Carolina Beer Guy: Breweries work with artists to enhance packaging

CREATIVE EDGE: Many Asheville-area breweries collaborate with artists to help their packaged products stand out in a crowded market. Clockwise from top left is work by David Paul Seymour (Burial Beer Co.), Kimi Leger (Bhramari Brewing Co.) and Julie Armbruster (Highland Brewing Co.). Photos courtesy of the breweries

In a city like Asheville, art is easy to find in galleries, museums and storefronts. But it can also be found in bottle shops, taprooms and anywhere else that sells craft beer.

With a growing number of local breweries and many of them packaging their brews in cans and bottles, it’s become increasingly important to stand out to shoppers. That’s where arty label designs do their job, catching the eyes of shoppers and maybe closing the sale.

There are a lot of well-designed beer packages out there, and some of them really pop on the shelves. The right design is important in making the sale, says Mike Rangel, acting director of the Asheville Brewers Alliance trade group and president of Asheville Brewing Co.

Most recently, Asheville Brewing released Tandemonium IPA with a striking label designed by Brian Begley. Along with the art, beer labels must include the surgeon general’s warning on beer consumption and the brewery and beer name. “It’s definitely become an art [to get it all on there],” Rangel says, but he notes that what’s inside the container matters most. “If the beer’s not good, it doesn’t matter how good the design is.”

Asheville’s Bhramari Brewing Co. works with a few tattoo artists, including designer Greu, for creative designs on its cans and bottles.

“It’s fantastic art,” says Bhramari brewer and co-owner Gary Sernack. “We want the passion of the artist to come across as much as our passion about making the liquid.”

For Bhramari, the process starts with the beer and its name. Sernack prefers to use tattoo artists for labels. “They’re taking what’s in people’s brains and putting it into a piece of art every day,” he says.

Greu creates designs using an iPad. “A lot of time, the name they have chosen for the brew directs the artwork. It’s generally unique to that beer,” he says. “I want something that looks good on the shelves. They push the envelope with what they’re brewing, and we try to do that with the art as well.”

Highland Brewing Co. refreshed the packaging earlier this year on such beers as Gaelic Ale, Oatmeal Porter and Cold Mountain Winter Ale. And it also has a series of uniquely labeled short-run cans designed by artists from the Asheville area. Most recently, Highland released cans of Zombie Story IPA around Halloween with a design by Julie Armbruster.

“It’s been an organic process of finding connections with local artists,” says brewery President Leah Wong Ashburn. “The style of beer might not be the most important thing to the artist. We want them to know who we are and that we value the connection to the artists.”

Ashburn adds that since each of the beer recipes is unique to Highland, the brewery wanted the packaging to likewise reflect the spirit of creativity. Furthering the ties to the community, the art cans are exclusively sold at Highland’s tasting room. “It’s something that we are selling only locally, so we wanted the art to be local,” she says.

All of the beers canned and bottled by Burial Beer Co. have creative designs by Minnesota-based artist David Paul Seymour.

“The artwork has become such a big part of our brand,” says company co-founder Jessica Reiser. “I think it provides [customers] with an interesting experience. We didn’t just want them to be consuming the liquid inside. We want them to have a full sensory experience.”

For each new packaged release, Burial sends Seymour the name of the beer and inspiration for art direction. A week later, his creation arrives via email.

“David will submit his art, and we have an in-house art director, and she will take ­his artwork and integrate it into the can or bottle label,” Reiser says.

The finished product is then submitted to the packaging producer about four weeks before the containers are filled. According to Reiser, fitting the mandated information onto the packages hasn’t proved difficult and doesn’t compromise the quality of Seymour’s art.

“We have our layouts now, so it’s straightforward,” she says. “We are very aware of what translates to cans. We haven’t noticed any designs that don’t work well.”

For Burial, the artwork is inspired by the name of the beer as opposed to its style. And while one-off releases typically feature a single image, the brewery’s core lineup of beers (e.g., Scythe Rye IPA and Shadowclock Pilsner) have two complementary illustrations. One reflects a light side with imagery of living things, and the other is a twist on those details, often incorporating dead and decaying versions of the same scene.

“Burial is inherently a morbid concept, but we have been inspired by the idea of instead of fearing death, you accept it and celebrate the life you’ve lived,” Reiser says. “David has done a really good job of [depicting] that concept. It doesn’t have to be all flowers and butterflies. ­­­It can be darker and deeper, and that’s also beautiful.”

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About Tony Kiss
Tony Kiss covers brewing news for the Xpress. He has been reporting on the Carolina beer scene since 1994. He's also covered distilling and cider making and spent 30 years reporting on area entertainment. Follow me @BeerguyTK

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