okay, now you've done it. Before, when it was just a thing, Heather, I didn't really care. But now you've told me it's a secret.* I am officially intrigued.

*I understand why companies want to keep recipes and such proprietary; I really do. But let's just make it clear that these onion rings were in no way Earth-shattering enough that I think Alexia is at serious risk of someone copying the model and selling a competing brand of $7-a-box frozen onion rings. And, even if I were secretly trying to copy their model, would letting me know that you get your beer from Silly Spy Faces Brewing Company, or even a network of small breweries within 100 miles of the ConAgra headquarters in Omaha, NE, help me do that in any way at all?

Let's take a moment to remind the art people reading that the Brewers Association recently voted to raise the ceiling on "craft brewery" production from 2 million barrels to 6 million barrels, largely to keep Boston Beer Company (makers of Sam Adams) among their ranks*. This annoyed some people, but generally was accepted as a fact of life (namely, that you don't kick out your most powerful lobbying partners for being too successful). So the major trade group got together, looked at the definition of their central term, and redefined it.

*I haven't contributed my two cents yet, but since we're on the topic: To me, a brewery becomes not a "craft" brewery when the main business of their facilities changes from experimentation and development of flavor to quality control. I don't think that happens at a certain number of barrels exactly, but it's probably very hard to do at over 20 or 30 million barrels or so. In any case, Sam Adams clearly (to me) isn't anywhere close to there yet. While every brewery worries about quality control, craft breweries dedicate most of their energy to ingredients and trying new things with beer, and Sam Adams is no different. They keep unveiling new lines and beers, they force their employees to homebrew, they never shut up about flavor in their ads... they're still craft brewers to me. For that matter, I can't see why Yuengling isn't, according to the new guidelines. Do they use adjuncts too heavily? Someone help me out here, please, in the comments section.

So the decision to redefine was a straightforward process, in some senses, if a bit politicized in the blogosphere. But it demonstrated to me that the folks at the Brewers Association were savvy, political thinkers who understand limits, benefits and value of having defined industry terms (I already knew that, really, but we're building a narrative here). So I emailed them. What protections or limitations does the term "craft beer" enjoy when not extended to a brewery? Is it something as hotly debated as among the beer blogosphere? Is it like "organic" or "gluten free" which have debated meanings? Is it like "champagne" which has to be made in a specific way from specific grapes in a specific region of France? Or can Alexia just use this term with impunity while bathing unsuspecting onions in Pabst spillage?

I did not get a response from the Brewers Association's equivalent of "Heather," but from Paul Gatza, the organization's president. He was kind enough to answer my questions succinctly:

Hi Greg. Thanks for your question. We use the craft brewer definition for our annual statistical tracking of brewers. How anyone uses the terms craft beer or craft brewer in marketing is not something we police. It is not a term that would be eligible to be protected legally I think.

Note the lack of Ref #. (Just kidding, Heather, I'm sure you're a very nice person just doing your job, and I thank you for your response).

A couple of things about Gatza's response: While technically true, I'm sure we all understand that the expansion of the definition to 6 million barrels represented more than than just statistics tracking. By keeping larger members in that statistic, the industry represented by the advocacy organization (whose purpose is to: "To promote and protect small and independent American brewers, their craft beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts") grows, as does its clout when negotiating real things like tax breaks for small brewers. But again, we all get that because we're smart people and that's not the point.

The point is that the term, for all we can hem and haw about it, has no legal definition. I might quibble a little in a theoretical sense with Gatza's claim that it wouldn't be eligible for protection (any term can be protected if one spends enough time and money lobbying Congress to protect it), but his point is that the word has no legal meaning, so anyone can use it in any way they want.

That means you can start selling anything made with spilled seconds of Michelob Ultra and say it was made with "craft beer," and there's nothing illegal about it. Not to mention, you don't even need to reveal what beer you use, since it's a trade secret (it's a little ironic that "craft beer," about which people can not stop bickering, is not actually intellectual property, but which brewery's beer gets shoved into batter is proprietary IP).

