The art of beer

Branding remains an important and fun part of the cold-beverage industry

The names of the beers—all real—are Face Plant, Santa’s Butt, Old Engine Oil, Dog’s Bollocks, Moose Drool, Farmer’s Tan and Old Peculiar. The task is to design their labels. Is more less or less more? Does funny sell beer or fall flat? Gothic renderings? Old-style fonts? Something classy?

For every old and new brew, internationally distributed to an obscure tap room’s offering, the label is the calling card, marketing ale and lager, porter and stout. A great beer will overcome an ill-conceived label. And maybe a clever label will help sell an ill-conceived beer. It’s subjective, but these five beers have labels that work. Animals, Americana, sex, simplicity and style all sell beer. Consider:

Wasatch Brewery

It’s hard to imagine any beer-art as controversial or successful as the artwork showcased on Polygamy Porter, made by the Park City, Utah, brewery. Credit Greg Schirf. About 18 years ago, Schirf introduced the beer and its label of tangled Reubenesque nudes as a good-natured ribbing of the spousal arrangement practiced by the Mormon church until 1890 and still practiced in places.

Two billboard companies Wasatch Brewing used for years refused to post advertising for the porter. A few other official-type folks balked. Church officials collectively chuckled. Schirf reported sales of Polygamy Porter rose in 2001 from 500 to more than 3,000 cases per month.

Wasatch Brewing plays with the idea: The label asks: “Why have just one?” And advertisements suggest that folks “Take some home to the wives.”

Good People Brewing Company

A clean script bordering an old yellow pick-up truck. How cool is that? The Birmingham, Ala., company’s label is featured on the lower center of all of its canned beer. The 10-year-old company has some great names for its beers, too. The Bearded Lady American Wheat Ale, Urban Farmer Farmhouse Ale, Snake Handler Double IPA.

While still in its infancy, the Good People Brewery has received its share of acclaim. It’s only available in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and parts of Florida. Put a picture of an old pick-up truck on your beer label and the suds are likely to sell well. Add visiting the brewery to the list of reasons for a road trip south.

Innis & Gunn

A design firm with the name Stranger & Stranger is renowned for many creative projects, including beer and liquor labels. With a classic and modern design, the Edinburgh, Scotland, brewery does it right. Big, bright red, white and gold style elements mesh with a military stencil font.

Innis and Gunn makes oak-aged craft beers with clever names—Gunpowder IPA and Blood Red Sky—and very basic names: Lager and Original. Fanciers say the brewery’s beers are works of art. Its labels are, too. Good news is that beginning two years ago, Innis & Gunn began importing its beer to the United States and about 30 other countries.

North Coast Brewing Company

Handsome, delicate and whimsical artwork prevails on the 30-year-old Fort Bragg brewery’s labels. The renderings for Red Seal Ale, Scrimshaw Pilsner and Le Merle Saison help sell a lot of beer that doesn’t need much help. The labels for the company’s many other offerings are equally impressive, most notably an homage to Peruvian artist Alberto Vargas’ “flying lady” on Acme Ale. And check out the drawings on Brother Thelonious Abbey Ale and Old Rasputin Russian Stout.

Track 7 Brewing Company

Sometimes simplicity works best. The Sacramento brewery’s original Curtis Park location is close to the old Western Pacific railroad tracks. Its logo: A prominent numeral seven encompassed with a full circle of railroad track ideally presents the beer. In its mission statement, the brewery’s name is explained as a “nod to the integral role the railroad has and continues to play in Sacramento’s rich history.”

And the numeral 7 in the logo? Legend has it that it’s a reference to where the least important cars or freight was stored. Track 7 Brewery began small and unimportant, but not anymore with its third location, in East Sacramento, soon to open.