Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Microbrew Boom Starts Illustration Arms Race

How do you catch the craft beer community’s eye at the fridge? It’s all in the wrist.




Illustration by Wayno

 

Local graphic designer Phil Seth admits he was nervous when he drew a beer label featuring a voluptuous woman sporting a low neckline. It wasn’t PG-13 exposure of flesh or the model’s looks that had him worried.

“I didn’t want people to think I was trying to exaggerate,” Seth says, insisting the friend he used as a model in the design for Perc E Bust, a robust coffee porter whose name is a pun on “percolated,” is as “busty” as the woman on the label.

Seth probably doesn’t sound like a traditional marketing professional. But he doesn’t need to. Inquisitive craft-beer consumers who dig the kind made at Full Pint Brewing Co., a North Versailles outfit that hires Seth to do its labels, often pick the variety that grabs their attention. Perhaps it’s because of a clever name or artistic design; brand loyalty and traditional marketing techniques don’t exactly apply.

Even as the overall market for beer has lost ground to wine and spirits, the market for craft beer, much of it made by smaller breweries, has grown in recent years. Production was up nearly 10 percent in 2013.



 

The market for these beers has expanded — but the number of companies that produce them has ballooned. About 2,700 breweries now operate nationwide. That’s more than at any time since Prohibition.

Large craft brewers — Lagunitas or Sierra Nevada, two California-based brands that now vend nationally — likely can afford polished case designs and promotional campaigns. However, newer independent craft companies may turn to local artists or designers to handle their campaigns.

“Let’s say we advertised in the Post-Gazette or City Paper,” says Sean Casey, proprietor of Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville. “The amount it would cost us to figure out whether it was working would probably be five times what we would spend on advertising. That’s not a joke.”



 

Over in Larimer, another Pittsburgh brewery compensates the unfeasibility of an expensive ad campaign with labels designed to cause folks to do a double-take while perusing a beer store’s inventory.

“Once it’s in their hands, you have kind of a captive audience,” says Scott Smith, who owns East End Brewing Co. with his wife.

East End’s beers stand out partly because of the influence of Wayno, a local cartoonist/illustrator who designs most of the brewery’s labels. Bottles of Smokestack Heritage Porter feature an old-fashioned cartoon-style image of a scruffy steel worker puffing a cigar. The label for Monkey’s Uncle, a Weizenbock with notes of banana, shows a monkey, clad in a fez and smoking a pipe; the setup could have come straight from an old-school circus poster.

“It has a weird, retro look to it,” says Wayno. “Whenever I draw a monkey, I put a fez on it.”



 

Homewood Reserve, a stout aged in bourbon barrels, is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the brewery’s original neighborhood, which isn’t home to many wine cellars. That said, Smith decided its label should look more like one you’d find on a wine bottle.

Smith likes being part of an industry that may reward experimentation.

“Part of the beauty of this business is, you can do whatever you want,” says Smith. “A big brewery would probably look at us and say, ‘What are they doing? They’re all over the place.’”

While Smith uses a wide range of images to get attention, Church Brew Works’ beers have maintained a consistent look over the years — even if Casey doesn’t splurge for expensive color packaging or marketing consultants.

The brewery, located in a deconsecrated Catholic church, takes its logo comes from the stained-glass Rose window.

Casey says he is starting to deviate from this logo-heavy format. The label for Thunderhop, a big-bodied India pale ale, shows Zeus staring defiantly at the viewer as he conjures a lightning storm. Back in the early 2000s, Casey hired Colleen Black, a painter and sculptor who now lives in the Seattle area, to design the Thunderhop label.

“I think [Casey] just wanted something that jumped off the shelf a little more,” says Black.



 

Beer experts say there may not be a single right approach to getting a craft beer into drinkers’ hands.

“What you’re finding in craft [brewing], with the labels and everything else, is that everything is working,” says Eric Shepard, executive editor at Beer Marketer’s Insights. “If [a company] did think of something crazy for every bottle, I’d never say that couldn’t work.”

