Labeling beers or enabling buyers?

Five to six years ago when I was just getting into craft beer, I’d walk into the beer aisle and just stare for a few minutes.  With growing minimal knowledge, I’d pay more attention to the labels, the beer style, and the breweries packaging.  I’d mix a six-pack of the beers that caught my eye and head home to sample each over the weekend.  I never wrote any of these beers down in a book or on a website, rather, I left my brain in charge of remembering.  Probably, a bad idea.

Fast forward to today.  I head to the same beer place and buy a mixed four pack of beers I know and like, and maybe a bomber or two of something that was just released.  Overall my beer knowledge has increased, I know the styles I like and the styles I tend to avoid (see Black IPA).  I always will try a new beer on the market or a new brewery, but tend to only buy a single of each.  I know what I like, I know what I don’t like, but I’ll always give anything a shot (unless it’s a Black IPA).  No longer do labels matter to me, rather, it’s the breweries reputation and what’s inside that counts.

This got me thinking about our local breweries, their labels and also what a bunch of my beer geek friends thought about labels.  Granted, we could have another thread in regards to names of beers, but the labels derive from the name so it’s kind of a moot point. BBC Production for example has the simplest logo of Louisville breweries.  It’s consistent, simple, and changes color with the beer style.  No shiny graphics, no busty blondes or innuendos. Sometimes simple is good.

Then you have New Albanian and Against the Grain, who are at two ends of the spectrum.  But, the spectrum doesn’t have a high or low end, they both go up…let me explain.

Tony Beard, the feller who does NABC’s artwork, is amazing.  His labels are detailed, appealing, and sexy.  Yea, I said it, sexy.  For some, the cleavage may catch the eye, but for others it can cause them to walk on past.  Sex still sells in America today, but for NABC, it’s more about expressionism than what’s under a blouse.  Are the labels offensive to some and will prevent them from buying, yes says my friend Tamre.  In fact, it was her back and forth with the ever-cordial Mr. Baylor on Twitter which made me think about this article.

Then there is Against the Grain.  Oh ATG, where do I begin? The names we just shook our head at.  Then  came the labels and other artwork from Robby Davis.  Davis, another local artist, uses a more cartoonish approach with bones sticking out, tattoos, and other oddities.  All great stuff.  Then came The Brown Note label.  Pardon the pun, but I almost shat myself when I saw it.

So I asked a few friends what they thought about labels, sexy labels, and just um, kinda gross labels and how it affected their beer choices…There responses are below:

OK: I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for clever marketing and great labels. Selling sex on doesn’t affect my decision though. Style plus previous experience with the brewery does as well as already garnered reputation in the beer community.

SA: otherwise, i know what beers/breweries i like and can do enough research online to determine if something is worth trying regardless of the label. also, i find “sexy” labels lame in general and often embarrassing in their tackiness

DB: Label matters somewhat as I know it slightly influences me. I tend to avoid labels where it seems like the label is trying to compensate for something that might be lacking in the beer. For reference, I think BCBS is the best job of branding done by a country mile.

OK: I like a certain theme, for example Lost Abbey makes my favorite labels and I’ve (regretfully at times) bought a lot of different beers from them.

GVS: When I first started drinking craft I was often attracted to labels, but now they mean essentially nothing to me. I actually often shy away from beers that are over-marketed as typically quality products sell themselves. I love boobs as much as the next guy, but their appearance on a bottle does little to convince me that they will make the contents of the bottle any better.

JW: Also a few breweries seem to be updating their logo and packaging like New Belgium and ballast point. I would be more inclined to buy something I have never had if the packaging was nice. But usually I know what styles I like so I wouldn’t just buy a random beer just because the label is sexy.

JL: a shitty or cheesy label will often deter me (local stuff – Clown Shoes and Slumbrew), but a nice label won’t fully persuade me to buy a beer. it will however, make me look twice and perhaps look into the beer online

JP I feel if you want a fun, gimmicky label.. put a damn good beer inside the bottle to warrant that.

MF: For the most part I have navigated towards minimalist labels anymore. HF, and Side Project come to mind. I’m under the firm belief if they don’t have the need for overly detailed label art, then they are letting the beer do the talking for them.

JR: I like simple labels like HF, Side Project, SARA 16e and Bernice. (similar to ATG sours)

MF: From a marketing point of view being distinguished from other products is most likely a good thing. Being easily identifiable in an oversaturated market can make a difference. It’s turned into the opposite though, there are so many big, and bold labels that it is the minimalist label that stands out anymore. However, for the person new to craft beer (or widgets) it might just be the opposite, they might grab the brightest, or shiniest beer available. That’s the path I took in fact.


JB:  A nice label tends to get my attention but I don’t think it affects my purchasing decision. Wax dipping is almost as eye-catching for me as nice label.

So…with that Louisville Beer People…what say you in regards to beer labels?


What's your take? Please comment below.