On Tap: Cool Beer Labels

How cool is that brew you just pulled from the fridge? If it's one of the many craft beers with a unique design, you may be drinking from a piece of art. To learn more about this design niche, we spoke with Cool Beer Labels coauthor Daniel Bellon.

Who couldn't help but notice the proliferation of craft beers in recent years? The Brewers Association reports there are now more than 3,000 breweries operating in the United States alone, nearly 99 percent of which are small, independent brewers.

And with all those cans and bottles comes a plethora of label designs, many of them beautiful, outrageous or typographically compelling. To get a better understanding of this trend, we chatted with designer Daniel Bellon, coauthor of Cool Beer Labels, a soon-to-be-released book that catalogues the best beer branding from around the globe.

Daniel Bellon

Why write a book about beer label design?

I was approached by Print Books to see if I'd be interested in doing a follow-up to my first book, Typography for the People. Knowing how much time a book takes, I thought if I was going to get on that rollercoaster again, it would have to be a topic I really enjoyed: pizza, professional cycling, race cars or beer. Beer won.

What regions have the best beer labels? Why do you think that is?

We found truly amazing labels and cans from all over, but I think the best designs came from Asia. I think the aesthetic and design is so different there; we saw very unexpected pieces.

What breweries have your favorite label designs? Is the beer any good?

It's very hard to say – we collected so many really good images. My favorites are probably Hell Yeah from Germany and Kagua from Japan. And LuckyBrews from Italy has beautiful illustrations on their labels. I have not tried any of those beers, but in the U.S., I think everything that Stone Brewing Co. does is amazing. The bottles are gorgeous and the beer is top-notch.

Is there any correlation between the quality of the label design and the beer inside the bottle or can?

I think so! No brewery would spend so much time and effort on creating great packaging if their beer wasn't up to par. Unfortunately, the reverse isn't always true. Some great beers have terrible packaging.

Did you come across any designers or firms that specialize exclusively in beer branding?

Yes, BLINDTIGER Design (formerly Heads Hearts + Tails) from Seattle specializes in doing beer packaging, logos, marketing materials and interactive projects.

How difficult is it for designers to get into this kind of work?

It's a matter of luck. Most small breweries use design studios, so getting a job in a studio like that would be ideal. However, there are a lot of microbreweries and home brewers out there that need help with packaging design. The bottles I have designed have all been for small businesses.

What are the biggest mistakes designers make when creating packaging for beer?

I think in a cool, niche industry like craft beer there is no wrong way to design. It's an anything goes type of situation, which makes it a lot of fun. The only mistake, as with any other design project, would be not to allow the package design to be the voice of the product. The label or can needs to be a reflection of the beer and the brewer. Listening and figuring out what that voice is is the key.

What beer label designer would you most like to sit down and have a beer with?

I'd sit down with anyone to have a beer as long as they are paying! But seriously, I have met so many talented designers while working on this book it would be hard to just pick one. I would love to go to Europe and have beers with Dirk Behlau in Germany or Martin Schmetzer in Sweden. Both are incredibly talented typographers and designers.

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Tags: Books, Design