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Brewing Up Beer Labels Takes Some Hard Work Too

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Take a good look at your beer bottle.

I mean, really get up in there. Now then, what do you see? Yes, we all know about the refreshing goodness inside. So positively rewarding, in fact, that beer has become virtual religion in these parts. We love our ales, pales, wheats, lagers, stouts, bitters, darks, lights, creams, blondes, browns, ambers, pilsners and porters. Just to name 14 or so.

Yet there's something else vying for our attention on that bottle (or can), something a creative individual out there probably poured their heart and soul into making. You can't drink it, and it doesn't get the spotlight often enough, but the time has come to take notice.

Give up? Why, it's the label, of course. Did you think there's a magic beer label elf out there, waving a wand to make a fabulous design appear? For the record, there's not. At least not yet. Just like the labor-intensive ordeal of brewing, making a thoroughly original label takes a lot of effort.

Here's a peek into the labeling philosophies at three different Bend breweries.

Holiday Spirits: Deschutes Brewery

Perhaps nowhere locally is the label art pressure higher than at Deschutes, where every holiday season means an all-new design for its signature Jubelale. That translates into some rather high expectations for the artists, since they're joining an exclusive club. "When we were approached to create the art for the Jubelale label, we were given a tour of the gallery—including the 24 labels that were created prior to ours," says artist Lisa Lubbesmeyer, who along with her twin sister Lori worked on the 2014 edition.

"After the tour, we were told we shouldn't repeat any element of any piece we saw. Since we're visually inclined, it was difficult to 'unsee' what we had just looked at. We were a little stymied about what to create because we're known for our landscapes and it was clear we would have to do something different from that."

The sisters eventually found inspiration in their niece's wedding—specifically, all those Facebook photos of the newly married couple.

"They looked like they had so much fun playing in the snow, and we thought, what would be a fun thing that everyone can do in the snow that would end in enjoying some beers together? Instantly we both thought sledding!"

Their design resonated with Deschutes Associate Marketing Manager Molly Izo. "Lisa and Lori layered on their love for Jubelale with an amazing creation of fabric and thread that embodied the joy of the season."

The local outdoor scene also influenced the 2015 Jubelale design.

"This was completely inspired by my love of winter hiking and fly fishing in Central Oregon," says artist Taylor Rose. "I wanted to depict a cozy winter scene outdoors and tell a little story about the trio trekking through the forest. The piece is titled, 'First Tracks, First Cast,' because working hard—aka getting up early—to be the first one at the river, or the first one on the mountain, presents such a great reward.

"Deschutes gave me so much freedom. I just pitched them a concept and they let me run with it which is pretty rare in the illustration world."

Izo, who calls Rose's work "an enchanted winter adventure," says all the Jubelale designs highlight the art and the artist. "Each year we look for a local artist who brings something new to the table through their design, their medium or purely the way they approach their work," she says. "We ask them to create a piece that is an homage to Jubelale—how they think about the beer and the seasonality the beer represents.  It's up to each artist to interpret exactly what that means to them."

Artist Karen Ruane, who took a turn as the Jubelale artist just last year, felt a sense of winter warmth as she made her design choices. "For me," she says, "that sense comes on strongest during the first good snow of the season—where all of Bend's collective excitement is palpable. I wanted to convey that feeling of warm excitement, combined with the colors of the night's sky and a whole lot of snowfall."

Ruane also had a concern shared by many of the artists: How would a gallery-sized work look when shrunk down to the size of a beer label? Especially since, in her case, she used what's known as a "marbling" technique – which produces images like the patterns in marble or stone. "It would have been easy to lose much of the expression in the digitizing process," she says. "I had to be mindful of this as I worked—ensuring that I captured enough detail to do the art form justice, but keeping the design clear enough to translate when reproduced in many different forms and sizes."

"Karen brought new light to an ancient marbling technique which lead to a stunningly abstract representation of the first snow," Izo says.

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Message On a Bottle (Or in this case, a can): Crux Fermentation Project

The artistic minds at Bend's Crux Fermentation Project take their labels literally—especially when it comes to their new Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Porter. The beer's named after one of America's most breathtaking hiking trails, covering over 2,600 miles of California, Oregon and Washington, winding through the highest portions of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Range.

