March 24, 2012

Brewery Rundown: Greenbush Brewing Company and Manifesto1's Dark Branding

I've had a folder full of labels by Sawyer, MI's Greenbush Brewing Company for a while now. They have a distinctive style and brand done by the Indiana firm Manifesto 1, formed by embracing some of the darker, creepier comments. These labels are artistically strong and build a consistent brand on the back of a style that is almost cathartic.

First in alphabetical order (with which we will not stick) is a black IPA called Anger:
Greenbush Anger Label
The beer presumably tastes better than barbed wire.
Anytime you're willing to name your beer "anger," you're aiming more at Stone than you are at Victory. Here we have a distressed wodcut stencil for the lettering, which in yellow pops against that red-orange background. Barbed wire criss-crosses it at different levels of fading, making it seem like they are further away in a kind of red mist. The only problem is that some of the white text gets lost in the yellow and lighter orange ink. I particularly like how the dark black bleeds onto the grey of the text panels, which otherwise could seem disconnected.

We see similar characteristics in several of these labels.
Greenbush Red Bud label
In reverse, it's "Dubder."
The Red Bud wheat ale uses another distressed lettering, this time like an overfilled letter press with splatter leaking out. The image of the compass is faded and has watermarking over it, like the barbed wire in the Anger. Also, we see again the white type that runs into some readability issues over lighter color fields. Interestingly, the original designs up on the Manifesto1 site all have descriptives for the ounces, rather than the federally mandated "12 fluid ounces." This one said "12 indecipherable ounces."

Greenbush Dunegras label
Fact: Faulkner never wrote a story about dunes shaped like umlauts.
The Dunegras (my umlaut key is broken) IPA uses similar lettering, even to the part where the contrast doesn't work perfectly with white and yellow lettering on light backgrounds (part of the price of keeping that yellow-green a dominant color). Now they incorporate a manipulated photograph. Recoloring and juicing the contrast gives the image a vaguely threatening or distorted feel.

The Distorter Porter (unfortunate rhyme) uses a similar visual manipulation and text effect.
Greenbush Distorter Label
Originally "12 confused ounces"
The red-green contrast here makes the image a bit clearer than the others. The lettering contrast is better, though white type on the lightest patch of green wasn't maybe the best choice. A little burn in Photoshop would have fixed that pretty easily.

Now on to the truly creepy:
Greenbush Apathy label
Apathy would be a great name for a horror movie.
All right, even I have limits when it comes to creepiness in art. They're tough to get to, but this sure does it. I am going to have nightmares about the kid. The problem with white text on light backgrounds has now gotten to the point where half of their main descriptor is unreadable because it's white on white. Nice flavor text on the right panel to illustrate the point.

Speaking of creepy:
Greenbush Memento Mori label
No, not the Patrick Swayze type of ghost movie.
An empty rocking chair that looks like it's out of a ghost flick, paired with a Gothic font. The text on the right panel isn't nearly that creepy. By now, you get the whole light-text-on-light-background theme I'm hitting.

From creepy to beatdown:
Greenbush Pain label
I have the sudden urge to play Skyrim.
Okay, well that hammer would mess someone up. The anvil and horns are are pretty badass, too, especially on the gray-green background that looks like a cross between smoke and stone. I'd have added a shadow or outline to the Pain name, but it still looks really cool, and the contrast works for the most part. The only thing that looks weird is the lower Greenbush logo on the lightest pat of the anvil. Pain is a cool name for a beer, but am I nuts that I think it's strange for a milk stout? Still, 78 IBU is different for a milk stout, too.

Much nicer:
Greenbush Closure label
Some say beer, it is a flower...
Now that is a gorgeous label. The central flower works against all three background elements. The beautiful shades in the blue-teal gradient, the snaking arms of the bare trees, and the watermark of the wrought-iron gate all play on the idea of closure and opening.

Lastly, the Traktor label provides us a change of pace:
Greenbush Traktor label
There's a Good Earth joke to be made here.
Rather than a heavily manipulated image, we just have a silhouette over a patchwork earthtone background and a watermark of plants. I love that it's called a "Kitschy Kream Ale," though misspelling cream was unnecessary. There was originally a cartoon devil in the top right that they thankfully eliminated for the final.

All in all, I think Greenbush and Manifesto1's work is consistent and resonant, if not without flaws in its execution. It's certainly a cool brand that is distinctive within craft beer, an increasingly tall order.

Two bits of news for your weekend:

March 13, 2012

Five More Distinctive Labels by Jester King

I first noted Austin, TX's Jester King Brewery last August, with their distinctive label shapes that wrap all the way around the bottle and their cartoon characters in circular frames. They've had a bunch of new ones out since then, and I thought we'd take a look, particularly with regard to the use of an ideology as brand.

For the non-beer readers, you should be aware of an ongoing debate in craft beer, which is that of style guidelines. Beers win awards at major festivals/contests by being "true to style," which is to say conforming to the agreed-upon definitions of what makes, say, an American Pale Ale taste like an American Pale Ale. Some breweries, such as, say, Brooklyn Brewery, make beers that are generally very true to style. Some people within beer believe that these styles are important and guide the industry, sort of like the DSM in psychology. Without some objective criteria, the reasoning goes, we can't really be anything more than a group of amateurs all guessing at things. On the other side of the debate are brewers who say style guidelines limit brewers, reward precision over creativity, and are still subjective depending on the judges. If you'd like, you can consider the adherence to style the side of our brewing that comes from Germany and the Reinheitsgebot, and the anti-style side that of Belgium, where the only style you need is flavor and 800 years of history.

