If you’re like me and don’t know too much about beer, you might be a label shopper. “Oh, that label looks cool. I’ll try that,” is something I’ll say to myself walking down the beer aisle. Sometimes the art lives up to the taste, other times … not so much.
But we’re not here to talk about the taste of beer; today we’re here to discuss the visuals that draw our eye to the cans. The sometimes vibrant, abstract or even nostalgic labels that capture our attention against the hundreds of other cans stacked on the shelf.
North Charleston’s Holy City Brewing Co., Downtown’s Munkle Brewing Co. and West Ashley’s Frothy Beard Brewing Co. each have widely different labels, catered to their respective themes and genres.
Holy City sticks with an ever-changing label vibe, many of which are curated by Gumbo Designs, otherwise known as Griff.
In collaboration with Holy City’s owners like Chris Brown, Griff and team shoot ideas around in a group chat when a new beer is planned.
“We’ll plan out a rough idea of what we want to do for the year,” Brown said. “It always changes but we try to plan a little bit ahead … so some of it, I can plan ahead with Griff and be like, ’All right, we know we want to do this. How far ahead of time do we need to start coming up with an idea for what the label is gonna look like?’”
A lot of the time, the label is based on the name of the beer, which stems from the type of beer, Brown added. But other times, they just roll with the punches and figure out names and labels with little to no context.
For their recent hazy IPA, which is actually called Bill is the Animal, Brown and the team wanted to name their new IPA after something related to the month of May, the beer’s planned release month. As a starting point, Griff looked up Zodiac animals related to each sign and in the group chat, wrote “Bill is the animal.”
“I was describing the month and I said, ‘Well, the bull is the animal that represents it (Taurus), but my autocorrect put Bill,” Griff said.
“My head cellarman’s name is Bill,” Brown said. “So I was like, ‘That’s the name right there. Bill is the animal. That’s gotta be it.’ Immediately, we had a name.”
“Sometimes weird stuff like that just lands,” Griff added. “And it’s on me to then just come up with something crazy, or in a very structured idea to visually follow the name that came from nowhere.”
Fortunately, Griff had some room to play with, as Bill is a keyboardist in a band, composing an image of Bill as a bull playing the keyboard.
“I think one time out of how many labels he’s done for us at this point, I’ve been like, ‘I don’t know about that one. Maybe not the right direction for that beer,’” Brown said. “Majority of the time, I trust Griff. I love what he does. I love his art. So I kind of let him be creative and do what he wants to do.”
Across the North Bridge in West Ashley, Frothy Beard employs the art of Chris Miller for their nautical and nerdy labels.
For instance, last fall, Frothy Beard released a Jurassic Park-themed four pack, centered around the beloved franchise.
“For Jurassic Park,” Miller said. “We have weekly meetings just in general for the brewery, but we knew that we wanted to do a big four pack release, so different ideas were tossed around where everyone could have had their input. It went from potentially Spielberg movies in general and then got narrowed down to ‘There’s so much in Jurassic Park, let’s focus on that and have a more consistent theme.’”
For a special single release beer, Miller and team sometimes just toss around ideas for something they like: “Sometimes one person might have a full idea,” Miller said. “Sometimes it’s a group effort for a theme or just bouncing ideas off whatever we’re into at the moment.
“Something like the Mystery Science Theater, I’m a huge fan,” Miller added. “One of the owners and I were talking about it and another beer coming up hadn’t been named yet. So I think we kind of were just geeking out over that show and we’re like, ‘This would be cool for a label’ and it goes from there.”
While Griff has complete free reign in abstract label designs, Miller has his own constraints in designing for Frothy Beard; The brewery’s mascot, Finn, is incorporated into most labels. But that doesn’t mean Miller still can’t challenge himself.
“It may give some limitations,” Miller said. “As far as if I wanted to do something more abstract, but I really don’t find it limiting because then you’re able to challenge yourself, too. How can this be interesting and different from the last one that I did with our mascot?
“There’s a lot going on, but it feels very us when you see it. So putting our bearded mascot in a different scenario, different adventure, something that’s happening to him, doesn’t really feel limiting as much as I get to challenge myself and be even more creative than going from a complete blank slate.”
On the peninsula, Munkle Brewing takes its labels personally, as owner Palmer Quimby finds ways to pay homage to his childhood home, his youth and his dog Brugge.
Many of Munkle’s beers, and even the brewery’s name, come from Quimby’s life and history. The name Munkle comes from his uncle Rob who became an Episcopalian monk, while beers like Silver Shoes Stout and 3rd Floor Trippel are direct references to his family history in Charleston.
“That Silver Shoes Stout is named after my great uncle who was a famous dancer on the Folly Pier in the ‘50s,” he said. “And he spray painted all of his shoes silver to highlight his dance moves on the floor.
“The way I work is, if I’m envisioning a name for a beer, I’ve already got an idea of what the label is going to look like,” Quimby said.
The labels at Munkle are designed by Quimby’s friend Curt Clinefelter out of Brooklyn, New York. Clinefelter, Quimby said: “is very good at taking that image out of my head and conveying what I want it to look like.”
Munkle’s 3rd Floor Trippel is an homage to his grandparents home on downtown Charleston’s Bull Street, with an image of the house directly on the can. The name originally featured the actual address of the home, but Quimby reckoned it could present issues with the home’s current residents (who have become regulars at Munkle according to Quimby), so he gave the beer its current “3rd Floor” moniker.
“My mother is the oldest of six kids and was the first kid to live on the third floor, and then all the kids lived there,” Quimby said. “And I lived there for a year when I moved back for college. They sold the house a few years after my grandfather passed and it’s kind of a way for me to hold on to a little piece of it.”
Not surprisingly, one of Quimby’s future releases will honor his local legend grandfather, J. Douglas Donehue, former editor-in-chief of The Post and Courier, local radio personality and the first person to serve in all five branches of the military.
“A lot of what I do and appreciate is an homage to him and the family.”
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