How Vancouver’s craft beers get their labels
Vancouver’s craft beer scene is no longer a secret, and it hasn’t been for quite some time. While the beer certainly speaks for itself, it’s often enhanced, or made more approachable, by its branding. Some of the city’s most popular craft brews are accompanied by bold and exciting artwork, often bringing the beverage to life.
A very literal example of this can be found gracing the bottles and cans of one of the city’s most prominent breweries, Parallel 49. Started in 2012, Parallel 49 grew quickly and became many Vancouverites’ go-to craft brewery. Not only do they brew some exceptional beers, but they also have original and attractive artwork.
Originally known for his music gig posters and other work done through his Combination 13 design firm, Steve Kitchen was contacted by the owners of Parallel 49 after they saw some of his posters around Vancouver. “The guys at Parallel 49 had the foresight to think ‘we’d like to see this kind of art on beer labels,’” he said. “I wish it was my idea because it’s worked out really well, but no, those guys had that foresight so they contacted me.”
There was no looking back after that for Kitchen – he’s designed all the brewery’s labels since. “Initially, we launched four six-packs, I believe, with the idea that they’d be all-around beers, and then the seasonal bombers came in pretty soon after that.”
Kitchen’s style of creating bold new characters for each beer has not only allowed the beers to stand out in a crowd, but also made it easy for people to remember what beer they like. In addition to this, Kitchen believes he is able to create a visual interpretation of each new brew, reflecting the beers characteristics in its on-label character. “The basic idea that I had behind it was that people talk about a beer having body and character, so I took that and literally made each beer a character,” he said.
While Kitchen and 49 have made a name for themselves with their eccentric labels, other local breweries have taken a different approach to their packaging.
Bomber Brewing’s creative director, Cam Andrews, see’s Parallel 49’s labels as a strong representation of their brewing style, something he hopes to achieve with Bomber’s labels as well. “A lot of beers have attitude to them,” he said. “Parallel 49’s a good example. They’ve done some pretty wild labels and illustrations, but they also reflect the style of their brewing. Whereas, if you look at our cans, our core line cans, they’re all fairly nostalgic and easy to approach, but that reflects the style of beer that’s in those cans.”
Like Parallel 49, Bomber uses one artist for most of their labels – an approach they find to be ideal. Tucky Aalto originally worked in sales at the brewery, but soon started putting her creative touch on their beers’ labels. “[Aalto] doesn’t work for us anymore, but she was one of our sales reps and [is] an amazing illustrator. We worked with her since day one, and she still does the artwork for most of our seasonal labels,” said Andrews.
Andrews and his fellow Bomber co-founders have been part of the Bomber team long before the brewery was conceived, playing on a hockey team called the Bombers for eight years prior to starting the brewery. “When we decided to do this Brewery, a lot of the language on our packaging came directly from our uniforms,” he said. “The stripe pattern that we use and the nostalgic sort of look [tributes] the uniform we’d been wearing for eight years prior to that.”
Much like the inspiration behind Bomber, Andrews often seeks ideas for labels in Bomber’s community. For example, the bike path that Bomber finds itself located on inspired one of their seasonal brews, the Bike Route Best Bitter. “I was out, I just wandered around our neighbourhood, photographing all the signage for the bike routes and stuff like that,” he said. “Then I’d come to [Aalto] and say ‘Hey, this is what we’re thinking of doing, here’s the story behind the beer, here are some reference materials that we’ve sort of collated,’ and then we let her run with it.”
Kitchen, on the other hand, often receives the potential name of a new beer and is given the freedom to come up with whatever character he see’s fit. “For the most part, we tend to go for purely original stuff, such as the Jerkface 9000,” he said. “For an artist, it’s hard, I was given that name, [and I thought to myself] ‘what does that look like, or what do you do.”
While the Saw-like doll with a vibrant pink background that eventually became the label for the Jerkface 9000 turned out to be a big success, not every one of Kitchen’s labels for the brewery has been as smooth of a process.
“Very, very early on we get a beer called Lord of the Hops, which was obviously inspired by the Tolkien series,” he explained. “We were actually very flattered to get a letter, a cease-and-desist letter from them, because we were so small at the time. But we learned our lesson, we had a slap on the wrist, and since then we’ve gone pretty much with original kinds of concepts.”
Not every brewery’s process is the same when it comes to their label design. Much like the breweries themselves, the illustrations tend to stem from the community in which they were thought of. This allows them to further generate a sense of community around the beer scene. Good labels rely on the beer they accompany to see success, and vice versa.
“I once had a guy who said he drank so many Hoparazzis because he loves the beers so much that he actually became friends with the guy on the label, that’s not going to happen with a bad beer,” said Kitchen.
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