If there is one thing that the beer industry has the ability to make me lose sleep over it is the never dying trend of breweries ripping off other industries of their intellectual property and slapping it on a can or bottle label and claiming “inspiration” or “parody.” Okay, I probably don’t lose a lot of sleep over it but I certainly use a lot of my data texting and talking about these infuriating, lazy attempts at trying to be creative. And in the end it’s the same thing right?
To combat this festering hatred that has built inside my gut I decided to make a post last year commending breweries that go above and beyond to create beautiful, original artwork for their brands that stands out but is absolutely, 100% theirs. These breweries exhibit an integrity that is often overlooked by other aspects of brewing. Don’t get me wrong, integrity in the quality of one’s beer is extremely important to me and, more importantly, to these breweries. But I enjoy pointing out the little things in our industry that tend to be overlooked such as TTB compliant labeling and safety. How safety is overlooked is beyond me but it seemingly is because it’s just not a “cool” topic.
After I posted that previous article one of the artists that I highlighted, JP Flexner of Neshaminy Creek Brewing, reached out to me. JP was all too thrilled about the topic of art in the beer biz so we met up to talk beer, art, music and many other things over some beers. In the midst of some awesome conversation we obviously came to the topoic of all these IP rip offs going on. JP said something that really stuck with me. He said, “It’s like you have created an awesome comic with incredible original illustrations–something you are proud of–and then you go and slap Spider-Man on the cover.” Why take something that you are so proud of (your beer) and show case it with something that is not yours? Perfect!
Anyway, in the midst of the media frenzy over Saturday Morning IPA from, Virginia based, Smartmouth Brewing the topic of IP theft came up again. Disregard the whole putting cereal with marshmallows–things that probably contain ingredients that the TTB isn’t too keen on–in a beer for now, that’s a different topic. The can’s artwork is an obvious lifting of the General Mills cereal Lucky Charms. They even made it a point to use the EXACT same iconic marshmallow shapes and colors from the cereal right on the label. While we could get into whether it is responsible or not to put imagery on an alcoholic beverage that is traditionally marketed towards children I will again leave that behind (for now possibly).
This is just a blatant rip off of the Lucky Charms, something that many of the major media outlets that covered the beer neglected to mention. And, really, why would they? The press release they likely received in their inbox from a PR firm isn’t going to mention that.
Instead of getting too mad about this–because let’s admit it, I got a little mad–I thought would revisit the previous post I had created and make a positive out of it. So without wasting anymore time, here are a few more of my favorite beer brandings.
Cigar City Brewing
This one is likely to strike a nerve with some long time Cigar City fans but I absolute love the rebranding that was done to the whole brewery not long ago. I’ll be the first to admit that when the new logo and can designs were unveiled I was less than impressed. Jai Alai’s iconic colors and can design had become burnt into my memory on what I could expect to see nearly everywhere in the South Florida market. I wasn’t happy but the more I looked at the designs the more I grew to not only accept them but to love them.
The backgrounds of each can design gives extra little nods to the name, the brand and the culture surrounding CCB. It’s actually quite brilliant. Take Jai Alai for example.
The original can design contained a Jai Alai player in mid throw with his xistera ready to hurl. That xistera (it really is the name for the little basket on the players arm) is present in the background of the new can design along with hop cones and bine leaves pointing to the hoppy beer’s contents. They retain green and orange as the primary colors of the brand but not as bright and, may I say, harsh. These toned down, warmer vibes of the colors just seem more inviting.
Looking through the rest of the CCB core lineup the can designs are absolutely beautiful. Maduro, Invasion, Florida Cracker, Tampa Lager; not a bad one in the bunch. Each telling a story in their backgrounds if you take the time to look at them.
As for the logo refresh itself, the new hand drawn look to the logo is modern and clean. Sure there are people that don’t like that but people differ on opinions on practically every topic and last time I checked this was my favorite brands and still is MikeLovesBeer.com (yup it still is). The old logo certainly lent itself to the old Tampa lifestyle with the muted colors and tobacco paper texture to it. This refresh just brings things a little more into the 21st century while retaining the references to the old school.
