How great designs made craft beer bottles and cans into works of art?


Beer cans have become premium visual currency, the markers of good taste. Scroll through a beer-focused Instagram feed, and you’ll likely spot Other Half IPAs outfitted in bold, geometric cans; the acid-tripped sci-fi and fantasia of Pipeworks cans like Lizard King pale ale; or Modern Times’ gorgeous typographic treatments twinned to a vibrant color scheme. Love the Little Creatures Pale Ale (both design and taste)!

Craft beers need to separate themselves from the visual pack. That’s no easy task. Store shelves are mobbed with fruited IPAs and funky beers overrun with feral yeast. Deploying eccentric ingredients is no longer a novelty meant for standing out, especially with quality beer everywhere. So the next great differentiator is the package, and specifically the can.


In the past, many breweries treated beers as individual elements instead of part of a design system. But repetitive elements can be a boon for the bottom line.

The Minneapolis-based brewery Fair State Brewing Cooperative has a similar mission with its can design. Fair State accidentally stumbled into its superb logo. After finishing the business plan, air State President and CEO Evan Sallee knew he needed great design. He just didn’t know where to look. He canvassed friends who suggested the local agency Little. As luck had it, one designer there became a member of the cooperatively owned brewery. Recently, Fair State started partnering with area artists to design labels for an irregular series of sours, an idea catching fire countrywide. Hardywood Craft Brewery‘s Brewer & Artists series decorates small-batch experiments with one-off artwork, while Great Divide highlights a different artist annually on its Denver Pale Ale can. Brooklyn’s Greenpoint Beer & Ales began canning last year with local-artist labels, part of brand and design director Josh Whitehead’s plan to gussy up the look and feel.



Creating a cohesive brand identity can have negatives, too. You can pick a brewery out of a crowded cooler, but what happens when a brand blurs together like a kid’s finger painting? The same-same are skipped over for the spanking fresh, leaving brewers with a dilemma: kill darling brews or give them a makeover? Sounds like a typical branding question that most seasoned marketers face.



In a world where shiny objects soon gather dust, chasing trends is no guarantee of success. Today’s breweries need labels as unique as signatures, as memorable as the first kiss. Doll up cans with cartoons, map out a geometrical grid, loop-de-loop typography like a roller coaster, whatever the method, we all win.

What’s inside the can might ultimately matter most, but the outside is really crucial too.

Check out my past beer post!

Does draft beer actually taste better?

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