So, if you're out, and you're tempted to purchase some of ConAgra's high-end Alexia brand frozen snacks, please realize that it is entirely possible they have used the term "craft beer" to sell their product without any involvement in the craft beer industry at all. This will not discourage many of their consumers, I'm sure, and I seriously doubt if this blog post will have any impact on the earnings of Alexia. Bust isn't that evidence that ConAgra is big enough that they can either tell us what craft breweries they deal with, or stop using the term just because they can?

Anyway, if there's a point to this post other than venting my frustration, it's a reminder that arguments over terminology have their place, but that place may be seem enormous in one circle and totally irrelevant in another. If the meaning of a term like "craft beer" is primarily symbolic, and carries no real force of law, then our own interpretations of that term are really the ones that matter, anyway. If you don't think Sam Adams is craft beer and that means you don't want to drink it, then don't. And if the fact that they crossed into 2 million barrels changes it for you, well, you're a little strange, but it's your tongue, liver, and 5 bucks. When anyone can use the term however they want for the grand purpose of selling onion rings, maybe we should remember that we're all on the same general side of the craft beer battle, and curb some of the anger at the Brewers Association for making their own determinations.

January 13, 2011

Old, New and Slightly Used Labels by Magic Hat

I'll say this for Magic Hat: they're up there with Terrapin when it comes to sheer volume of label art generated, shelved, and re-animated.

First, their Demo IPA, a seasonal only released in select six packs and variety cases this year:
More of a concept than great design, I'd like this more without the "IPA on tour" thing on the left. But I like the hand-drawn feel of it, and it's a nice change that suggests a more rustic, throwback character.

They're also bringing back two beers later this year, the Humble Patience and the Ravel, after six years off:
Allow me to humbly suggest that, after six years, a redesign might be warranted. These are just boring. The Ravel isn't too bad, in a Joan Miro/Alex Calder sort of way (yeah, I call him Alex 'cuz we were tight), but they both lack the movement, dimensionality, or pop we see in some of Magic Hat's better work.

And Magic Hat will can the #9 in the new year:
Nice wavy orange backdrop. I'd like this more if it was one seamless wavy panel, rather than two separate fields. Other than that, they kept the branding elements of their most famous beer intact, but still put a spin on it. I think the #9 will actually be a great can beer, and I look forward to enjoying one when the weather gets warmer.

January 11, 2011

Witches, Skeletons, and Thirsty Icelandic Designers

One brewery, Austin, TX's Jester King, isn't scared away by the Witch's Wit label controversy:
Label copy: 
“The culprit behind the Salem Witch Trials was not demonic possession (which would have been kind of cool), but ergot infected rye. The rye malt and truckloads of hops in this ale won’t likely transform you into a witch, but will hopefully get you to thinking of your own possible transformation. Perhaps into an individual; a free thinker; someone who speaks their mind and follows their dreams. Personally, we’d go with transforming into an army of flying viking-bears, but what do we know?
That ergot theory is disputed, in case you were wondering, and I'm not sure if demonic possession is "cool" (maybe as long as it happens to someone else?), but cheers to them for having a sense of humor. Nice dour-looking Wytch, and I really like the shaping of the label. Sometimes it seems like breweries forget they don't have to use rectangles.

Via the Brookston Beer Bulletin, we have a graphic design fro hypothetical beer bottles:

Jay says:
A quick search reveals it’s mentioned exclusively on graphic design-oriented blogs and websites, so it was most likely not done for a client. It was created by designer Dustin Joyce, who works for a Minneapolis, Minnesota ad agency. I must confess, as others pointed out, that while it’s very well executed, the results are not all that appetizing. The bones appear to be almost floating in the beer, which I don’t think is the imagery you want. It doesn’t make people want to actually drink a beer that’s had bones floating in it, or at least plants the idea of that occurring. But it is an impressive design.
Agreed. I like the different poses of the skeletons. And while I see his point that it might not be appetizing... so much of craft beer marketing is based on eye-catching, and at times icky, identity that I think the market would probably be able to handle it. What do you think? Would it creep you out?

