Someone once told me that I was going to ruin my "cred" because I love buying beer based purely on label art. As if "marketing" isn't a goddamned bajillion dollar industry.

In another life, I fancied myself an artist of sorts. And like most good artists, I've succumbed to a life of being drunk, intolerable, and hung up on one particular aspect of life.. Lately, I've become kind of obsessed about label art. I have become totally aware of how it directly affects my purchasing, and find myself attempting to pick out similarities or differences between the cacophony of colors and pictures.

This fascination of palettes lead me to share this idea with one award winning, and now Thrillist contributor Sir Bryan D. Roth from "This Is Why I'm Drunk." He became excited about the idea, and I became excited about the excitement, and then we danced. Then worked together to craft 2 different, but cohesive posts about label art. Mine will be more of a personal take, and his, I'm nearly 100% positive, will be more facts and numbers loaded.

EDIT: His own take on all of this is quite fascinating, and you can read it here.

I'm going to try to keep it simple, because I'm not necessarily looking for facts, I want to look at popular beers, and I want to look at beers I like, and see where the paths converge in terms of artwork, if they even do at all  Seems simple enough, right? Keep in mind, I have a habit of going in over my head, so I may lose you.

This is how we're doing this: Top 10 Beer Advocate, Rate Beer, and Untappd beers as of today (5/7/2015). Then MY Top 10 highest rated beers, and my top 10 most checked in beers over all. Then I'm going to stare at the labels for a few moments like a slack-jawed idiot, then scribble down my thoughts, and proceed on to the next one. Sounds simple, right?

We're playing real fast and loose on this one!

EDIT: As I go in on this, I'm going to add caveats. Like right now, I'm adding that for any of the beers on the rating sights, it must have over 2,000 ratings to be considered, and a brewer must have more than 10,000 ratings.

EDIT 2: For my personal stats, home brews do not count. Even if they have awesome labels.

Beer Advocate Top 10 Beers

1. "Heady Topper" - The Alchemist
2. "Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout" - Goose Island
3. "CBS Imperial Stout" - Founders
4. "Pliny the Younger" - Russian River
5. "Pliny the Elder" - Russian River
6. "Fou' Foune" - Brasserie Cantillion
7. "Abner" - Hills Farmstead
8. "KBS" - Founders
9. "Zombie Dust" - Three Floyds
10. "Trappist Westvleteren 12 (XII)" - Brouwerij Westvleteren

Takeaway: It's hard not to notice a couple things with this group. The first is the comic/cartoon styling of Zombie Dust and Heady. Now look at the bottom left corner, occupied by Cantillion, Abner, KBS, and Westy. You'll notice that they are heavily steeped in earth tones. Moving on, Bourbon County Coffee goes with a subtle, classy approach, and on the other extreme of classy, CBS offers up a beautiful painting of a Canadian Mountie. Russian River, however, seem to want to go with a "Less is More" approach, while simultaneously laughing at you as they plaster their world renowned beer with Comic Sans. You know, the font that sends half the internet into a ridiculously stupid fit of rage? That one. Is it purposely Ironic? I haven't the foggiest.

Personally: Heady, and Zombie are all examples of things that reach out and touch me. I'm a sucker for lavish comic book art work, and artist Tim Seeley really nailed it. The goofiness of Heady, kind of reminds me to a throw back of artists like Harvey Pekar and his "American Splendor" series. Both of these labels jump off the figurative shelf and encourage me to buy them.

Rate Beer Top 10

1. "Trappist Westvleteren 12 (XII)" - Brouwerij Westvleteren
2. "Trappistes 10" - Brasserie Rochefort
3. "Speedway Stout" - AleSmith
4. KBS - Founders
5. "Expedition Stout" - Bell's
6. "Pliny the Elder" - Russian River
7. "Bourbon County Brand Stout" - Goose Island
8. Dreadnaught - Three Floyds
9. Hopslam - Bell's
10. Imperial Russian Stout - Stone

Takeaway: Nothing...really jumps out at me. The biggest thing I notice immediately is the lack of variety in colors. The second is the realm of earth tones we are stuck in again, with a smattering of black, blues, and greens. Other than Dreadnaught and Hopslam, everything else is pretty much shrouded in simplicity.

Personally: Eh. I appreciate the painted glass bottles Stone has, but hate the quality of their stupid attempts to emasculate you. Their diatribes of faux-badassery are annoying, at best. The rest just...don't seem to make any attempt at anything. Kind of disappointed with the RateBeer selections. I mean, are they nice? Yeah, of course. Well, some of them at least. But do they say "HEY LOOK AT ME AMONG ALL THESE OTHER BEERS?" Nope.

Untappd Top 10:

1. "Rare Bourbon County Brand Stout" - Goose Island
2. "Proprietor's Bourbon County Brand Stout" - Goose Island
3. "Double Barrel Hunapu's" - Cigar City
4. "Pliny the Younger" - Russian River
5. "Barrel Aged Abraxas"  - Perrenial Artisian
6. "Heady Topper" - The Alchemist
7. "King Henry" - Goose Island
8. "CBS" - Founders
9. "Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout" - Goose Island
10. "Trappist Westvleteren 12 (XII)" - Brouwerij Westvleteren

Takeaway: HOLY GOOSE ISLAND! 40% of this list is ONE brewery with 3 variations of one beer. You know, those Bourbon County labels are really quite handsome. Abraxas and King Henry both also get points for the intricacy displayed. And again, yellows and browns dominate my focus.

