29 March 2012

From the Pages of the Indianapolis Star: Beer Label Art

The following is the unedited version of an article ran in the Indianapolis Star on March 15th.

With names like Hoptimus, Moloko, and Osiris, craft beers from New Albanian, Three Floyds, and Sun King leave a memorable impression on the minds of drinkers. But along with their names might come another impression, that of their container art.

Prior to labeling, breweries relied on glassware with embossed lettering to advertise their wares. The process of placing a paper label on the bottle became common practice in the mid-19th century, with Guinness adopting the process as early as the 1840s.

“The first aspect (of a beer label) is to establish some kind of identity,” said leading British beer writer Jeff Evans. “A brewery needs to put its thumbprint on a bottle so that customers can easily see where the beer comes from and can quickly identify beers from breweries they like.” Label art allows a brewery to establish an identity to customers, in addition to suggesting if the bottle’s contents are traditional or adventurous. “The concept of quality is tied in closely with the image,” said Evans. “How much more appealing does a beer with a classy label look than one with a cheap cartoon?”

At New Albanian Brewing Company, those labels are created by graphic designer Anthony Beard, 31, who began his career with the brewery behind the kitchen doors. "I was working here a year before anyone knew I could draw," said Beard. Although Beard has a background in creative arts - he earned a film production degree from Webster University - he never expected to draw for a living. "I just drew as a hobby," he said.

With a constant stream of new projects coming from the brewhouse, Beard finds plenty of work to keep himself busy. "We do a lot of different beer with a lot of different influences," he said. "There's also a lot of festivals, tap handles, promo items, and that kind of stuff." Among his favorite work was the label for the recently released Bonfire of the Valkyries Smoked Black Lager, “because i like Norse mythology and (the art) played into my interests.”

Beard is given complete control over his design choices, and said that although his employers might not always get the idea behind his work at first glance, they've never vetoed his ideas. "The brewery was started by people that are passionate about what they do, and they understand art on that level," he said.

Jim Zimmer, 36, has worked as a graphic designer with Munster's Three Floyds Brewing Company for four years, finding the position through a friendship with the brewery's sales manager. Zimmer's background in studio arts came from Depauw University, and in addition to his work for Floyds, he works full time at a Chicago ad agency. "I don't get to do super creative stuff," he said. "Being an artist by trade, I like to get out there and do some wild stuff whenever I can."

Three Floyds provides that opportunity. In addition to work on bottle art, Zimmer is largely responsible for all promotional materials from the brewery - everything from playing cards, hockey jerseys, and the highly sought “golden tickets” for the company's annual Dark Lord Day beer release.

"I love doing the stuff for Dark Lord Day because it's a big event," he said. The ticket for the 2011 event featured the the prominent use of skulls and the sort of kill-markings familiar to military aircraft. "I got a text from (brewery president) Nick Floyd that said 'We want the theme to be space marines'," said Zimmer.

It was Zimmer’s first label for Three Floyds - a brightly colored piece combining imagery from the film “A Clockwork Orange” with elements of the brewery's logo - that he might be most proud of. "I always show the Moloko label when i show my portfolio," he said.

If there’s a brewery whose packaging echos the techniques used on the glassware of the 1800s, perhaps it’s the embossed cans at Indianapolis’ Sun King Brewery. Can designs are provided by Indianapolis based-artist Shane Brown, 33, who got his start painting murals while attending Muncie Central High School, eventually studying at Columbus College of Art and Design. After leaving college he found work as a traveling artist for a nationally-distributed brewery, painting murals in bars throughout the country.

When burnout set in, Brown returned to Indiana, working as a server and chalk artist for the now-defunct Alcatraz Brewing Company. There he often crossed paths with Rock Bottom brewer Clay Robinson, who eventually went on to help found Sun King Brewery. When Robinson needed art for his startup brewery, he turned to Brown.

“We had a few beers and came up with the concept for the Sun King logo,” said Brown. “I started searching on the internet for ideas based on Aztec features, with hard angles, sharp type - things that we set in stone. Clay had these ideas based on the Mayan calendar, with the four seasons.” In finding a natural correlation between the four seasons and the four ingredients in beer - water, malt, hops, and yeast - a brewery logo was born.

Riding the crest of what has become a nationwide canned beer revolution has provided Brown’s work a larger audience than he’d ever imagined. Features such as Men’s Health’s list of best canned beers brought Brown’s imagery to magazine pages across the country. “I thought ‘Ok, this is big time’,” said Brown. “I had never worked in can art, and I was told that I couldn't do a lot of things to start with,” he said, “but now that we're established I've got more free reign. With the technology now I can go a lot further with it.”

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