Great Beer Labels Come from Rogers Park
My background is as a marketing guy. And I work with smaller companies. In the olden days, I worked with large companies that had multimillion dollar budgets to advertise their brands in network prime-time. The guys I work with now have trouble affording the occasional print ad in a specialty magazine. It makes for interesting challenges.
But the one thing they always have going for them, at least in the CPG world, is a label. You can look down a 20 foot section of shelving, and probably see many hundreds of products, each with a label that attempts to scream out to you, to say, “I’m here especially for you, I’m really cool, come to me, look at me, touch me, buy me, take me home with you …”
Hopefully, they’ll also tell you something about the product inside, and why you might be interested in it. Label design is an interesting agglomeration of art, science, and business.
Let’s take a look at a couple of examples. These are the labels from two of the Chicago area’s indisputably top-tier craft breweries.
What do they have in common? Not much. One’s got a wild and crazy, Mardi-Gras feel to it, the other has all the mishigas of a sherry tasting in a dark, wood-paneled sitting room at an exclusive London Men’s Social Club in the 1920s. (Thanks, editor-at-large Rob Gardner, for teaching me the word “mishigas.”)
You might be surprised to know they were both designed in Chicago. Specifically, in Rogers Park. Even more specifically, at Randy Mosher’s house.
I wrote about Randy tasting a beer here (link to article) recently. And he was on Chicago Tonight not too long ago, tasting beer with Eddie Arruza. But he does much more than just taste beers. He has a tremendous talent for taking the personality of a beer – which, after all, is basically just a fizzy brownish liquid – and expressing its character in a visual way that lets you know what you’re in for, once you pop the cap.
And, since craft beers are artisanal products, the personalities of the beers reflect the personalities of the brewers.
Take Three Floyd’s Alpha King, for example. It’s their signature brew. It’s a hop-lover’s delight. A massive beer. One sip will tell you why the phrase “it’s not normal” is on so many of their packages.
Contrast that to Two Brothers’ Domaine DuPage . It’s a carefully-considered, French-style biere de garde. It’s not in your face. It’s refined. It’s contemplative. It has manners.
Mosher, on how he designed the labels:
“Nick [Floyd] is wild. He’s tattooed. For the Black Sun Stout we actually photographed his elbow’s sun tattoo. I kinda cleaned it up and turned it into a beer label.
“He’s just kind of a biker sort of guy. A big, big personality and really likes his beers huge, and crazy, and youth oriented.
“Whereas the Ebels – one of them was an architect, one was an attorney. They’re very thoughtful, extremely quiet and shy guys. I really had to push them to put their profiles on the label, and to put their signatures on it. They were like ‘No, we don’t want to be …’
“You call it Two Brothers. People are going to want to know who the two brothers are. You can’t hide behind it. You’ve got to be out front.” So they took that to heart. But everything is kinda understated and reserved with them.
“I think the packaging in both of those brands really reflects the character of the beers – if people are looking for a wild ride, they get Three Floyds; if people are thinking along the lines of wine, and looking for that sophistication and subtlety, they’re going to gravitate a bit more toward Two Brothers.”
(I suppose, in the Chicago area, if you start with Three Floyds and count down, you’ll go to Two Brothers, one Metropolitan, and a Half Acre.)
Locally, you can also see Randy’s work on the labels for Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewing, Chicago’s Metropolitan Brewing, Flossmoor’s Flossmoor Station, and probably a bunch more I’m forgetting. There are many other examples, located, literally, all over the world.
Here’s a label I particularly like.
Maybe the Ebel Brothers are coming out of their shells, at least a little.