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Beer Label Likes/Dislikes..Thoughts?

Let me preface this by saying, it’s what is in the bottle (or can, growler, tap, etc) that is the most important. There is no denying that fact.

That being said, what does every one think about beer labels? Myself, I like more traditional beer labels and f’ing hate ‘new school’ joke-y looking labels. For example, while I recognize the artistic value of Lost Coast Brewery’s labels, I think they are horrible looking. Stupid hipster cats drinking beer and that god awful pseudo-“tag” looking logo….it looks like a 15 y/o tagger named J-ROD designed it. Old Style may not be a beer snob’s choice of drink, but to me, their label is classic and slick. I’ll admit, I love the corporate beer logos of the 60 and 70’s. Hamm’s may have had a cartoon bear shilling their beer but at least their can looked classic.

What are the CH's prefaces in beer labels? Below is a short list of my likes and dislikes. Again, please not that just because I don’t like the label, doesn’t mean I don’t like the beer. I actually love most of the beers on the horrible list.

Horrible Labels:
New Belgium (way too indie rock/emo looking)
Unibroue (did Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo start brewing beer?)
Deschutes (how hippy does a label have to be?)
Flying Dog (this pains me because I love Ralph Steadman’s artwork)
Delirium Nocturnum (pink elephants…seriously? A bottle of Zima feels manlier than this)

Great Labels:
Henry Weinhard’s
Gulden Draak
Samuel Smiths
Hinano Tahiti (the beer is horrible but the label is incredible)
Full Sail

I know beer is not as pretenious as wine but for god's sake, do we have to have horrible labels?

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  1. Interesting topic. I work in the design industry, and I have noticed on more than one occasion how bad some breweries' label design is. I think, though, that it comes about more from the fact that a lot of breweries start small and don't have budgets to bring in professionals, or don't understand about branding.

    By the same token, I think beers with excessively slick packaging make some people wary as to whether or not they are a stealth ploy by macrobreweries. In many instances, beers with great looking labels suck. Stella Artois, for example.

    One of my favorite label designs is for a light Brazilian lager called Palma Louca:

    Beer is a clean, crisp light lager, nothing special.

    I mostly agree with your great label choices, except for Gulden Draak. Some other good ones:

    Brooklyn Brewing
    Avery Brewing
    Ale Smith (the newer, silk-screened bottles
    Real Ale Brewing
    Dogfish Head
    Hitachino Nest

    I kind of agree about some of Unibroue's labels, like Maudite, but some of their labels are really nice. Ephemere, for example. And their silk-screened bottles look very distinctive, like Terrible or the anniversary ales.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Josh

      You're probably aware that the Brooklyn Brewery artwork is designed by Milton Glaser.

      1. re: Jim Dorsch

        No I was not. That explains a lot.

      2. re: Josh

        I really debated about Hitachino Nest because I think their labels are incredible, but they are also artsy. I will admit that I bought that my first bottle of that based on the label alone.

        As for Gulden Draak, I like that the look of the "label" feels tough with out being corny like Skullsplitter. However, outside of doodling for most of my life, I have no art background and am just talking out my ass.

        As a side note, I wish some one would put out a book with just the artwork of beer bottle caps. I am fascinated how a brewery has to condense their logo or "feel" into a very simple and small design.

      3. Some labels attain an iconic status after many years, especially if they can last those years relatively unchanged. The old Lethbridge Pilsner label: http://www.beerlabels.com/labels/labe... always makes me smile.

        1. I find Weyerbacher's labels not to be bad in terms of their content just poor in terms of production value. And Troeg's label's can be just plain amateurish looking. Magic Hat and Flying Dog have way too much going on. Flying Dog is the worst (because I won't buy their beer due to the labels). They look like something from X-Men comics during the 1980s.
          I can't say that I dislike any Unibroue labels (favorites: Eau Benite, Don de Dieu and Trois Pistoles) which also make for great bar poster art. I've caught myself winking back at the Eau Benite Angel after several pints many times.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Chinon00

            Heh. I originally bought Flying Dog because of their labels. Glad I did, cuz they make pretty good beer. But I'm a Steadman fanboy.

            And you're probably referring to Bill Sienkiewicz when you're talking about the '80's X-Men comics. I'd probably buy any beer Sienkiewicz drew the label for, too.

            But I don't know much about art or design. I just like what I like. I'm a sucker for painted labels, like Stone or Rogue, especially on their 22oz bottles. And even though Rolling Rock is dead to me now, seeing their distinctive label (if I don't look too close) still brings back good memories. I think.

          2. It's interesting, as many beer lovers I know are crazy about the labels you think are horrible. Clearly it comes down to preference. As you state, you like simplicity and a classic/retro look. I do too.

            But I also like Unibroue's artwork, complex as it may be. I think it's really cool that they hired a local native (Indian, whatever the appropriate term is for a Canadian tribesman) to do artwork highlighting native Quebecian stories.

            Here's what I don't like: labels that were clearly designed on a computer. If brewing is all about the craft and the art, why to 90% of the labels out there look like they were handed to the local art school intern or the closest and most convenient graphics arts business?

            And to Josh: very cool that you site Palma Louca as one of your favorites. My friend has shoeboxes full of beer labels -- thousands upon thousands of them. Looking through them all over two weeks, I picked out Palma Louca as my absolute favorite.

            1 Reply
            1. re: peetoteeto

              Bell's (Kalamazoo) has some great labels. On a business note, I think that a brewery like Sierra that has somewhat standard labels helps their cause by creating more brand awareness for Sierra Nevada as opposed to creating awareness (or trying and failing) for each beer. Either way, even witha bad label, if I love the beer, that's enough. Same said for bad beer, good labels, I still won't drink it.

            2. i like magic hat's labels, shirts AND they have an ultra cool website.

              to tie into this thread, what are some folks' favorite brewery tee shirts?

              i love a stone gargoyle one that i bought for mrhitachino and a couple from A1A aleworks in st. augustine (bridge of lions brown and the armadillo one)

              1. Orval--cool art deco font, minimal bottle coverage, love it (and the beer)

                1. I never thought much about this, but yes, I do judge beers by the label to some degree.

                  On the whole anything that looks "silly" or "cartoonish" puts me off. I always assume it's appealing to young party drinkers and will be style over substance.

                  Likewise, anything that tries to look too overtly "sophisticated" with a lot of silver and gold and shiny futuristic stripes makes me step back as well.

                  Ideally I guess beer labels should be respectable, a bit dowdy, and possibly carry some sort of vaguely historical or royal imagery. Like the old style painting of the guy on a Hacker Pschorr bottle, or the crisp red triangle on a Bass Ale , or the harp and old-school lettering on a can (or glass) of Guinness.

                  Can you really beat this? http://home.earthlink.net/~mikerider/...

                  While I love Fin du Monde and Blanche de Chambly, I find the labels on Unibrou beers a bit overdone and tacky.

                  However, there is one beer label that disregards all of the above but is worthy of mention: the label and writing on Black Sheep Brewery's "Monty Python Holy Grail" beer, which features the slogan: "Tempered over burning witches". I have to admit that made me look twice and laugh. But I didn't buy it, because I assumed it would be crap. So there you go, I guess, point proven...


                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Gary

                    The funny thing is, I never bought the Holy Grail Ale either, for the same reason, but the BF's dad bought him some as a gift and it's actually quite good.

                    1. re: Gary

                      Darn. Yeah, actually when I looked up that link above to the brewery, they looked pretty reputable. Now I wish I had not judged the book by the cover and tried it when I had the chance. Haven't seen it in my LCBO for a year or so now....