How To Design a Beer Label
The first taste is with the eyes.
In our cut-and-paste universe, designing a beer label can be just about as fast as saying Ayinger Altbarish Dunkel—properly. It can also be a labor of love, requiring years of thought and training, not to speak of talent.
Begin the designing process with a properly served beer, preferably the one for which you’re designing the label. Some label designers fail to recognize that the beer is more important than the label! This would be a good time to target your competitor, damn them!
The label is the beer’s birth certificate and, in that regard, designing a beer label is a little bit like conception. The act of procreation is a pleasure, but secondary to the joy of seeing your child (in this case, the beer) enter the world, well received, in his fancy new blanket.
Like having a baby, a critical step is deciding on a name. Popular categories include animals, mountain ranges, national monuments, fairy tales, saints and sinners, place names, people’s names (mostly men’s) and ribbon colors. Straying from these categories is seldom successful.
Top designers think of the name and visualize the illustration at about the same time. Be creative here. Consulting multiple sources for inspiration is smart. Being sued for copyright infringement is not. Remember that Sunday school lesson about thou shall not steal.
Being able to supply the sales department—or your significant other—with a label mock-up for customers and/or friends even before the actual birth is a plus.
Slightly boring, but necessary for commercial brewers, is adding all the government-required (federal and state) information, including address, contents, brand name, description of product (beer), UPC code and health warning. Homebrewers feeling guilty may optionally add these details to their labels. Any questions? Contact your friendly and helpful Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents. They are there to help.
Visualize getting to know your printer, for mock-ups and for the finished label. Determine whether you want to print on paper, plastic film or directly on the bottle (silk screen.) Forget about costs. You are still in the creative phase.
Now it’s time to move that beer to your desktop (not too close) and assemble all the elements. Things to consider here are label size, type style, colors, and placement of the illustration. How big to make Aunt Emma’s photograph can be as contentious as choosing a name, should designing be a team effort, so I recommend that one team member volunteer to be the boss.
Once the design is finished, before a label can be applied to a single bottle, approval for the finished product must be sought at various government levels. Is the label misleading? Is the illustration obscene? Are all the warnings in place? I once had a label rejected because it lacked a comma.
Never underestimate the importance of the label. Attention to detail will determine whether your offspring’s fate will be famous or flawed. That’s a big responsibility for the label designer. Like beer, it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
How To Win Beerdrinker of the Year
Your dedication and extreme level of beeriness must shine.
There’s no simple course. There are no sure-fire tricks. Becoming Beerdrinker of the Year is not a popularity contest, nor is it a beer-guzzling chug-a-thon. This nationwide competition, originated by Denver’s Wynkoop Brewing Co. in 1997, is an analysis of personal commitment, a measure of knowledge, a true test of passion—all about beer.
Entering the annual BDOY competition begins with a beer résumé, a simple 3-page statement of the extent of your beer fanaticism. Almost anything goes. Rules are intentionally vague to promote creativity, but eager applicants usually include lists: beers consumed; breweries visited; festivals attended; beer books read; periodical subscriptions; labels, bottles and coasters collected; homebrewing experience, etc. Most important, your beer résumé must include your personal beer philosophy—basically, a written description of what beer means to you.
Your résumé is all that the first-round judges see of you, so take care in preparation. Neatness counts. Originality helps. Do not overstate your beer experiences; if you do, you may embarrass yourself in Denver.
When all the résumés have been gathered, Wynkoop P.R. man Lew Cady and owner John Hickenlooper narrow the field down to a dozen or so competitors. From this group of finalists, a panel of beer publication editors and past BDOY winners reviews the candidates, voting for their favorite three—the final finalists.
The Oral Exams, as Cady calls the Wynkoop proceedings, are the ultimate gauntlet. With Wynkoop’s Mercantile Room as the stage, the chosen trio faces a Supreme Court of Beer. In addition to Hickenlooper, past judges have included AHA’s grand poobah Charlie Papazian, AHA director Paul Gatza, festival organizer Sharon Mowry, beer writer Dick Kreck, and other beer industry insiders. Past winners also participate as judges.
No question is forbidden. Curve balls are common. Topics range from trivia to history to advertisement jingles to stranded-on-a-desert-island queries to just about anything. Prepared in advance, your opening and closing statements should be concise, accurate, maybe even a little cute, though your dedication and extreme level of beeriness must shine. The recently added Beer Whispering session, in which you proposition, caress or otherwise verbally fondle the beer before you, should also be given considerable thought in advance. In other words, your beer foreplay should be carefully scripted.
