The Daily Beast had an interesting profile of Kent “Battle” Martin, the person responsible for approving every single beer label at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB, in Meet the Beer Bottle Dictator. I’d heard of Martin — um, Battle, I mean — before, but didn’t realize he was the only person approving or denying label applications. I think I assumed he was simply part of a larger staff. I can’t say having a single person in charge of interpreting a fairly vague set of laws in a particularly good idea. There have been some very strange, seemingly nonsensical and contradictory decisions over the years, and I’d always thought that was because those were made by various people interpreting the regulations differently, the way the California ABC does, or the arbitrary way that movie ratings are given. I have to say, I don’t think that should be left to just one individual, no matter how dedicated or hard-working, as Battle apparently is, according to the article.
If you’re as old as me, you probably remember when video games had very limited graphics and most were pixelated, only roughly approximating what the characters and backgrounds in the games looked like. I remember getting an Atari 2600 right after high school and playing it a lot while I was in the Army, when we had long blocks of time to kill. Worse still, the very first videogame I played was — believe it or not — Pong, in a stand alone cabinet that was inside Shea Stadium, when my step-grandparents took me to see the Mets play sometime in the early-to-mid-1970s. It must have been after 1972, since that’s when Pong debuted. I was Orioles fan back then — Brooks Robinson was my guy — so I don’t know why we went to see the Mets. Anyway, pixelation seems to be hot again these days in design, some kind of retro nostalgia no doubt. An artist in Spain, Iñaki Soria Izquierdo, did a series of designs of well-know beer bottles using a pixelated style. He appears to go by just his middle name professionally — Soria — and at his site, in his portfolio, is what he calls IcoBeer. I assume because he’s in Spain, the designs are all for well-known international brands, because it would be great to see his treatment of some American brands.
His website includes only the following description:
Pruebas gráficas de representación iconográfica de objetos (Estrella Damm / Heineken / Corona Extra / Guinness) a partir de estructuras y formas geométricas básicas.
Which Google translates as:
Graphic evidence of iconographic representation of objects (Estrella Damm / Heineken / Corona Extra / Guinness) from basic geometric shapes and structures.
But they remind me of those early videogame designs, with just simple square and rectangular shapes, and very few curves, to give the impression of the bottles and labels. Anyway, I think they’re pretty cool. Here are the four designs Soria did:
Like most kids, I read (or had read to me) a lot of fables and fairy tales growing up. But a class I took in college on them reinvigorated my love of the genre, and I’ve continued to be a fan of fables ever since. Today, I have about two long shelves dedicated to collections of fairy tales from around the world, including the complete Brothers Grimm and an annotated volume of their more well-known tales. So I was excited to see the labels for the Grimm Brothers Brewhouse of Loveland, Colorado. The brewery opened in mid-2010 but somehow escaped my notice until recently. I don’t know if any of the brewery owners are brothers, or even named Grimm, but I’m guessing not, because their names are not readily available at the website or their Facebook page. But they’re certainly using the mythology of the Grimm stories to great effect in their beer names and especially the artwork, created by Ten Fold Collective, a local graphic design firm.
I just love the graphics for their labels. All of their packaging just looks amazing. I know that good packaging won’t mask a subpar beer for long, but it will enhance a good beer’s reputation and will help any beer stand out on increasingly crowded retail shelves. If their beer is only half as good as the packaging, it should be terrific. But it’s best to find out. Loveland is only about an hour north of Denver, on the way to Fort Collins. I definitely have to make a point to get out there during GABF week next year.
Snow Drop Honey Wheat Ale
Fearless Youth Dunkel Lager
Little Red Cap Alt Style Ale
Master Thief German Porter
The Griffin Hefeweizen Ale
The Farmer’s Daughter Oktoberfest Lager
And these labels are part of their “Fabled Series.”
The Count Imperial Stout
Big Bad Wolf Sticke Alt Ale
Sooty Brother Gratzer Ale
Weihnachts Bier Weizenbock Ale
Mirror Mirror Imperial Kottbusser Ale
Hare’s Bride Hefeweizen Ale
And this is a special release they did for Valentine’s Day earlier this year.
Bleeding Heart Cherry Chocolate Porter
Sam Wiley, a Brooklyn-based designer and advertising artist who’s done work for Anheuser-Busch, was asked to create packaging for a brand to be called “Mocking Bird Lager” and “Mockingbird Pilsner.” I don’t know if these were done for ABI – she doesn’t say — and as far as I know, no one has launched this line of beer, so it’s anybody’s guess, but it’s a great looking design. I don’t like clear glass because it’s not good for the beer, but from a purely design point-of-view she used the clear glass and the gold of the liquid to nice effect. I like that they don’t look like typical beer bottle designs and I think as the market gets more crowded, any brand’s ability to stand out on the shelf will become increasingly important.
This is just priceless. Eric Warner’s new brewery in Texas, Karbach Brewing, has named their new seasonal beer for one of the greatest holiday movies ever made, A Christmas Story. The 8% a.b.v. seasonal was made with ginger, cocoa nibs, orange peel, cardamom, allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon, and has one of the best beer names I’ve heard in quite some time: Yule Shoot Your Eye Out.
There’s also a promotional video for the beer.
But wait, there’s more. There’s also a second Christmas beer that was inspired by A Christmas Story, this one slightly more subtle. It’s calle Fra Gee Lay — must be Italian! — an ale brewed with spices and aged in Bourbon barrels. It’s essentially the Yule Shoot Your Eye Out barrel-aged, and there’s another video.
Hilarious. Now if I can only figure out how to get the beer. Maybe if I hold up the brewery with my Red Ryder BB Gun.
Anchor Brewing Company tells the story of our label artist Jim Stitt. Jim has had a hand in nearly every Anchor label since the 1970’s and hand draws a new tree each year for the Anchor Christmas Ale Label. Jim Stitt, Fritz Maytag, and Dave Burkhart collectively tell the story of a huge part of Anchor’s history.
A few years ago, the San Francisco Chronicle had an article about Stitt, as well.
I love seeing which tree is chosen for the label each year and seeing the new poster showing all of the ones done since the beer debuted in 1975.
This year’s tree is a Norfolk Island pine. According to Anchor, “Captain Cook discovered this South Seas isle and its native tree in 1774. These tropical-looking conifers, which thrive in sandy soil and coastal climes, were first planted in California in the 1850s.”
I got an e-mail today from someone at Cleveland’s Plain Dealer newspaper, letting me know about a quiz created by their beer columnist Marc Bona. It’s a fun one, asking you to identify 31 labels from budget, or cheap, beer brands. It shows each label or can, with the name removed, and then you have to choose from a long list of possible answers. I got 94% right (which I believe translates to 2 wrong) and, be warned, there are some regional brands that may not be as recognizable to a national audience. You can take the Budget (OK, Cheap) Beer Label Quiz and it will tell you the percentage you got right, but you’ll have to wait until August 1 to find out all the answers. How many did you get right?
We all know good labels, packaging and artwork can help a beer sell. I may not like that a mediocre beer might sell better than a great one if it has more eye-catching artwork, but it happens all the time. It was especially true in the early days of craft beer when many people who were passionate about the beer they were making believed that was enough. They thought all they had to do was make great beer, and people would buy it. And so a lot of good breweries failed for no better reason than they weren’t good businesspeople, as well as good brewers. These days, as we close in on the 2,000th American brewery, most brewers now understand they have to do something to get noticed on the shelf. Good beer in the bottle or can will undoubtedly keep people buying your beer, but you have to get them to try it first. And so most at least try to be clever, artistic or interesting with their packaging. If they have the means, they hire inventive, capable people and agencies to help them.
As an unabashed art lover, a great label or package will impress me. As I’ve said, the beer inside ultimately has to deliver, but great art is an all but necessary first step. That said, I recently came across some of the most impressive new art for a beer I’ve seen in a long time. It’s for an Australian beer I’d never heard of, which makes sense since it’s brand new. It’s a new, separate brewery launched by the Melbourne brewery Little Creatures. It’s located in Healesville in the Yarra Valley, in Victoria, which is in the southeast corner of the continent of Australia. Victoria is the smallest Australian state and Melbourne is its capital.
The name of the brewery is the White Rabbit Brewery. (Note: their website was up and running yeasterday, but today is not.) The Facebook page, however, is working. The design for the beer that a design agency, BrainCells, came up with is just brilliant. This was their mission:
Little Creatures Brewing in 2009 commissioned the White Rabbit Brewery in the Yarra Valley Victoria. The new initiative is focused on delivering a unique dark ale using traditional European open fermenters that bring mysterious wild yeast character into play. brainCELLS was asked to develop the brand look and feel representative of the product, the region, and the eccentricity of the process.
I may be biased, I love rabbits. Always have. I’ve owned a few as pets over my lifetime. And it also doesn’t hurt that I love the works of Lewis Carroll, have a daughter named “Alice,” and my son’s first stuffed animal was a white bunny named “bunny” I bought him his first week (and which is still his favorite). Truth be told, my first stuffed animal when I was a kid was also a rabbit, but it had a much more embarrassing name, one that no amount of beer will ever ply from my lips.
Still, it’s such a beautiful scene, with the white rabbit jumping through the hop forest. It looks great on the six-pack carrier and the bottle, as well. If you look closely, you can see the rabbit is in a different spot on the bottle than the side of the sixer.
And below is the packaging for the white ale, which is ironically a night setting, while the dark ale is a daytime scene.
Even the glassware is cool, using a clever, and simple, two-fingered rabbit hand as a logo. It’s one that’s immediately recognizable.
I sure hope they paid as much attention to the beer as the design for the packaging. If the beer is even half as good as the artwork, it should be terrific beer. If anyone in Australia wants to send me some of the beer, or can tell me how to get some, I would be a very happy camper. I am loving the White Rabbit.
On September 2, bloggers from around the world will converge at HopHeadSaid to write about the fabulous world of beer art found on coasters, labels and caps. I am guessing that I am not so different from other beer enthusiasts – I like to collect beer labels, bottle caps and coasters. I think they are perfect souvenirs from beer travels or drinking sessions. Judging by the size of my collection you could say that I have had many enjoyable drinking sessions over the years!
Now it is time to dig through your stash and share your favorite label, coaster or cap art.
- Choose your favorite label, coaster or cap art.
- Scan, download or take a picture of your label, coaster or cap art.
- Write a paragraph that explains your affinity to your entry. Your explanation can be as shallow as or as deep as you want.
- If the brewery name or beer name is obscured be sure to label your entry to give credit where credit is due.
- Please limit your entries to commercial examples. Homebrew labels will be a topic for another session.
- Extra karma points will be awarded to those who write about two or more categories (label, coaster or cap art).
- Post your blog entry on or before Friday, September 2, 2001 and e-mail your link to curtis [at] hopheadsaid [dot] com.
- Alternate posting method: Post your picture and explanation on my HopHeadSaid Facebook page and I will copy your post to the “official” location.
- I will collect the entries throughout the day and post them on this page: The Session: Label, Coaster and Cap Art.
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but what about a beer by its label, crown or coaster? Let us know what you think for the next Session on Friday, September 2.
After Anheuser-Busch InBev‘s recent acquisition of Goose Island for just under $40 million, it seems they may be taking a page from the Chicago microbrewery’s success. One of Goose Island’s most popular beers is 312 Urban Wheat Ale, named for the Chicago telephone area code.
Officially known as the Telephone Numbering Plan, it was first implemented only in large metropolitan areas in the late 1940s, and was nationwide by 1966. Until the number of area codes exploded due to fax machines, beepers (remember beepers?) and then mobile phones, many cities became closely associated with their area codes, being recognizable at once to anyone in the know. Thanks to such positive associations — not to mention being a tasty brew — Goose Island’s 312 became their best-selling beer, especially in their local market.
It appears that ABI is hoping such positive associations with local area codes will work as well in other cities as it has in Chicago. Earlier this year, in May, they applied for a federal trademark for the area codes in fourteen metropolitan areas. So far they’re seeking a trademark for 202 (Washington, D.C.), 214 (Dallas), 216 (Cleveland), 303 (Denver), 305 (Miami), 314 (St. Louis), 412 (Pittsburgh), 415 (San Francisco), 602 (Phoenix), 615 (Nashville), 619 (San Diego), 702 (Las Vegas), 704 (Charlotte), and 713 (Houston). I’m a bit surprised that both New York (212) and Philadelphia (215) are both missing from the list. Both seem more well-known to me than several on the original list. So far, there’s no information about ABI’s plans for the trademarks, whether it’s to market the Urban Wheat branded for specific markets or to do different beers in each city. But it’s certainly possible we could see some version of the beer below at some point in the future. Stay tuned.