Food & Fun & Drink | 15 November 2012

Beer Odyssey Part Deux: Love of the Philly Label

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Isn’t she lovely? Isn’t she wonderful?

Welcome to part deux of our beer blog series. Part one focused on drinking delicious beers in Philadelphia; these next posts are all about the label.

As designers, neither Beth nor I can barely do anything without alluding to the entire package. Many of our friends may roll their eyes when they’re just enjoying a frosty brew while we’re discussing the clever juxtaposition of typefaces in its branding, but we take this stuff seriously.

A lot of people who know us may be surprised that we would open this little beer design survey with a corporate giant such as Miller (or should I say MillerCoors… Ugh), but people who know me very well (and who may have taken part in all-night Champagne-of-Beers benders) know that I hold a special love in my heart for “The Champagne of Beers.” Beth may not savor the flavor as much as I, but we agree that High Life is a beer that has maintained excellent branding throughout its almost 110 years. And we’re all lucky right now to be in the middle of their Heritage Bottles campaign, highlighting how the branding has changed over the years but not so much so that it ever lost its unique identity or surrendered to the awful fate of “makin’ it FLASHY!”

By far, my favorite overhaul of the image took place in 2010, when Landor, along with illustrator Chris Mitchell and typographer Ian Brignell, brought the “classy” factor up another magnitude. Truly a wondrous can and/or bottle to behold whilst kicking back with a cold one.

But once one ventures away from the beer behemoths, he or she realizes that the myriad breweries that have exploded on to the scene years after the giants first gobbled up the indie players have as many different styles as they do subtle flavors. There are all manner of beer branding fans too, each with their own particular favorites. My tastes lean toward older, “classic,” working-class branding. I’m purposefully trying to stay away from the dreaded “vintage” or “retro” monikers because they’re all the rage, but I’ll be damned if those designs don’t get me every time. And not in a nostalgic sense either; I started drinking beers in the 90s, and their wasn’t much special going on design-wise then.

To get an idea of some of the cream of the crop for me (as I mentioned in my GingerBury Ale post), check out Dan Becker and Lance Wilson’s excellent photo collection Beer: A Genuine Collection of Cans (and check out their Flickr here).

These old cans are gorgeous, but let’s move into present day, shall we?

Beth and I are lucky enough to live in the City of Brotherly Love, bearer of a very rich, crisp and malty history. While we are fans of all the beers Philly has to offer, our favorite brewery by far is Yards. We’ve become very close to founder Tom Kehoe (which is to say we stalk him and uncomfortably fawn all over him at events), and are fans of Yards’ branding as well. But I do have one minor criticism: ALGERIAN! The recent proliferation of this font has become the bane of my existence. It seems like every other new brewery is using it, and way too much. It just may be the new Papyrus. However, in the Yards branding it is reserved solely for the word “Yards” and their label makers lay it out quite nicely on their different brews. Standout Yards labels include the Saison, Ales of the Revolution Series and most notably Brawler.

The other big brewery in our fair city is Philadelphia Brewing Company. Philadelphians will argue over which brewery is best, but in these polarizing times I like to extend my hand across the aisle and practice bipartisanship by proudly displaying both stickers on my bumper. While I think Yards wins the design contest overall, I must say that the Kenzinger label is iconic and a great representation of Philly. I also like the Newbold IPA label’s nod to the atomic era.

It’s sad to think about how many other breweries used to reside in Philadelphia, especially the ones with style. Beers like Ortlieb’s, Esslinger and Gretz were Philly institutions back in the day, and look at how cool they were!

Fortunately, there are new breweries emerging in Philadelphia, including Saint Benjamin, which just went through a great redesign in its early stages. Look forward to these fine brews in 2013!

Outside of the city, there are many excellent breweries throughout the Keystone State. One of the best is Victory. I’m not a huge fan of most of their labels, but I had to mention Summer Love. This fun label, complete with hand lettering, perfectly translates the feeling of a fun summer barbecue it’s going for with the greatest of ease.

Stay tuned for even more beer designs on the next stop of our Beer Odyssey!

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