February 17, 2012

The Best and Worst Beer Art of the Week, Including Stoudts and Fegleys Brew Works

 So for the best of the week, I'm staying local to me (I promise, this isn't a big plug for breweries I know... just worked out that way).

First, Fegleys Brew Works artist Alex Clare has a label for the Amber Lager they've just started bottling.
A somewhat idealized version of steelworkers
One of his stronger works, it's well-constructed in the heroic Art Deco style. In this case, we will suspend our disbelief at the multicultural steelworker parade and appreciate the well-rendered 2-D, hardline style. From a product branding perspective, I wonder if they'll regret not giving this beer a real name. In our part of PA, "Lager" means Yuengling, and it seems strange that a brewery with a penchant for resonant names (e.g. Hops Explosion, Insidious, Hopsolutely) would skip that on a beer where the style is synonymous with a nationally-known local competitor. Still, great label in a very cool style. Though Art Deco was often used for socialist/labor pieces in the early 1900s, it's often associated with the iconic cover for archconservative Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead:
In Rand's mythology, Gods=Job creators, Prometheus=Welfare queen
Still somewhat local, but in a very different style, we have Stoudt's Amber, brewed for their anniversary:
The style is Scherenschnitte, a Pennsylvania Dutch (i.e. ethnic German) style of paper cutting that is, shall we say, fairly common in Lancaster County, where Stoudts is, and in nearby Berks. I just wanted to highlight it since I've never seen it on a beer label before, and breweries incorporating local folk art traditions is quite awesome.

Okay, let's go to the worst:
Just... no.
I know little nothing about Texas Big Beer Brewery, but let's just count the number of awful cliches in this label. Blond woman=blonde beer. Use of "big ass" as a bad double entendre. Use of a woman's figure to somehow suggest that we should drink beer. Texas=big. Texans, I beg of you: Drink better beer.

Two things you should read:

February 14, 2012

In Memoriam: The Art of Bavarian Barbarian

So six breweries announced that they are closing so far this year, and they're all fairly small, even by craft standards. The best-known is Buckbean Brewing Company, which sponsored the annual Canfest that I unsuccessfully tried to get flown to one year, but the closest to me was Williamsport, PA's Bavarian Barbarian

Owner Mike Hiller is by all accounts a good guy, but I can say with some confidence that the closing is not totally unexpected for those of us who have had the beer. Sadly, the quality of the product was never up to what the market around here demands. There were great batches, and then there were not great batches. There is a lot of debate about closings being a "trend" (it's not), but one thing that's for sure is that breweries no longer have years to grow into quality brewing (as, say, Dogfish Head once did). A startup brewery today needs to be good from pretty much day one, and unfortunately BavBar never quite got the consistency to go with their awesome branding and enthusiasm.

Still, they had some rockin' art.
Hank Aaron's favorite beer?
As you can see, the dominant theme is somewhere between industrial and industrial Labor/Socialist Propaganda, all employed with a clean two-color (with gray) style.
It's not really 2 inches by 4 inches, you know.
The 2x4 IPA was less well-executed, as the 2 gets a little squished on the left. Still, nice detail on the log.
We'll never know why they used a Z.
For those of you thinking the style limits detail, the art for Headbangerz Brown Ale shows a lot of depth and intricacy, while still maintaining the hardcore branding.
This is a bit of a Central PA thing. Williamsport is in the midst of what used to be coal country, and the history there is very hardscrabble, so an industrial motif made great sense, while having lots of appeal to the rest of the state.

It's worth pointing out that Williamsport has changed quite a bit in four years since BavBar launched. Once a fairly small city mostly known for the Little League World Series, it is in dead center of Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits, and has experienced the boom town issue to some extent. Once everyone in an area can put in a well on their land and make significant money by doing nothing but watching it, prices inevitably go haywire, and my friends from the area all tell me that this has happened. Of course, we have no idea what  longterm effects those economic changes or the environmental ones will have on the area, or if it played in at all to BavBar's folding.