The best way to get beer drinkers to try something new may be to intrigue them. A 2009 study reported by Ad Age magazine compared personalities of 2,600 people with their tastes in beer, concluding that craft-beer drinkers “are more open-minded than most people, seek out interesting and varied experiences and are intellectually curious.”

For Jake Kristophel, who opened Full Pint with friends, Seth’s artwork is the perfect way to gain attention from indecisive consumers. Seth, a childhood friend of Seth’s, designs all of the microbrewery’s labels, which fall all over the spectrum — covering edgy sex appeal to goofy inside jokes.

Kristophel has even appeared in a label: As inspiration for the formerly offered Rumpilsner beer, he dressed as Rumpelstiltskin.



 

When Seth talks about collaborating with the Full Pint staff on the artwork, it almost sounds like he’s telling an anecdote about working on a family project rather than a task for a client.

Barrett Goddard, another Full Pint co-owner, appears in a toga on bottles of White Lightning, a Belgian-style white ale.

“[Goddard] was like, ‘Make me fatter. But make my arms really muscular. It will be weird,’” Seth says, chuckling.

Other labels Seth designs for Full Pint combine a goofy sense of humor with racy double-entendre. For example, Chinookie IPA shows two grinning hops flowers sharing a Jacuzzi.

Kristophel says original or edgy labels give him a leg up in a business where, in his words, boring labels may prevent even great beers from getting the attention they deserve: “A lot of the general public might say, ‘Oh, I’ll never try that,’ just based on the label.”


Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

Director and “Mr. McFeely” Discuss “Won't You Be My Neighbor?”

The director of the forthcoming Mr. Rogers documentary sits down with the longtime Mr. McFeely and Pittsburgh Magazine.

Pittsburgh Teen Chess Phenom to Host Her First-Ever Tourney

Chess enthusiast Ashley Lynn Priore hopes to enrich the Steel City’s involvement in one of the most classic and challenging of board games.

Hungry for Something Good, Pittsburgh? Where We're Eating in June

We're obsessed with Greekfreez vegan frozen treats, taking a first look at the new menu at Independent Brewing Company and traveling to The Tavern on the Square. Plus, we talk to Poulet Bleu pastry chef James D. Wroblewski II.

Working in a Steel Mill Turns Fantastical in 'The Glass Lung'

Pittsburgher Anjali Sachdeva’s first book blends the normal with fantasy in nine short stories.

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.

Pittsburgh Flicks and Nightlife in June

PM Nightlife Editor Sean Collier explores the popularity of Coughlin's Law on Mt. Washington and the future of Jump Cut Theater.

Pittsburgh's Can't Miss Concerts in June

The Pittsburgh music calendar is packed this month. Check out some of our suggestions for the best ways to spend those steamy summer nights.

June: Best of Culture in Pittsburgh

Check out some of the finest stage plays, dance performances and exhibits taking place this month in Pittsburgh.

Undercover: What We're Reading in June

Reviews of Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance by Mark Whitaker and Abandoned Pittsburgh: Steel and Shadows by Chuck Beard

Perspectives: How Cold Is Too Cold for Spiders to Live?

A former Marine and Pittsburgh firefighter comes face-to-face with his biggest fear.

Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh Faces Centennial Challenges

This year marks a milestone anniversary — and questions regarding the emerging digital economy — for the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.

Highmark Stadium Struggles To Accommodate Music Fans

The Station Square venue could be a good place to see a concert. It's not there yet.

CMU Launches America’s First Degree in Artificial Intelligence

Starting this fall, undergraduates at Carnegie Mellon will have the option to earn a degree in one of the world’s fastest growing fields.

Hog Wild at Fallen Aspen Farm

Owners Jake Kristophel and Desiree Sirois are committed to compassionate animal husbandry at Fallen Aspen Farm.