Speaking of hypothetical design for beer, The Dieline brings us Thorsteinn Brewing


"This beer brand concept was born on a sunday night at school were we were supposed to make a brand for a micro-brewery. The name is traditional Icelandic name that could be loosely translated into "thirsty one".
"The concept is a simple one. One beer, 10 different bottle designs by 10 different designers. The design would be changed annually. The design could be put on beer glasses as well. The design is limited to black graphics on a 33cl glass bottle. This was the result from collaboration between three graphic design students at the Iceland Academy of the Arts."
Designed by: Thorleifur Gunnar GíslasonHlynur IngólfssonGeir Ólafsson

I really like the Roy Lichtenstein/Piet Mondrian-esque design here. Nice work that is diverse but cohesive; a tough balance to pull off. The Dieline has a ton of cool stuff. I've been saving a few for a post I'll put up soon. Which segues nicely to...
  • If you're a designer, or if you have contact with your favorite brewery artist, tell them they have one week left to enter the Dieline Package Design Awards.
  • There is a lot of buzz going around about Rock Bottom, the chain of independent brewpubs that was acquired by Gordon Biersch chain. The word is that Rock Bottom's longstanding tradition of great brewing by an independent staff at each branch is going to be kicked to the curb in favor of more central control a la Biersch. Michael Agnew, among others, have urged us to take action. But when one company buys another like this, they're trying to achieve greater economies of scale and centralized control, which means they don't care much what we think. Still, a sad thing for the brewing industry.
  • Reading Premium beer, once made by the now-defunct Legacy Brewing Co., has been saved by Ruckus Marketing (thanks to Jack Curtin for the news).
  • The Pour Curator jumped from 121 to 62 in the Wikio rankings this month. Not exactly phenomenal cosmic power, I know, but quite seriously, I'm honored that you all are reading. Thanks to everyone, and I'll try to keep you reading in 2011. As always, feel free to send work you think I've missed.

January 8, 2011

New(ish) Art by Terrapin Brewing

This is a post of Terrapin labels I've been collecting for a while. First, their final installment in the Georgia Theatre benefit series:
From the label copy:
“Predawn light barely tinged the sky as a haze permeated downtown Athens. From the tiniest incendiary spark, a feverish flame kindled in the Georgia Theatre. It ran rampant through the timbers above and below, an acris smell seeping through the double doors on Lumpkin. Billows rose above the city carrying the embers of music and memories up in smoke. By noon on the scorching June day, the hot spot and all its history were smoldering ashes. But after more than a century, it’ll take more than spontaneous combustion to end our run. Hoptaneous Combustion is the last blast in Terrapin’s Georgia Theatre Sessions, a Double IPA exploding with hoppy flavor.”
Dramatic. The design for this is less intricate than the other three, with just an image of the theatre, two enormous hops with burning fuses, and the radiating lines to indicate fire without showing a burning building (which would be sad). Nothing special, but clean and well-done. The one thing I'd really change is that basically every element (hops, theatre, banner) is one-third of the label, which makes it tough to know what's the focal point.

Now the unfortunately named Moo-Hoo
This is more standard Terrapin. A turtle in a cow costume, udder prominent. Totally ridiculous, tons of fun, and still suggesting the agricultural roots of the ingredients with the farm theme. The perspective is more focused on getting us a barnyard feel than on appropriate scale. I like the way the fence brings your eye around the label.

And, whenever there's a Russian Imperial Stout, I'm anxious to see what overdone commie reference gets made:
In the Side Project 13, I give lots of points for the name "Big Daddy Vlady's" and that lovely shade of red they used to bring out the green of the lettering and the commie/onion dome/hop central item. Lenin looks silly and not particularly well-rendered, but he does the job. The turtle head in the red star is a nice touch. Ridiculous, but if every Russian Imperial Stout label had this sense of humor, I'd dread them less.