A part of me mourns the passing of any PA brewery, but the business side of me understands that not everyone makes it, and that not everyone should. Still, Bavarian Barbarian had some good branding and art, and we'll miss Mike and Kira.

February 10, 2012

Best and Worst Beer Art of the Week, Including the New Weyerbacher Logo!

Well, folks, it's been in the works for a while. And now it's here. The rebrand of the 15-year-old awesome Lehigh Valley brewery Weyerbacher has officially begun its public phase with the rollout of the new logo.

First, let's take a look at the old one:
Mostly a wordmark, not terribly interesting font but just fine. It is obviously from the 1990s, though. One of those things about brands and logos: They look dated fairly quickly, and this one's had some time.

The image most associated with Weyerbacher is probably the jester, though, most prominently displayed on the old art for their barleywine, Blithering Idiot:
You actually become this if you drink a growler of it.
That jester appears on much of their merchandise, and you may recall from my interview with Josh Lampe of SSM Creative (who handled the rebrand) that it was decided fairly early on that the jester wasn't going anywhere in some principle. You may also remember we saw him teasingly on the art for the Rapture:
So, anyway, now that you know the past of this particular brewery, here's the new logo:
First and most noticeably, the jester has gone from a side note on a beer or two to the face of the brand. The artist is Sean Clark of Red Hill, PA, and we can see he's dramatically heroized the jester. For one, it has changed from a 2-dimensional comedia-del-arte type to a far more realistic, smirking white face. The bells form a subtle W, which actually reminds me a bit of the Westinghouse logo, but that's my Pittsburgh roots speaking. The smirk is fairly warm and friendly (more on that in a second), and the arched eyebrow is more amused-at-your-antics than, say, super-villain.

The typeface is custom, and an interesting mix of traditional old blackletter fonts and some more modern, avant-garde influences that dominate the chaotic feel. They go to the trouble of connecting two terminal letters with an underline, and then promptly stab through it and extend feet below it on both sides. The bell-bottom effects of the R legs and the sharp-angled, blade-like curves of the Y and H bases that leave the logo feeling a touch more entropic than stable. Even the slanted crossbars of the A and H, the downward-pointing middle stroke of the e, and that bottom counter (typespeak for enclosed space) of the b, where the middle bar swings around far more zanily than one expects.

The color is an interesting red, something like a crimson with a dash more magenta in it. There is a very faint halo that helps to bring out the jester and font. If I have a grievance with the logo, it's that that much red, at least on a monitor, seems to take some zip away from the jester. Here's a quick (read: bad) photoshopped version of the image on grey:
Why so serious? 
Not great image manipulation on my part, but you get what I was trying to do. It's entirely possible the red will look very different when printed, but for the moment it looks better to me with a dark-neutral contrast background. I'm sure we'll get to see the logo on t-shirts, labels, and all manner of different color fields as it becomes an ubiquitous part of Weyerbacher's branding.

Overall, the decision to approach the logo this way is a bold one. Realistic faces, even of cartoonish characters, are rarely in logos - or really even prominently in branding images - because they can so easily put people off. Some people just hate to see eyes of any kind. I saw a version of the art where the smirk was a bit more menacing, and I think this softer one is an improvement, but the reality is Weyerbacher would be being disingenuous if they suddenly started trying to be really bland and approachable to everyone. They make interesting, complex, bold beers (this is why they are beloved by beer geeks like myself), and often they are in the "big beer" range of 9%+ abv. They have beers that I think are quite accessible, like the Merry Monks (a very drinkable 9%) and the Verboten (the name is a reference to a C&D letter, but the beer is very drinkable), but Weyerbacher is not Saranac. So the bold colors, the eye contact of the jester, and the strangely off-putting lettering are all totally in keeping with the brand for a brewery that prides itself on boldness and innovation.

