The craft beer boom has beer makers, local and abroad, spewing out artsy booze labels. The stickers range from cryptically coded to simply stated to everything in between. Whether they are designed exclusively by a beer company’s in-house artist or banged out on a home computer, quite a bit of thought goes into the process.
“The whole reason people make beer is because they’re passionate about producing it,” says Zack Scott, who manages Kool Keg in downtown Arlington. “And they want that label to represent what’s inside.”
But Scott says it’s not all about the suds.
“It’s about the expectation of the experience you want to set up for the customer before they ever taste that beer,” he says.
Two schools of thought are behind craft beer labeling, he says: Less is more and more is more. Regardless of the view, the beer needs a catchy name and a cool label because what’s plastered on the bottle is what initially draws the eye and differentiates the product. He said Clown Shoes from Massachusetts as well as Jester King out of Austin are a few of his favorites. Locally, the Collective Brewing Project puts out some nice labels as well.
Le PKL FKR, a pickle flavored brew by New Braunfels Brewing, seems to attract interest with its license plate-like label. Scott says a plain, white can of beer sitting on the shelf with beer in black letters might not be so alluring.
Placing a bottle of A Fistful of Unidragon down on the bar, Scott talked about how the beer’s name and earthy color scheme works with the Clint Eastwood-type character to create a feel that's both futuristic and retro that pretty much yells “stout.” The comic book-like design is also characteristic of Clown Shoes labels.
“The whole point is the label, the art, evokes some sort of emotion,” he says. “If you’ve never tried a beer first, then the label is what sells that beer.”
Kool Keg bartender Tad Loftis says he believes that people who are passionate about craft beer are usually passionate in others areas of life as well, such as music and art, which helps feed the entire art scene behind craft beer labels.
Over at Dirty Job Brewing, which plans to open in Mansfield soon, Derek Hubenak has been designing labels for the brand. The brewery’s Atomic Blonde label features a thigh-revealing, blonde bombshell sitting near what looks like a nuclear explosion. Hubenak says he aims for cleverness and humor and tries to come up with catchy names that haven't been taken.
“Labels not only give you the ability to show how unique you are, but also let you boast about your city where you craft your brews,” he says. “One of the big questions asked us by the Mansfield City Council was whether or not we would have "Made in Mansfield, TX" on our labels.”
The answer? Of course.
“One of the fun parts about the craft beer industry is the ability to be unique and quirky,” he says.
Among the lineup at Kool Keg, an assortment of quirky labels can also be found. “Some of them look like they are drawn by a 5-year-old,” Scott says.
All beer labels in Texas have to be approved by the state, whose alcoholic beverage label laws can be discouraging, Scott says. Even if the beer comes in a keg, a label must be submitted for approval before the beer can be sold. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s approval process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, and beer over a certain alcohol content threshold has to be labeled malt.
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“One of the reasons we don’t get certain beers in this state is because of the labeling laws,” he says.
Some craft brewers have been brewing for decades and use simple labels with similar color schemes and fonts. People know their brands. New brewers are seeking that same level of across-the-room recognition.
Scott says he would have laughed 10 years ago if someone had told him he would become a craft beer buff.
“I was going to be a doctor until I went to the hospital, a policeman until I went to jail, a lawyer until I went to court and a preacher until I went to church,” he says. “Then one day I walked into a place that had a thousand different beers, and I thought, ‘Hey, I could do this for awhile.’”
Scott says craft boozers are usually more observant to the subtleties in their beer and in their life. They prefer quality over quantity and are beyond just shoving a burger down or settling for a monotonous six pack.
“I believe that beer is art,” he said. “Beer decorates life in another way.”