And lastly, to be released in late January, Side Project 14:
I am very intrigued by the idea of a "black saison," and I like the dark background. Terrapin consistently picks great colors for their label backgounds, it seems. The jester is a little strange, especially in the face, and is it just me or do the bells look a little like bombs or mines? That's just me? Okay.

Anyway, Terrapin's labels are not always perfect, but I've never seen one by them that wasn't at least interesting. For a brewery as prolific as they are, that's quite a statement.


January 6, 2011

The Art of Stone and BrewDog

Inspired by a new collaboration, I though I'd devote a post to arguably the two most aggressive brewers in the craft beer industry, San Diego County's Stone and Scotland's BrewDog

First the art for their Bashah collaboration:
It's a jumble of forms, with the BrewDog logo and the signature Stone gargoyle occupying center stage. The gargoyle in particular is sort of a Where's Waldo figure. Some of the plants probably reference the Tayberry with which the beer is brewed. The constantly flowing and crowded image keeps to the one-color palette usually employed by both breweries.

Stone themselves released the Luck 13astard last year, and the art for it was in last summer's show.
The gargoyle is a lot bigger and a lot more humanized (gargoyleized?). What I like most is the use of the text ("Fizzy yellow beer is for wussies") as a textured backdrop. Like all of Stone's work, it's obviously aimed at young men, but it's typically strong design by Mike Palmer, Jen Knudson and the rest of the art department at Stone.

Two of BrewDog's labels are a departure from their usual punk-inspired, broad-stroke design.


From the brewery release:
The labels are stunning – custom hand-drawn labels from young Scottish Illustrator Johanna Basford. She has also done some other special beers for us.
This is really strong line-driven work. Notice how Basford uses different hashing to create variety in her surfaces. The Russian Imperial is a little more conventional, with a central figure (an pretty cute owl with a crown) and a framed city of onion domes as a background, while the roiling sea of the Old World IPA is a tempest of nautical elements. I love the octopus grabbing the chest.

One last piece that's close to my heart, which is some concept art for a new Brew Dog game based on the Tactical Nuclear Penguin beer:
If you haven't picked up by now, I like penguins. Even ones with radiation fallout symbols above their adorable little beaks.

January 5, 2011

Mikkeller and Block 15: A Study in Contrasting Styles

To start the year off, I thought I'd take a quick look at two new labels each by the Danish brewer Mikkeller and the Crovallis, OR, brewer Block 15.

First, the hopped-out version of the Beer Geek Breakfast Stout, the Beer Hop Breakfast:
Mikkeller's typical style is somewhere between minimalist and primativist. I like this label more than most. The different colors in the hops lead to a patchwork quilt look for the 2-D images. The big stretch of black label on the right gives the piece a nice bit of asymmetry that adds to the movement of the falling hops.

Collaboration labels are interesting when they combine multiple disparate styles. That's the case with the new beer by Mikkeller and Stillwater.
It helps that in this case the two logos are both horizontal and can frame the image, which must be by Lee Verzosa. Still, he turns more to the subtle side of his work, which makes sense; one of his colorful and intricate works would be totally unfitting for Mikkeller.

Block 15, in contrast, has a very rich, painterly style. Their most recent label art is the Pappy's Dark.
This is a nice use of hazy and complementary earthtones to make an image stand out while keeping a cohesive color palette. The bright green contrasts with the mud brown, and both stand out from the black. It's particularly cool that they use a slightly darker brown to represent the beer.

The last label we'll look at is that of the celebrated Figgy Pudding.

This label adds a great deal more color, in celebration of the Christmas season it references. The ghostly Jacob Marley figure is warm, even though he's spectral, and the artist does a good job of making him transparent. The placement of his figure and position of his limbs direct the eye around the piece. The bright colors on the floor and around the fire make the label inviting and friendly, even if the perspective is a little off.