I'll be curious to see not only how the logo is deployed in the coming months, but how the beer labels and identities shift to work with it. With the release today, the massive expansion in the works, and Colin being Mr. Craft Beer 2012, it's exciting times for Weyerbacher and those of us who root for it as an exceptional brewery we happen to have locally.

So what's the worst beer art of the week? Well it comes from Local Option, a Chicago-area gypsy brewer:
Stay classy, Chicago.
Here's a tip: If your beer name and art is based on humor most likely to amuse boys who are seven years too young to drink your beer, you've made a strategic error. Some of their art is actually pretty good, making this crass and garish piece all the more shameful. It was someone's job to say no to the part of their branding that included a poorly-drawn erection in boxers, and that person failed.

February 7, 2012

8 Examples of Craft Beer Display Collateral Material

This is one of those posts that took way too long to get up. When I was out at GABF last year, I picked up a ton of swag. Some of it was for distribution to my beer geek friends back home, but some of it was to look at the different ways breweries approach their printed collateral. Excuse the quality of camera phone images, but here were some of the more interesting examples:

Full Sail had a selection of small pins with the classic Rochambeau options that appear on their caps. Full Sail had a massive selection of swag, all consistent in design and branding.

Some of the most interesting variety was in the ways that breweries gave tasting notes for their styles:
Willoughby Brewing Company had small cards with a logo on one side and notes on the back. The cards were an odd size (I think 5" x 7"), a little too large to fit in a pocket. The use of distressed caps font is consistent, but it doesn't integrate all that well with the logo. On the other hand, this is a really inexpensive way to have a sort of modular collateral that can expand with every new beer and even the smallest breweries can afford.

Of course, when you're a brewery the size of Deschutes, you have some swankier options open to you.
They have a five-page foldout, on heavy earthy stock and in full color. Gorgeous pictures of their beers, each with a logo at bottom right. Seasonals on one side, year-round offerings on the other, each with fairly detailed tasting notes. That gives them two panels for a contact page and a cover you see at the top. The whole thing could easily fit in a wallet or a shirt pocket. It's a great piece, but reserved for those breweries with the resources to spend tens of thousands of dollars on design and printing of marketing materials.

Along the same line, Short's Brewing has a three-panel foldout with its brew schedule.
Very similar, if a little less colorful. For a brewery like Short's, which has tons of seasonal and specialty beers, it's almost a necessary part of consumer education to make sure everyone knows what comes when.

Ithaca Brewing Company takes a more conventional tack, with a full-size, full-color glossy display of their beers. As you can tell, the drawback is that I had to fold it to put it into any pocket or bag of reasonable size.

The San Francisco breweries of the SF Brewers Guild put together a three-panel foldout that doubles as a map for the beer-interested SF visitor.
This is a nice piece that any city or area looking to build beer tourism could use as a model. It's well-designed, with a nostalgia-infused look that doesn't need color and fits the historic city well. I saw a lot of various geographic brewers guilds with materials, and this was definitely the best.

Lastly, there are two single pieces that are nice examples of very different types of collateral design.
New School
Not a brewery, but Beer Culture is a documentary film about craft beer in America, so it's exactly the same audience. This rack card is a great example of a lot of the trends in modern marketing design, particularly in craft beer. The retro lettering, combined with a contemporary font, an image made of varying size texts, and a faux distressed background are completed with a QR code in bottom right. The whole image is in an earthtone color palette that basically screams "natural."

Then we have...
Old school
San Marcos, TX's Darkside Fermentation. This was on a thin, almost papyrus-like paper. The green image was embossed, with the dark green in a kind of raised ink and the brighter green a background. The result is a piece somewhere between medieval-looking and steampunk. There is no information on the back; it's purely decorative. Some might consider that a bit of an extravagance or risk for a small brewery to take on a piece that is probably not cheap to produce, but it was different enough to stand out from the huge crowd of other materials.

To all my regular readers: I am back up and running, and so should resume a fairly steady stream of posts. Thanks for your patience during the move and all related insanity.