Best Looking Brands in Beer – Part 1

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by Ed Marszewski
For years, Mash Tun organized and produced “Art of Beer” events around Chicago, showcases for the work of the artists and designers who communicate a brand’s personality and vision through labels, posters, and other packaging. We hosted these events to help craft beer enthusiasts understand and enjoy the parallel activities that make bring a craft beer brewery to life. These parallel art forms of making beer and making a beer brand are an obsession of ours. They have made us pursue drinking the world’s best beer while investigating the work of some of the best illustrators, artists, and designers on the planet.


In this issue of Mash Tun Journal, we celebrate one of the reasons we love craft beer so much: the art and design of beer. Whether you know it or not, your local bottle shop or liquor store is hosting an exhibition of contemporary art on its shelves and in its coolers right now. Beer packaging design and labels are canvases that express the essence of their contents. Like any group art show, some work is pedestrian; some work is extraordinary.


Some craft beer labels can be shitty and poorly designed, featuring amateur illustrations with little attention to detail. At their worst, they be downright offensive. Other times, beer labels are works of art that can entice you to try the beer—and that’s the point.


In recent years, the growth of the craft beer segment has increased competition among breweries in a few ways: for shelf space at retail outlets, for beer drinkers’ attention, and, ultimately, for beer drinkers’ business. Given the decline of “brewery loyalty” among consumers, breweries must now differentiate themselves from their friends and competitors in the industry. Breweries looking to set themselves apart pour thought and money into producing the right look and feel for their packaging and marketing, instead of focusing on the liquid alone. We love it when a brewery makes the packaging and design as exciting and bespoke as the liquid in the bottle.


When we picked the candidates of the Best Looking Brands in the Beer Business, we turned to some of our longtime favorites and a few cult-status breweries whose work we find to be experimental and progressive.




Our first featured brewery is Mikkeller:


Mikkeller was started in 2006 by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, a Danish physics teacher-turned-brewer, and friend Kristian Keller. After making kitchen experiments for two and a half years, Bjergsø and Keller started brewing beer at a larger scale at Danish microbrewery Ørbæk and just dropped the mike.


Mikkeller broke all the molds for what a craft brewery could be. Practically inventing the idea off gypsy brewing, which is essentially contract brewing, Mikkeller beers also ushered in the notion of making a bottle or can of beer a work of culinary and visual art. Since its auspicious homebrewing roots, Mikkeller has become the face for gypsy breweries globally—both in terms of brewing and branding.


For Mikkeller, gypsy brewing means bouncing around from brewery to brewery, using excess tank capacity to create many different beers each year. Because of that, they need a lot of artwork to communicate the stories of their beers. That job went to Keith Shore. He first started working freelance for Mikkel—for many years now, Shore has made the beautiful aesthetic of his Mikkeller characters and illustrations into ubiquitous works of art.




The design process is pretty simple. Usually, Mikkel explains a beer’s ingredients and flavor profile and Shore is given complete freedom in developing the imagery, sometimes coming up with the crazy names as well. Shore is usually working on 10-20 designs at a time, using gouache and watercolors to flesh out what is in his sketchbook. His labels are usually color bombs with cartoonish figures that make a nod to the works of Henri Matisse and David Hockney.


To date, Mikkeller has made over 650 beers, distributed to over 40 countries. Mikkeller has opened bars in Copenhagen, San Francisco, and Bangkok. Shores’ work is featured in the design of those spaces as well.


If there is anyone that has ushered in a new age of branding a beer to help it stand out in a crowded marketplace, Mikkel and Shore could take the blame.


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Karl Grandin is part of the dynamic duo that comprises Omnipollo, a Swedish-based gypsy beer brand that Grandin and pal Henok Fentie created in 2011. Karl directs the marketing and branding side while Henok leads on brewing side. Omnipollo beers are being made all over Europe and the U.S. Omnipollo beers are unique in their packaging, and the liquid tastes delicious.


Conceptually and aesthetically, the bottle labels leap from the shelves and beckon you to pick them up. Representing a mixture of psychedelic abstractions and pop religious culture icons, Omnipollo artwork is unique, almost mind-blowing, really.




Karl says that the Omnipollo images are based on his own dreams, and that he tries to bring that psychedelic and enigmatic sort of logic into the artwork. In Karl’s words, the Omnipollo world is “an open-ended cosmos, and although the imagery is often allegorical,” Karl encourages people to explore their own interpretations rather than explaining his intentions.


Rather than trying to make artwork that would somehow describe or portray the style or taste of a beer, Karl looks for what is going on around Omnipollo to try to capture something less obvious. There is always a synergy between the beer, the artwork, and the name, sometimes straightforward and obvious. Sometimes it is more cryptic.




Karl says, “We want Omnipollo to be about more than the beer and the artwork. Presentation and stories are important parts of what we create. The shape of Omnipollo will keep developing and shifting. We have made handmade glass cups, garments, jewelry, and a book on homebrewing, and through all the people we meet, the collaborations we do and the ideas we dream up, Omnipollo is becoming more than the sum of its parts.”


We love these guys.


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November 2016
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