There's art on my beer: Packaging designers share their work

Jan 9, 2014

The box art for Rye Not? by Short's Brewing Company
Credit Imperial Beverage

When you’re at the store, how do you choose a beer? You can look at the price, the brand, the type of beer. But once you’ve narrowed it down, it’s hard not to pick the one with the nice label.

To kick off Kalamazoo Beer Week, the Art Hop will have an exhibit featuring beer art from designers at Imperial Beverage. Imperial Beverage distributes drinks like wine, beer, juice, and soda for manufacturers. The company recently designed packaging for newly opened Gonzo’s Biggdogg Brewing in Kalamazoo. Anne Drummond is the marketing and public relations director for Imperial. She says the lightning bolts and other symbols on the Biggdogg logo reflect owner Greg “Gonzo” Haner’s hard rock style.

Credit Imperial Beverage

“And the big dog represents him," she says. "That’s really kind of how it’s positioned, right? So, these that you’re looking at here with the old school rock elements of AC/DC and other rocking and kind of old school musical influences, as well as some of the more graphic kind of pit bull look.”

Drummond says people often overlook things like the label on a beer bottle.

“We don’t always think about the fact that when you walk by a beautiful fabric that’s hanging as a curtain or in a museum environment or in someone’s home. But somebody designed what that looks like," Drummond says. "Not just where it was hung and the colors that it’s surrounded by, but also the design elements of that fabric. You know, the wallpaper in our homes—somebody designed that—and the same works for package design.”

Jenny Calme of Imperial Beverage designed art for two variety packs sold at chain stores like Meijer. The MI Beer pack features all Michigan brews. The packs have different beers based on where you live in the state.

“It’s kind of exciting to know that somebody that buys it in Kalamazoo isn’t going to get the same beer that somebody in Detroit might,” says Calme.

Calme says she liked drawing up things to represent Michigan.

Credit Imperial Beverage

“We’ve got the deer image, but you know, he’s a gentlemen deer so he’s in a suit," Calme laughs. "And we had fun playing with like a car grille that wraps around it. And there’s just some really fun copy on it about Michigan. And it was just a really cute way to do it that somebody from Michigan would read it and laugh.”

Leigh Ann Theisen says making the Rye Not? beer label for Short's Brewing Company was one of the highlights of her career. CEO Joe Short needed art for the Michigan Summer Beer Festival, quick!

“What he wanted for this one, he told me he’s like ‘I want a guy wakeboarding through a field of rye. And you know, some of the boat to show and maybe it’s flying a Short's Brewing Company flag,’" Theisen explains. "And he told me exactly what he wanted and I went to work with watercolor and pen, which was really something different than being on the computer designing. And that was kind of a treat for me.”

Anne Drummond says when it comes to craft beer designs, the sky’s the limit.

“Package design for craft beer has very little rules. So it really allows you to run the gamut, you know. To really use your imagination to create something fun and new and different that you haven’t seen on the market before. And of course you’re inspired by all these great craft packages that come out that are irreverent, or really clean and beautiful and modern, or…I mean there’s all these different kinds of packages that are out on the market today. So, which of those are you going to gravitate to and really emulate?”

You might not want to judge a book by its cover, but Theisen says it’s OK to choose a beer for its label.

“My roommate and I have our bottles like lined up on the tops of our cupboards because we like to look at them," she says. "So, they’re kind of a showcase piece.”