Personally: I don't know if its some degree of Stockholm syndrome going on, but I am really starting to love those Bourbon County labels. The rest? Eh. I'm digging King Henry and Abraxas though.


Alright, so at this point we've looked at 30 beers, with a lot of overlap, and not a whole lot of excitement. I've had a lot of these beers, but really, none of them are on shelves. And I know, I know, the bottle that Westy comes in doesn't even have a label. It Is pretty though, that gold painted "XII."

For the most part, I believe that the majority of the labels on these lists are pretty straightforward and simple. Zombie Dust is really the only one out of the 30 that really makes you take notice. The examples of Rochefort and Westy kind of remind me why I don't buy more imported Belgian beers and the like. I mean, I certainly buy my fair share, but usually that's because I know what I'm looking to get. Far less of a spontaneous purchase.

Back to it!

My Untappd Top 10 Highest Rated:

1. "Sculpin" - Ballast Point
2. "Raging Bitch" - Flying Dog
3. "Balt Altbier" -Union Craft Brewing
4. "Resurrection" - Brewers Art
5. "Watermelon Ale" - Thomas Hooker Brewing
6. "Wisconsin Belgian Red" - New Glarus
7. "Fruet" - The Bruery
8. "Gandhi Bot" - New England Brewing Co.
9. "Heady Topper" - The Alchemist
10. "Shipwright" - Relic Brewing

Takeaway: Immediately I have to say this, I hate Ballast Point labels for the most part. I think they're ugly as sin. But the beer is good, so whatever. Flying Dog I think is a shoe in when the conversation swirls around label art. Why wouldn't it? Steadman is a legend. Brewers Art, Union, New Glarus, and Bruery also have very simple, but tasteful labels. And now there are three Connecticut labels here, go figure, and comparing them would never be fair. Bot is in line with most of NEBCO labels, in its fun, outlandish cartoon style. Hookers labels have always kind of sucked. They look like something made with Microsoft Clip Art. The real winner here to me is Relic. Maybe I'm biased, I don't know. I just love it. And again, like a broken fucking record, LOOK AT THE HUES MAN, THE HUES! Six of these 10 labels are again, browns and yellows and dirty looking.

Personally: I have always loved the labels Bruery uses. Not just the super elegant look, but they are distinctive in both the shapes AND, something you might not hear about too often, but the material that they use for said labels. They are super slick. not just your basic paper sticker. They really demand your attention when they're sitting there on the shelf. If I'm in a store, its labels like Flying Dog, Relic, and Heady that are grabbing my attention. Unions cans like Balt, Duckpin, and Gold are nice, but I much prefer their newest generation of cans (See: Double Duckpin and Old Pro).

My Top 10 Most Checked In:

1. "Summer Ale" - Sam Adams
2. "The Fear" - Flying Dog
3. "Lager" - Naragansett Beer
4. "Creme Brulee" - Southern Tier
5. " Chessie" - Union Craft Brewing
6. "Sculpin" - Ballast Point
7. "Sweet Baby Jesus" - DuClaw Brewing
8. "Natty Boh" - Pabst Brewing
9. "Dales Pale Ale" - Oskar Blues
10. "Transatlantic" - Relic Brewing

Takeaway: As far as "art" goes, this selection is really lacking in it, save for a repeat of the last list, Relic and Flying Dog. DuClaw certainly isn't breaking any barriers in their labels department, but I'll give them this, you know their beer when you see it. Unions Chessie is a nice letterpress inspired design with a minimalist artwork look to it. I dig it. The majority of the rest are your typical font heavy designs. YAWN! And then there is Boh. Unless you're from Baltimore, you just won't get it, man.

Personally: Again, I'm reaching for Relic and Flying Dog. I mean, obviously I like the other beers, but I can't say much for their labels, other than they are obviously NOT the reasons I buy them.

Lessons Learned

One thing I just noticed while wrapping this up is the juxtaposition between the 30 "top" beers versus my 20 "top" beers. For the first 30, look how dark the general labels are in terms of color schemes. Then look at how much lighter mine are in overall tone. If I was a scientist of some sorts, I would follow this down the rabbit hole even further.

So, I don't think there is any real correlation between the top beers and their labels. I just don't. None of them are anything outstanding, you know? Besides a large quantity of those beers never see the light of a store shelf, and instead are shipped back and forth across the country BECAUSE WHAELZ!

But me? I love artwork. I love breweries that use the label opportunity to put forth something special. I have also learned that a beautiful label ≠ an equally quality product.

All of this stemmed from a few tweets and Instagram pictures that I linked together in my brain and thought there might be something there.

With all this writing and pondering done with now, what did I learn? Nothing, really, but expect to be disappointed in life. I've bought beautiful labels, and have had bad products, and I've had incredible products with a lackluster sheen to them. There is a reason though, that people put work into their labels. You need to stand out in an increasing growing market. You have to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack. I  would like to think that a string of recent purchases on my end are proof that this works. I'm willing to sacrifice my "cred" in order to try new things, regardless of whether I'm disappointed in the final outcome or not. It's part of the game, baby.

Sorry to have wasted your time, I'm going to go float in the void of nothingness.


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