At this point, a finalist, like any exuberant game show contestant, should be bubbly, outgoing and prepared. Even though the beer is free, do not over imbibe. Your wit, opinion and expressiveness should be keen. Judges expect innovative answers to their evertricky questions. There’s no point system or scoreboard. Your ability to impress the judges is the real key to winning this face-to-face confrontation.
And then it’s over. Adorned in black robes and itchy white wigs, the judges retire to their chamber to debate the attributes of each candidate. With some fanfare, the winner is announced. Prizes are awarded (free beer for life at Wynkoop). Photos are taken. Congratulations bestowed. Next, it’s time to celebrate your victory with some of Wynkoop’s great brew.
How To Display 5,000 Beer Bottles
“5,000 bottles of beer on the wall, 5,000 bottles of beer, if one of those bottles should happen to fall…”
When I tell people that I have nearly 4,800 different beer bottles in my house, they often picture bottles on every wall of every room and even on the ceiling. Until last summer, they would have been nearly right. I lived in a 14- by 70-foot mobile home and the bottles were displayed in one room, on a jumble of furniture, loose boards and shelving—bottles upon bottles, with a small pathway to navigate.
By the time I built my new home, I knew what I wanted: one room that could accommodate the collection in a comfortable atmosphere, with all the things in my life that are beer related. What better place to do this but in a finished basement that includes large windows along the back wall?
The shelves that support the bottles are 50 feet in length and wrap around the basement along three of its six walls. They are sturdy enough for a grown man to climb. The shelves are 2 feet apart, so that adjustable shelving can be added in between fixed shelves. The four shelves vary in width from a 24” bottom shelf to the 12” top shelf.
The room also includes a bar, built at one end of the room and seen immediately as one enters. The bar is L-shaped, 50 inches tall and 16 feet long. Behind the bar is a hutch that is used for displaying a beer glass collection. A small storage room by the bar serves for conditioning beers. There’s enough room for a small bathroom underneath the stairs.
Soon to be added to the bar are a double bar sink, beer fridge, microwave, and three taps. Eventually, the upper and lower levels of the bar will be fitted with dark briarwood‚ and the bar top will be sealed with glass. Bar stools and a foot railing, and all will be complete.
The walls of the basement are concrete blocks, covered with joint compound that fills in the lines where the blocks meet. I spray-painted the walls and the shelves with a water-based antique white paint. Further, I painted the 3-inch front edge of each shelf, all support posts and beams dark green. The ceiling is 11 feet high and unfinished, which I consider a very natural look for a bar and bottle room.
This is a place where one can look at the bottles but also enjoy a game of pool or darts, or watch the game and have lunch. Decorative, beer related pictures are an additional accent.
The bottles are organized by country, with 103 countries represented in the collection. New bottles must be logged into the collection before they are placed on a shelf. Simply stated, I counted the first 992 bottles. The other 3,758 bottles are listed in numerical order on a clipboard that now has 37 double-spaced pages of listed beers.
Fifty-five percent of the bottles are from American brewers. There are more than 375 different Belgian bottles in the collection, including vintages dating back to 1985 that were purchased in Stockholm. There are 23 bottles from Russia (one from the USSR). Latin America totals 110 bottles. The Far East and South Pacific have added 78 bottles to the collection. You will find bottles of traditional sahti from Finland, South African Sorghum PET beers, and even a scratch-off ‘“nudie” beer from Wyoming. The most recent additions are Castel Beer from Mali, Urpin from Slovak Republic, and Argo from the Republic of Georgia.
I collected most of the bottles myself on three European trips, going from Scandinavia (including Tallin and St. Petersburg) to Italy and from Belgium to Prague. I also trade and have beer friends that support my collection.
When I travel, I take a $14 fold-up “beer cart,” purchased at Wal-Mart, that can carry two boxes (40 beers). I use two rubber luggage straps. I take four rolls of bubble wrap and plan during my first couple of days to visit a nice beer store like Beer Konig in Amsterdam. There I stock up on bottles, pack and mail! I rarely lose a bottle.
Why do I collect bottles? Each bottle has a “beer” experience or special memory. When I held bottles of Emerson’s, McEllie’s and Mike’s Mild for the first time, I almost passed out. I never thought that I would ever be able to drink these beers. For me, it is the beer that matters: the bottle is proof, you might say—the trophy in my collection.
