Published: 04th June 2018
Thought Breweries were for Beer? Craft Beer Labels are now all about Art!
Craft beer houses are full of vibrant illustrations, making their labels quirky while encouraging art and local artists
A wine and beer menu sparked my interest a few days ago. It was fun to delve into some research and discover that by 2015, more than 10% of America’s beer market had been taken over by craft beer labels.
Homegrown breweries and beer labs became quite popular even among traditionalists who had previously stayed loyal to the classic international brands- many of which were European. Historically, the East India Company employees in the 18th century had become quite fond of the India Pale Ale, commonly known as the IPA. The science of distilling and brewing hop flowers in varying concentrations is now almost a national hobby. Termed the “craft beer renaissance”, American craft breweries originated along the West Coast and moved all across the country and are now engaged in a healthy competition to find out who can brew the best flavours.
So what exactly does art have to do with all this? Each one of these brands has its own unique colour theme, logo, typography and schematic styles. Many alcohol brands sell their merchandise trying to promote and place their respective brands. But craft beer houses nowadays even extend patronage towards upcoming illustrators, often featuring their work on collectors’ edition beer bottles or can labels. This is quite appealing to the younger crowd that is eagerly sampling various elixirs to try and zone in on a favourite. Dogfish Head began an annual "Off- centre Series", where a few months every year were dedicated to multicoloured, vibrant illustrations that were slightly off to one side of the bottle label, and the punch line was “off- centred art for off- centred people". Needless to say, sales rocketed and the fun- loving consumers were glad to find something that appealed to their sense of colourful quirkiness.
Another one, Gigantic, often has highly imaginative comic art- ranging from dreamscapes and mythological creatures to typical American iconography. California’s Anchor Brewing has boasted of Jim Stitt’s hand- drawn illustrations for over 40 years now, the bottles having gained a sort of cult status and considered keepsakes among beer aficionados. A very interesting case is that of the Grimm Brothers (not the storytellers!) and their ale that is packaged using the namesake fairytale landscapes, with a new one releasing every beer season.
Local artists often reimagine and render highly stylised, minimalist or kitschy renderings of motifs that are usually “All- American”, such as rugby, the bald eagle, towering conifers, any of the great lakes, and so on. For crafters, developing unique and unmistakable art labels are as much a part of the brewing culture as their distinctive brews. Many of them are easily recognisable and have trademarked their design elements, expanding the role of a bottle or can from being just a vessel to a sought-after collectible. Seems like artisanal beer brewers are candidates with art collective potential and might just pop up at your next Biennale.