How To Organize Your Label Collection
Memory and meaning in a shoebox.
Like the commercial for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, there’s no right way to organize your label collection. Over my two decades of collecting what I drink, I’ve tried a variety of organizational systems. The one to which I essentially “defaulted” works for me because it’s a reflection both of me and of the beer. It’s all about what I find so exciting and interesting about beer, and it’s a historical snapshot of where beer’s been and where I’ve been. More about that later; first, a little about the system itself.
There are two parts of organization—ordering and storing.
Ordering refers to the system of organization. For example, you might use a very straightforward ordering, such as alphabetical by brewery or beer name. Another would be geographical by brewery location or country of origin. The possibilities are numerous.
Storing is, naturally enough, the physical framework imposed around the ordering—shoebox, card file, photo album. Like ordering, storing can be a creative exploration limited only by your imagination.
You might think that ordering and storing are two entirely distinct areas, with no overlap. But, in some cases, a system can incorporate both. For instance, you might arrange your collection based on breweries in a particular state and store it as a collage suitable for framing and display.
The system of ordering that I use is based on time—a simple chronological filing of the ales and lagers I’ve enjoyed. Sound unimaginative? Perhaps boring? Remember what your mother said about judging a book by its cover. And this is truly a book, a personal, historical archive of my journey through life.
Go below the surface, and you’ll find that your collection charts your past in so many different ways. It’s a record of moves across the country to go to college or take a new job. It’s a memory of special events and special friends.
For me, it’s a record of two years spent in Illinois in the mid-eighties sampling the best the Midwest had to offer: Leinenkugel’s Bock, the full portfolio of Heileman’s products, and others. Why I needed 14 of Cold Spring’s contract-brewed Red Ass Ale labels peeled direct from 14 cold ones is a part of that history even I can’t explain.
Then it was back East to Pennsylvania, with my collection standing as a testament to a couple of years drinking the Keystone State’s finest brews, mixed with recollections of my first real job and marriage. Among the many Yuengling, Lion, Straub and Stoney’s labels are a sprinkling of imports—still rather exotic in those days and high-priced enough that these labels remain merely a colorful interlude in the vast desert of browns, golds and beiges of Stegmaiers, Esslingers and Bartels.
I could go on, but you get the point. Your label collection can be a two-dimensional history. On the one plane, it’s a very real and interesting record of beer, from the days when the handful of heritage breweries provided the only alternative to mass-market brew, through the days when Moosehead was exotic, to the heady days of craft beer that we are now enjoying. On the second level, it’s a personal history of the collector.
Enjoy living your collection!