How To Import Beer
Because sometimes a suitcase is just too small.
I can hear it to this day. “Hell, hide it in your suitcase—just make sure you wrap the bottles well,” I, at 10 years old, smartly told my mom. “Wrap ’em in your bra and panties; they will never look there.”
It was during Prohibition in Oklahoma and we had taken a vacation in our new Dodge across the state line to Missouri. Those were the days when Joplin was Missouri’s liquor store capitol.
As we headed home on Route 66, I thought to myself, “That wasn’t too bad.” It was then that I decided to become an importer.
Years passed. Oklahoma voted “wet,” and I moved to New York and began a quarter-century career as a wine and beer importer. It’s been a long road, and when All About Beer asked me how it’s done, it was like coming home.
First things first. Slow down and pour a beer, preferably one that you want to import. If you have no beer to import—yet—pour a really special beer and fetch a globe. Close your eyes and spin it. Wherever that globe stops there is likely to be a brewery. If you land in Iran, Iraq or any of the Gulf states, go to the closest democracy. There will be a brewery there.
No matter what country, most breweries you look at will be brewing international pilsner-style beer, so you have to ask yourself if the US market can absorb yet another one. The fact is that it probably can, if the country of origin is exotic enough. But if you are lucky, you will find an unusual beer style from an undiscovered location.
With e-mail and the Internet, contacting even the remotest breweries can be fast. It’s important to know whether the brewery you are communicating with is privately held, publicly owned, a monastery, or a foreign government monopoly. Beware of dictatorships. In any case, you’ll be safe in asking for the boss.
Most brewers are friendly and anxious to access the US market. Many are well educated and speak English, but a little language training always helps. With luck, your initial e-mail and telephone contact will lead to a trip to taste the beers and work out the agreement. How to dress? These people appreciate US casualness. Jeans and a beer t-shirt speak American. Don’t forget to ask how fast the bottling line fills—in their native language.
Tell them that being a beer importer has always been you dream and in order to realize that dream, you must import their brand. Cry in their beer if you need to.
Work toward a contract. Until you have it signed in bock, the brewery has you over a barrel. Most agreements specify annual sales volume goals. Be conservative here. Until you have had time for focus group and intensive market surveys, it’s hard to be committal.
Once you have a contract, the dirty work begins—getting a license to import beer, having the beer label approved. This is a subject that is much too complicated for me to explain here, or for that matter, for me to understand.
When all your legal worries are behind you, you are officially an importer. You can purchase beer from a brewer in another country. However, you can’t sell the beer directly to eager American drinkers. In this country, alcoholic beverages must pass from a producer to a wholesaler/distributor, to a retailer, and only then to the consumer.
So the only thing you can influence directly is the choice of a good distributor. To choose your distributor, look in the phone book under “beer.” Pick a distributor that sounds important and make an appointment with the sales manager. Be straight and earnest. Tell her that your beer is the biggest selling brand back in Bertuliruse or wherever it comes from. Tell her that you are considering awarding XYZ wholesaler the exclusive territory for your brand, but only if you can be assured of eye-level shelf space in all the best retail accounts. Don’t be discouraged if she says no. It’s a very competitive market.
As you expand into new regions, you will need to be licensed in each new state. State alcoholic beverage control agencies sometimes subject importers to finger printing. It goes without saying that it is always good to be honest about your criminal record when filling out the myriad forms required.
Once, when I was fingerprinted in Ohio, I thought of what would have happened had the Oklahoma Highway Patrol stopped my parents with their illegal import in the suitcase. My career might have taken a different path. As it is, I have enjoyed every minute.
How To Install Your Own Draft Beer System
Yes, we are talking kegerator.
You love to drink beer, draft beer. You enjoy going down to the pub to socialize and quaff, but at 4 bucks a pint, plus tip, the cost can get a little prohibitive. Maybe it’s time to bring the pub to your place.
A versatile home draft beer system isn’t the complicated task it sounds. It requires only a small amount of mechanical aptitude and an ability to read directions. The necessary components are a refrigerator, a CO2 tank, and a delivery system (connectors, hoses, taps, etc.). If there is a homebrew shop or bar supply business nearby, you already have a leg up.