Jester King is on the latter side, and has turned jabbing at style into a big part of their brand.

First, the Bonnie the Rare, a Berliner Weisse:
Thank you for being a friend...
Very strange combination of lion and granny here, complete with a border that is somewhere between old drapes and a pie plate. The label copy, as always, pokes fun at the idea of style guidelines in beer, in this case asking if things would collapse if a furry male creature enjoyed housework in women's clothes, and if a session beer had flavor. I'd say no, but Rick Santorum would probably disagree.

Next up, the Mad Meg:
This looks like none of the Megs I've ever known.
Well, I would be pretty terrified of running into that Meg in a dark alley, or really anywhere. Again we see a new salvo in the war on style guidelines. "To Hell with the status quo, to Hell with your stereotypes, to Hell with it all." Yeah, this brewery does not care about style guidelines.

The Thrash Metal, which uses the Iron Maiden/Bruce Dickinson text, goes so far as to start crossing out style descriptions:
More cowbell.
Pour Curator blogger friend Rob at Daily Beer Review found his bottle to have some poor printing quality. All I have here is the digital file, which is I would say less interesting than the others in the image. It's mostly a mass of hair, and the strength of the label is in the weird copy and very 80s metal colors and text. I like the swords, too.

Since we haven't gone nerdy enough, the Das Wunderkind!:
Those goggles let him see beyond IBUs.
Another sessionable beer, the Wunderkind label copy's first sentence is: "There are how many of us who, in spite of their best efforts, just never quite seem to fit in." Grammatical issues aside, once again we have a nonconformist-as-hero theme. And, as we know, I am wholly in favor of everything geek. One thing we see here, as in all Jester King labels, is the willingness to establish a frame (or, guideline?) and then let the central figure cross outside it.

Lastly, the Noble King:
The hop lion is as delicious as it is adorable.
My favorite color is green, and I like the slight change of pace to a more, er, noble look. The lion is in the form of a hop flower, and only overflows the frame a tiny bit. Still, we see the same dedication to a single rich color with some different shades. The label copy is about how most kings are "overbearing alpha types" (which is likely a play on the alpha acids that come from hops), but that Jester King isn't "especially into that whole monarchy thing, anyway.") Yeah, you get it by now.

Jester King remains a good example of a well-branded, consistent brewery when it comes to mission and design. After Rob's report, I would be interested to hear if the finished bottles look as good as these digital versions, so please chime in on the comments or the various social media avenues.

March 11, 2012

Best and Worst Beer Label Art of the Week, from Twisted Pine

I love when we get a big batch of labels, and we get to look at some do's and don'ts from the same brewery. It's even cooler when it's an illustration of how one oversight can be a potential problem on otherwise great design. Today's case study: Boulder, CO's Twisted Pine Brewing.

They have a few new label approvals. Let's start with the good, the design for Sacred Spice Chai Porter:
It's from Twisted Pine's Artisan series, which uses local artists' work as inspiration. This piece, as the label says, is "Life is Beautiful" by Millicent Kang. Full size piece:
Gorgeous mixed media work, kind of like a hippie version of Klimt. The label design is mostly there to not take away from it, and the patterned brown is fine and neutral. I do wish they had chosen a different font for the "Artisan  Ale." That font, Algerian, comes standard with MS Office and is pretty overused. In beer, it's used most prominently for Middle Ages Brewing Company's Wailing Wench. More importantly, it doesn't say "artisan" in any real way. It says "antiquity" or "overwrought" or maybe "this font was free and looked fancy," and while those are fine criteria on which to pick a font, you don't want it to look like that's why you chose it. Plus, there are just so many good free fonts that would more accurately represent the progressive, earthy contemporary art scene of Boulder. Still, the point of the label is the central art, and it is great.

Let's look at another in the series, Hoppy Girl, with art "Hush" by Kate Medlin:
The full mixed media piece looks like this:
Gorgeous, and the black-and-white actually looks a bit better on the background. Like the Kang piece, it could benefit from a slightly larger frame, but we get a lot of it. Again, though, that yellow Algerian is a real mismatch with this great contemporary piece, even if it wasn't reminiscent of a totally different beer. "Hoppy Girl" is not a particularly artistic or interesting name, either.

And then we have times when the whole thing goes wrong:
Look, not everything has to be subtle, and I get that Boulder is pretty lefty and there is a lot of weed smoked there, but there comes a point where you're just not trying hard enough. The Hoppy Boy comes in pint-size cans (aka tallboys). And it's a "Tall Hoppy Can" with the letters THC capitalized. Get it? It's so clever! On a bed of green hop buds. Then they used the neon-groovy typeface that might be exactly the same as Cigar City's for the Jai Alai IPAs:
Now, I have no idea if Twisted Pine and Cigar City share any common distribution territory, but both are growing breweries with presumably some ambition, so being careful to distinguish the branding is potentially strategically important, even if one does not agree it's artistically important. But I do think that, when you're capable of doing the great things that Twisted Pine does in some labels, it's a shame to put out designs that can seem half-baked or derivative.

Having nothing to do with Twisted Pine, but worth posting, is another great recent design, from Silver City Brewery :
I just like the design. Simple bold colors, nice layering of images, tight circular frame. A portion of the proceeds benefit firefighters. Saint Florian is the patron saint of firefighters, in case you were wondering.

Three notes: