The Beer Necessities: Five Artistic Beer Labels We’re Obsessing Over

“Your parents — in one of those awkward moments when they decided to impart some of their infinite wisdom — likely told you “never to judge a book by its cover.” While we’re not here to tell you to ignore your parents’ advice, we are going to disagree with them for a moment. Because when it comes to beer, what’s on the outside counts just as much as what’s on the inside.

“Craft [beer] buyers do their shopping in store,“ says Gary Lindsay, purveyor of precious liquids (i.e. sales manager and partner) at Driftwood Brewery in British Columbia. “They know one or two things, but they’re also going to pick up one or two things they haven’t tried before.”

To help sway those impulse decisions, breweries are turning to designers, illustrators, and artists to fashion eye-catching cans and bottle labels. “You’re competing with a lot of different things, so your product has to stand out,” says Shannon Berner, marketing manager for Great Divide Brewing Co., which launched an artist series last spring. Good design — from color choices to fonts to imagery — can help increase sales and build brand loyalty. It also provides buyers with a clue as to what they’re getting. “Color is important for preparing someone for the taste they’re about to experience,” Berner says.

Though the breweries we spoke with couldn’t quantify the impact of new labels on their bottom lines, both Great Divide and Driftwood have seen an upward trend following design tweaks. “We found new customers with that branding that weren’t picking up our bottles before,” Lindsay says.

Sure, sales are important, but for most brewers, it all starts from a basic premise: creating the best all-around product. “It might sound kind of hokey, but we really do care about our beer. We put a lot of work into it,” says Jimmy Stockwell, co-founder of Little Fish Brewing Company in Athens, Ohio. “We care about how people experience the beer — the art is really a part of that.”

Doug Dayhoff, president of Upland Brewing Co. in Bloomington, Indiana, agrees: “Labels are your beers’ calling cards,” he says. “They always reflect your brewery’s culture and values and the approach you take to brewing beer — like a Rorschach test for your team’s personality and priorities.”

And because you’ve read plenty of words about design without looking at much, here are five breweries from around the globe that are putting out stellar bottle and can art:

Great Divide Brewing Co. Denver Pale Ale

Denver, CO

When Great Divide launched its Denver Pale Ale Artist Series last spring, it turned the “can into a canvas,” on which a local artist could visually represent what the city means to him or her. (The recipe also changed to an American-style pale ale in 2016.) The second edition hits shelves across the country this month, and the design by pen-and-ink artist John Vogl of The Bungaloo features a vibrant palette, mountain views, and even his dog, Loki. We’re so enamored, we’re keeping an eye on the brewery’s shop so we can snag a limited-edition screen print of it.

Little Fish Brewing Company

Athens, OH

With a focus on rustic beers — farmhouse ales and sours — it only makes sense that Little Fish’s labels are crafted using an age-old process: woodcutting. The folks at justAjar Design Press hand-carve into wood, add ink, and print the design onto paper before digitizing and formatting it for the bottle. The colorful swimmer gracing the label (which also incorporates die-cut foil) of Sunfish, a tart farmhouse ale, is one of our favorites. And you can be sure the beer stands up to its label: Little Fish’s barrel-aged Woodthrush took home gold at the 2016 World Beer Cup in the Belgian- and French-style ale category.

Upland Brewing Co. Sour Ales

Bloomington, IN

Upland’s sour beers are abstract works of art. Last year, the almost 20-year-old Midwestern brewery expanded its wood-aged sour program with the opening of The Wood Shop, a facility solely focused on producing sour ales. New branding, based on the work of Minneapolis-based artist Michael Cina — with the help of Indianapolis advertising agency Young & Laramore — launched at the same time. The flowing and moody creations topped by gold foil typography grace more than 20 beers. The unique look is noticeable on shelves, and the designs reflect the complexity of the brews behind the labels.

Vocation Brewery Pilsners

West Yorkshire, England

Across the pond, Vocation is cashing in on the street art and graffiti trend with its new neon spray paint-highlighted craft lager cans. Created by English strategic branding agency Robot Food, the modern designs prove that simple can go a long way. The cans are clean and confident — precisely how we like our beers to be too.

Driftwood Brewery

Victoria, BC

This almost nine-year-old Canadian brewery serves its concoctions in 22oz bomber bottles, which means it has room for big, bold designs. Two-and-a-half years ago, the company tapped an outside agency, Hired Guns Creative, to oversee a rebrand. The result: intricate, die-cut labels that have an intriguing 3-D quality (the bird of prey jumping off the De Auras wheat sour label is particularly arresting). “We have made a concerted effort to showcase our beer with art and graphics we are proud of — as proud as we are of the beer inside,” Lindsay says.”

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