I’d also like to mention how much I love the fact that CCB has a page on their website to where you can download high-res imagery for their logo and brands. More breweries need to do this as it really grinds my gears when bars, restaurants, festivals, etc just use low quality or out-of-date images just from a Google image search. Big ups to CCB here.
Modern Times Beer
Modern Times has had a special place in my heart since before they even opened their doors. That special place is by being the only brewery that I have ever supported through crowd funding to actually open. Two other times I threw some money towards hopeful brewery owners and the only thing to show for it is some swag, most of which has found it’s way to other people or the garbage. So already I liked Modern Times for simply following through.
Since opening I have been constantly reminded of why I donated some money in the first place. An owner that is passionate about the business, the creation of an employee stock ownership plan, the beer and the awesome branding and artwork.
If you’ve followed my previous post about brands you know I love clean designs and I love when brands look like they belong to the same family. Enter in the equation the core beers of Modern Times. Just look at how sexy those beers look. They look similar but each have their own color scheme. Modern Times is big and bold and in your face so you know who it is you are looking at. Also I absolutely adore the white cans, they just pop so much even when placed next to some really well designed options.
When it comes to some of their more special beers the Modern Times creative folks get funky with these offerings. Bright colors and tons of shapes take center stage. They look like something of a LSD induced dream (I’m assuming).
It’s funny to see how this style of can art has really taken hold across the entire industry. I see a lot of breweries implementing these bright, geometric designs with their can art and I can’t help but catch myself saying “Oh that looks very Modern Times-esque.”
(Fun Fact: After writing this all out I came to find out that Modern Times used the same design firm, Helm Workshop, as Austin Beerworks. Actually they have done work for Boulevard, Rhinegeist and many other breweries. They do killer work.)
Off Color Brewing
So you know how in the last example I talked about how much I loved clean designs? A lot of them are the product of wizards with Adobe Illustrator and lords of layout. Yeah, well, I’m throwing this one out the window with Off Color and their cute, beautiful, animal aplenty, hand-drawn designs.
With the use of hand illustrated designs as opposed to digital you may immediately think that Off Color’s brands lack uniformity but it is actually quite the contrary. Off Color’s in house illustrator, Nikki Jarecki, finds a consistency across all the brands through the use of animals. Whether it is there in the form of the most commonly used critter, the mouse, or lions, cats, dinosaurs you can be sure that some creature will be adorning a label of Off Color’s beers.
On top of the brands of Off Color, the brewery has recently released a number of emblems that will be affixed to future bottle labels in an attempt to educate the consumer that the terms wild and sour do not necessarily mean the same thing.
Owner John Laffler took to the internet a week ago to head up this charge to inform and clear up any confusion that may have developed during the craft beer explosion. Along with this article he (digitally) penned came the unveiling of the above emblems. These icons will become noticeable on Off Color beers to help the beer drinker understand what they are getting with each different brand.
Our industry has a lot of common misconceptions that seem hard to break once a person hears someone utter it. Off Color are taking the baton and running with this attempt to smash the wild/sour confusion that is all around. It’s not a change that can happen overnight but I have to appreciate a brewery going out of their way to try to educate their customers even more.
Plus they just look awesome, right? Maybe even tattoo worthy.
Maybe this will become a recurring type of entry on this site. I really love finding new brands that really catch my eye. I also feel, in a small way, that it’s much more rare to see breweries receiving praise for their work in design and branding as opposed to the beer itself. Don’t get me wrong, beer is first. All the time. I just think a lot of people take for granted the hard work that goes into designing something unique, creative and awesome that is going to be the front cover for your beer.
You’ve probably bought a beer just based of a design before whether you noticed or not. My brother buys probably 90% of his adult beverages based off of cool looking labels and designs. So I would say my brother should buy some designers some beers.
It takes a certain set of skills to be talented at aspects of design whether they be digital or analog. It then takes something even more special to be creative with those skills one has learned. Taking it one step further than that is harnessing that creativity into something one of kind and not just an edit of an existing object or person. Those designers, that can do all of that, deserve the recognition.
Once again I ask you to share some of your favorite brewery designs and why they resonate with you. Feel free to share them in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter @MikeLovesBeer.