January 27, 2012

The Best Beer Label Art of 2011

Well, it's that time, finally.

It's a bit late, but we're getting it in by the end of January. Sorry again for the serious slowdown in posting; we're almost back up to full speed over here.

Like 2010, there was a lot of great beer art produced in 2011. I'd say the trend is definitely going in a direction of more attention being paid to branding, which is to be expected in a booming field with growing competition. Like last year, I'm going to pick three that I think highlighted some of the best work of the year.

Lee Verzosa - Stillwater Artisanal Ales
Look, a new gorgeous label. I guess this will count for 2012.
Yeah, I know, not a surprise. As far as I'm concerned, right now it's obvious who is producing consistently the most striking, sophisticated artwork in craft beer, and it's the tattoo artist from the Baltimore area. Using themes from genres of Steampunk, Gothic, Victorian, mythology, and religion, Verzosa consistently creates intricate imagery that manage to be consistent enough for Stillwater to maintain a brand.
Never has two women beating each other up looked so classy.

Here's Verzosa using doing meta art, playing with theory
Honestly, as long as Verzosa keeps producing new work at this pace and quality, it's hard for me to see a year where he isn't among the best. At some point, he may get the DJ Shadow treatment, and be retired from my yearly competition. I'm sure he'll put that on his resume.

Allen Firlit - Three Heads Brewing Company
Just as Verzosa's moody stylings create the perfect look for Stillwater brewer Brian Strumke's complex ales,   Firlit's playful, neo-hippy images are perfectly cohesive for the relatively new Rochester brewery Three Heads Brewing.
If there were a beer cuteoverload...
It's easy to do drug humor badly, and it's exceptionally difficult to make subtle weed puns playful and harmless without looking like a dorm room poster, but Firlit, an illustrator, pulls the trick off nicely, making the references as much about a '60s mindset as about hops' botanical relationship to cannabis sativa.
If seagulls played banjo, I'd feed them more.
Firlit's work is soft, whimsical and tongue-in-cheek without being sarcastic. It has created an identifiable style for Three Heads' brand, and I'm looking forward to more of it in the future.

Anthony Beard - New Albanian Brewing Company
That shade of green is awesome.
Of all the breweries I learned more about last year, NABC is up there as the most interesting. With an outspoken, pugnacious owner and a mindset somewhere between Proletarian and biker gang, NABC is a big personality of a brewery, which of course makes me think of the difficult job Tony Beard has to do (click on that link and read some of the bios if you want to see what I mean).
The most muscular foot one of my commenters has ever seen.
I will fully disclose that I, personally, very much appreciate the NABC viewpoint, and I love it when owner Roger Baylor starts public debates with, say, Sierra Nevada, over, say, what location means for craft beer. If one had to pick a single adjective for NABC, I would pick "fearless," as they seem to have no qualms about using communist imagery in the Midwest, making beers that eschew style guidelines, and arguing big points with major brewers.
For some reason, Obama did not use this motif when campaigning in Indiana.
My former journalist tendencies lead me to think that almost any view is okay if it is owned and backed up and respectful of others, and NABC lives that, even, a bit, in art. Readers here know that I'm not a huge fan of the t'n'a school of beer marketing, to put it mildly. Part of what fascinates me about Beard's work is that he does things that I'm pretty sure I would find sexist and degrading if they were less good. His female figures are often sexualized and showing lots of leg or cleavage, but never strike me as sexist.

Whether by using a Memphis Belle-esque green metal riveted backdrop, or by making the "naughty girl" (ugh, bad beer name) a tattooed mermaid swimming in the appropriate glassware, Beard's always have characteristics that keep them from being just a sum of their body parts. Use of juxtaposition (war and garter belts, piercings and mermaids) makes the image something we need to think about, rather than just ogle.
I really want to get a hop neck tattoo now.
Beard's artwork is consistently as rebellious and outsize as NABC, and consistently thoughtful and well-executed. He's also quite prolific, and updates designs often.

Well that's your three best brewery artists of 2011, beerfriends. As always, we welcome your thoughts and contributions in the comments. And here's to another year of great beer art.


  1. I've met Lee and he is a super-humble guy. His artwork is the best of craft beer by a mile, IMO.

  2. One day, Tony Beard will be famous. He is an artistic genius.
    Ed Needham

  3. "For some reason, Obama did not use this motif when campaigning in Indiana."

    Nicely done.

  4. you should check out the latest for the old orange brew co!