In other words, just a simple little stroll from Mexico to Canada. If you're going to name a beer after this legendary trail, you had best come up with a label to match. (Want to hike it? See this week's Book Talk on page 35 for some tips.)

The tale of this label starts, of course, with the hiker: Bend's Kolby Kirk. "I was telling a story about the time I spent five months hiking the PCT and how I took my time to write and sketch about the long journey, the natural world and the people I met along the way," says Kirk.

This all took place at a local event where it caught the ear of Bobby Evers, whom Kirk calls a "superstar" graphics designer—and whose father, Paul Evers, happens to be a Crux co-founder. It was destiny, since Paul coincidentally had been doing some research on Kirk the night before.

"When Bobby contacted me and told me his idea of incorporating actual journal entries into the design, I knew we were about to create something special," says Kirk. "Artwork and good beer in one container?  For me, that exemplifies the Bend culture. What you see on the cans isn't inspired by on-trail writings and sketches, they are the actual writings and sketches pulled directly from my journals.

"The design on Crux's PCT Porter can is a mosaic of entries and sketches from a few of the hiking journals I've kept over the years, but most are from that life-changing hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2011." (Kirk walked nearly 1,700 miles!)

The Evers' fell in love with Kirk's verbal and visual stories through the pages of that journal. "PCT Porter was all about celebrating our adjacent natural environment," says Paul Evers. "The trail provides a vibrant thread for hikers and horseback riders through Washington, Oregon and California. Crux beer is distributed in all three states.

"Crux is a favorite of PCT hikers who come to enjoy the Cascade views and a refreshing beer and to share stories from the trail with newfound friends. The more PCT travelers we've met and the more stories we've heard, the more we've understood the trail's significance and felt a greater need to support it. It's an important historic asset to our friends and community."   

Getting all the images and words together on a can was another matter entirely. "There is a unique set of challenges when creating designs and art for cans," they say. "Ink doesn't like to adhere to aluminum. And inks tend to run together on the slick surface. Printing on cans is extremely limiting— particularly when compared to printing on paper.

"But, we relish challenges," says Paul Evers.

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Lunar Labeling: Silver Moon Brewing

This Bend brewery, founded in 2000, uses a Seattle-based branding company to handle packaging for both bottles and cans, plus logos and even its tap handle art. However, as is the trend with local brewers, Silver Moon makes sure that Central Oregon plays a crucial role in its designs.

"Our packaging is broken up into three themes," says Marketing Manager Pam Balmuth. "Our 'Core 4' year-round lineup is our most detailed, with the landscapes and activities we not only enjoy in Central Oregon, but all over the Pacific Northwest, where our beer is available. Our lifestyle branding on these cans highlight adventures that we think pair well with our beer. The constants here are the iconic mountains of Central Oregon. If you line them up all together, it creates a cohesive scene."

Label designs for Silver Moon's other products present variations on the theme. "Our Lunar Series are rotating 22-ounce bottles," says Balmuth. "These are simpler, with basically the same labels; we just switch out the colors. They also have the mountain scene.

"Our Alpha Project Series also rotates throughout the year and has our logo as the focal point. These, too, are all the same, with a color swap."

In case you haven't noticed yet, there's a new Silver Moon variation on the rise. And with it, you get a glimpse into the thought process behind the labels. "The newest member of our core line-up is Mango Daze Mango Pale Ale," says Balmuth. "The label has deviated a little from the original 'Core 3' with a much brighter background.

"That's because we added real mango from local fruit purveyors, Oregon Fruit Products, which brings the price up a little higher than the original three. We wanted to visually distinguish Mango Daze from the rest of the lineup, so the customer perceives the higher price as equal to the quality of the liquid."

Yes, the liquid. In the end, it's about the brew. Still, perhaps now you have a new appreciation for the talented people who create the eye-catching artwork that goes onto each bottle and can.

Go ahead and judge a beer by its cover.

There are plenty of artists out there who wouldn't have it any other way.


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