Style and Substance or Controversy – Beer Label Designs

We all know and love the labels that come on our preferred beer – whether you're a fan of the harp logo on Guinness or the leaping trout in Sweetwater products.  However, there is a lot of time, effort and money that goes into creating the design of beer labels.  This is done to create an impression that resonates with us beer drinkers – but sometimes it can backfire.

Take the Witch's Wit Ale produced by Port Brewing Company in San Diego, California.  Ostensibly part of their Lost Abbey line of beers, Witch's Wit is a tasty ale made with wheat, barley and oats.  It's flavored with orange peel, grapefruit peel, honey and coriander, as well.  However, it's not the beer's ingredients that have made headlines.  It's the image of the witch being burned at the stake that really seems to catch people's attention.  Port Brewing Company received so many emails, hate messages, Facebook messages and tweets on Twitter that they agreed to change the bottle's label.

However, Port Brewing Company is not the only breweries garnering headlines and controversy with their beer labels.  Another brewery, Broadway Brewing in Denver, Colorado, got into some hot water with state regulators back in 1995.  It wasn't about the beer's alcohol content or brewing methods.  It didn't even have to do with artwork on the label.  Instead, government officials took umbrage at the use of profanity in the beer's labeling. The company's Road Dog Ale used the phrase "Good beer, no shit."  The phrase was actually penned by Hunter S. Thompson before his death.

In late 2010, another beer label garnered the ire of the federal government, this time it was the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.  Don Sessions had a brew he named Ol'Glory, and the design proudly sported the US Pledge of Allegiance.  The government denied Sessions' right to use the design, but reneged after some very minor changes were made to it.  However, the design sparked controversy with Christian elements, who took offense at the phrase "Under God" being used on the can's design (as within the Pledge of Allegiance). 

What notable beer labels and can designs will pop up next?  If craft brewers hold true to their independent spirit and pride, there should be some pretty interesting things afoot in the craft beer industry in the next few months – keep your eyes open for any interesting beer labels.

Posted on January 4, 2011 and filed under The Business of Beer.