Why should you get a home system? You can justify it to the planning committee/financial planner this way: Tell him/her that you can get all the needed components for between $300 and $800. There are 124 pints in a standard keg, at about a buck a pint. Those same pints would cost about the same amount at the pub as your uptown, new “kegerator” will cost. Carbon dioxide is fairly cheap and the cost to run the fridge is minimal.
Your own keg system has mental and socially redeeming qualities, too, in that you get to fool around with those tools in your toolbox, and you will become more popular than you ever imagined. How could you not have one?
Refrigerators. The options include a standard one or one that is designed specifically for this purpose. Each type has strengths as well as caveats. The plain ol’ household fridge can be yours for little money, maybe even free. Check the ads in your local paper and you can probably find one for less than $100. Remove the shelves and you have plenty of space. It also has a freezer for chilling glassware. The caveat is that it will require a little extra modification, like hole drilling. The specially designed keg refrigerator is shorter, more portable, and requires little modification, but is more expensive.
Gas Tank Setup. This is nothing more than a standard gas tank, made specifically for carbon dioxide, that can be purchased at a welding shop or homebrew shop. They come in several sizes—5 and 10 pounds are the most common—and can be filled at welding shops, fire extinguisher shops, and some homebrew shops. You will also need a two-stage regulator designed for CO2. Tank and regulator are about $140 together. Fill-ups cost between $10 and $20 each, but will last quite some time.
Delivery System. This is where your mechanical moxie and patience come into play. You will need an assortment of connectors, hoses, taps and fittings (gas in, beer out). This limited column doesn’t allow an extensive description of all the components, so check with your local homebrew shop or get a catalog from a bar supply outlet to get the scoop.
The standard fridge will require that you drill one or more holes in the door, and also attach a drip tray beneath the taps. The keg refrigerator has these items already in place. All you need to decide is how many and what kind of taps you will need.
Before you buy the connector that mates with the keg, call your local keg beer supplier and find out what type goes with your favorite beer. Barbed fittings allow you to switch them out easily if you want some variety. If you also make homebrew, invest in a Cornelius keg and some quick connectors so you have that option also. It is possible to have multiple taps installed, depending on the size of your fridge.
Take the plunge—it’s easy to do and easily justifiable. Ready for a cold one?
—K. Florian Klemp
Donald Bible works with hearing impaired children. During the summer, he often travels abroad in search of new beers for his bottle collection. Beers, beers and more new beer (bottles), along with his very wonderful Slovakian girlfriend, are his top passions in life.
Julie Johnson Bradford is the editor of All About Beer Magazine and beer columnist for The News and Observer in Raleigh, NC.
Bobby Bush, winner of the 1998 Beerdrinker of the Year contest, now writes regular columns for Ale Street News and Celebrator Beer News, and hosts a website with over 250 beer travel articles at www.realbeer.com/library/authors/bush-b.
Chuck Cook is a freelance writer living in Chapel Hill, NC. He travels to Europe to drink beer as often as possible, with Belgium and Germany being favorite destinations. Closer to home, he has become very familiar with the better beer stores in Virginia, DC, and Maryland in the course of building his own collection of cellared beers.
Bill Drew worked as a brewery specialist at Highland Brewing, NC, and is now the beer coordinator for the World Beer Festival in Durham, NC. His dream is to own the only distributorship in North Carolina specializing in beer over six percent abv.
Charles Finkel designs labels for some of the world’s finest beers, wines, spirits, soft drinks and speciality foods. Merchant du Vin Corp, founded by Charles, is a pioneer in the marketing of craft beers. He is also the founder of The Pike Brewing Co., one of Seattle’s busiest brewpubs and microbreweries. Charles writes for All About Beer Magazine, Slow Food and other publications.
Gregg Glaser, news editor for All About Beer Magazine, has covered the beer beat since 1994. He also writes regular columns for Modern Brewery Age, Yankee Brew News and Beverage Media and appears as a guest on several TV and radio programs.
Stan Hieronymus is the author of The Beer Lover’s Guide to the USA (St. Martin’s Griffin) with co-author Daria Labinsky.
Pete Johnson, program director for the Brewers’ Association of America, is enthusiastic about any beer-related subject, especially those that intersect with his interest in history.
K. Florian Klemp is an award-winning homebrewer and writer who draws a paycheck from Duke University Medical Center, NC.
Catherine Lemin is the advertising manager for All About Beer Magazine. Catherine seeks out new and exotic beers to introduce to you in our pages—and for the office fridge.