Okay, I was originally planning to do a huge post about how I make my labels, but the more I planned out what that would look like, the more I realized it was not feasible. I’ve decided instead to break it down into several posts. I’m going to try to do a post on labels every week, barring any theme weeks where they may not fit, until I have covered things to a point that I’m happy with. That will be, I think, maybe five posts. Anyway, this is the first.
When I brewed my first batch of beer, I just assumed I’d be making a label for it, along with all of my future batches. It wasn’t a decision, it was predetermined. I still don’t know that I’m very good at it, but designing things like this has always been a hobby of mine. As has starting fake companies. It began with my comic book publishing company in second grade, for which I drew a lot of covers and finished very few comics, then expanded to my record label in high school for which I often spent more time designing liner notes than recording albums.
I sometimes put a lot of thought into my labels but, for the first time, it pales in comparison to the time I put into planning, brewing and coddling the beer itself. I guess I’ve found the right hobby.
My first several batches of beer were brewed from recipe kits. The first one was an Irish Red Ale and for the label, I made a parody of the Killian’s Irish Red logo supplanting my cat for the horse. At the time, I planned to keep that idea, putting Grim and/or Valor onto commercial beer labels. My first original recipe was Plumpkinstein. Sometime before making that label, my plan changed and I decided to only use the parody labels for beers brewed from kits. My original recipes would get original labels.
That seemed to make sense and while it was a lot of fun to make parody labels, I already had a lot of new ideas that I wanted to try. Ultimately, I ended up making eight parody labels, not counting my later “BMC” Cream Ale jab.
Most of these labels were created mainly in Adobe Illustrator. The easiest way to mimic well known labels, in my experience, is to trace them as a vector graphic. I would usually recreate the logo or larger section of the label very closely first. Once I had a vector graphic that looked like the original image, I could begin to tweak it. That usually meant adding a cat.
One label that doesn’t feature a cat and is probably the least original is Flat Tire. For that one, I simply traced New Belgium’s trademark bike logo and then flattened the front tire. The name Flat Tire (supposed to be a clone of New Belgium’s Fat Tire) was already on the recipe kit. I didn’t come up with my own name and I went extremely simple and literal. It isn’t one of favorite labels.
Despite the beer not turning out well, I really like the label for Grim’s Pale Ale. It is, obviously an homage to Stone Pale Ale with Grim’s face and tail twisting their trademark gargoyle into an even fiercer creature. I’m glad that this turned out well because it took forever. There are a lot of details in that gargoyle. The next label was much quicker, but I think just as effective.
The Dogfish Head logo is pretty universally recognizable. Their Punkin Ale label, back in 2011 at least, was just that logo with fangs added to the shark, a pumpkin stem added to the oval and presented in a Halloween inspired color scheme. My first Plumpkin Ale took the color scheme and pumpkin outline but replaced the shark with Valor. The rest of the label was done in Illustrator as I explained above, but Valor’s silhouette was actually just a desaturated photo, edited in Photoshop and then inserted into the Illustrator file.
My label for Stinky Dog Stout is one of my favorites. It is a parody of Stoudt’s Fat Dog Stoudt. Fat Dog features their old Stoudt’s logo with a big black lab sitting on top of it. Their logo features a photo of the brewery in a purple monochrome with grains and hops on the side in the same color. I replaced the brewery with a picture of my family’s cabin and put some coffee beans in place of the other beer ingredients. In place of the lab, I put my Mom’s ugly little cockapoo, Buddy. Stoudt’s has since simplified most of their labels and I don’t think they really use the purple logo any more, but this was a pretty accurate reproduction and I like the way it turned out quite a bit, despite that hideous white dog.
The first batch of Yellow Cat Sweet Cider (simply Hard Cider then, as I hadn’t made any other ciders yet) was brewed strictly from a recipe I found online. Future batches were customized to an increasing degree. In 2012, I made a new label of my own design, but for the two batches I made in 2011 I decided to send up Woodchuck’s trademark for my first cider label. The original version looks to be based on a painting. My version, done as a vector graphic, is much less detailed, but I think it does a good job of getting the idea across. I really like the way the picture turned out… that text path bugs the crap out of me, though. I remember having trouble getting it to flow properly and eventually giving up. But… it still drives me crazy to look at it.
For the label for the imperial stout I brewed I decided to replace the bird (raven?) from Victory’s Storm King Imperial Stout with Grim. I like the way this one turned out, but it is probably the least recognizable of my parody labels. Storm King is pretty popular brew and the overall style is maintained in this label, but changing the character to a cat completely changes the feel of the label. This was somewhat on purpose as I made this label much later than most of the others. The beer was initially brewed around the same time as most of the others, but it aged for a very long time in secondary and the label wasn’t created until it was bottled. By that point I had made a bunch of original labels and, in fact, had some ideas for this label, but decided that I should stick to the original plan and make an homage. This seemed like a good way to do that without just tracing something. The logo is just the head of the bird, which is the one part I often changed, meaning the whole label is different, basically just in a similar style.
The final (so far…) parody label that I made was for my first batch of Kölsch. At the time, I didn’t know much about the style. I had brewed a bunch of beers with my own recipes, but wanted to make Amy’s favorite style. I didn’t know where to begin so I went back to the kits. Amy said that Appalachian Brewing Company’s Döm Blonde was her favorite American rendition of the style. I had never had the beer at the time, but when I saw the label on ABC’s website, I knew it was perfect to parody. The highly gaussian blurred photo in the background is one that we took of the Dom. The lovely lady standing in front is, of course, Amy.
That covers all of my parody labels. I will make another post related to my labels next week. Maybe about layouts and templates? I’m not sure. That’s exciting, right?