This is Where ‘Pittsburgh's Paul Bunyan’ Would Have Lived

The living emblem of Pittsburgh steelwork, immortalized in a Braddock statue, has been reborn with a titular space in Bloomfield.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Director and “Mr. McFeely” Discuss “Won't You Be My Neighbor?”

Director and “Mr. McFeely” Discuss “Won't You Be My Neighbor?”

The director of the forthcoming Mr. Rogers documentary sits down with the longtime Mr. McFeely and Pittsburgh Magazine.

Comments

Pittsburgh Teen Chess Phenom to Host Her First-Ever Tourney

Pittsburgh Teen Chess Phenom to Host Her First-Ever Tourney

Chess enthusiast Ashley Lynn Priore hopes to enrich the Steel City’s involvement in one of the most classic and challenging of board games.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Lorelei Will Open in the Former Livermore/Pines Space

Lorelei Will Open in the Former Livermore/Pines Space

The owners of Independent Brewing Company and Hidden Harbor plan to bring a beer hall and cafe to East Liberty.

Comments

An Inclusive Community Breaks the Ramadan Fast at Salem's Market & Grill

An Inclusive Community Breaks the Ramadan Fast at Salem's Market & Grill

The Strip District restaurant draws a diverse community to its nightly ifṭār buffet.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best Places to Introduce Children to the Performing Arts

Best Places to Introduce Children to the Performing Arts

When you see a show at one of these organizations, you may enjoy it as much as the children.

Comments

The 4 Best Sports to Try This Spring in Pittsburgh

The 4 Best Sports to Try This Spring in Pittsburgh

Looking to switch up your physical activity now that it finally feels like spring? We found four sports you can play locally that you may never have considered.

Comments


Highmark Stadium Struggles To Accommodate Music Fans

Highmark Stadium Struggles To Accommodate Music Fans

The Station Square venue could be a good place to see a concert. It's not there yet.

Comments

Take a Tricky Trip To Mars at Escape Room 51

Take a Tricky Trip To Mars at Escape Room 51

The new escape room in Pleasant Hills is a great game for newer players.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Here We Go? Steelers Have More Than a New England Issue This Time

Here We Go? Steelers Have More Than a New England Issue This Time

At this time last year the Steelers perceived themselves, and rightfully so, as a team that was a mere win over the Patriots away from returning to the Super Bowl. This year, the focus is elsewhere.

Comments

Surprising Pirates Proving to be an Acquired Taste This Season

Surprising Pirates Proving to be an Acquired Taste This Season

For the time being, at least, fans continue to send owner Bob Nutting a message wrapped in apathy.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

The 400-Word Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

The Star Wars series experiments with telling an origin story, with mixed results.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

The 400-Word Review: Pope Francis: A Man of His Word

The careful documentary is a valuable document of the pontiff's philosophy. As a film, there are issues.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Wine Classes Keep the Pre-Wedding Celebration Classy

Wine Classes Keep the Pre-Wedding Celebration Classy

Palate Partners School of Wine & Spirits offers a chance for brides- and grooms-to-be to explore libations before (or instead of) a night on the town.

Comments

He Recovers from Stroke to Officiate Granddaughter's Wedding

He Recovers from Stroke to Officiate Granddaughter's Wedding

It was always Ashley Watkins’ dream to have her grandfather perform her wedding ceremony — but a serious illness almost got in the way.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
From Milan to Pittsburgh: These are the Kitchen Concepts of the Future

From Milan to Pittsburgh: These are the Kitchen Concepts of the Future

Local interior designer Lauren Levant traveled to Italy for the influential Salon del Mobile show featuring the latest innovations in the furniture and design industry. With an emphasis on quality over quantity, these are the kitchen concepts she says will be making their way stateside.

Comments

Get Creative: Pittsburgh Podcast Inspires 'Girl Bosses'

Get Creative: Pittsburgh Podcast Inspires 'Girl Bosses'

Thinking about starting a creative business but don't know where to start? From photography to interior design, Gamechangers, the new podcast from local textile designer Savannah Hayes, gives a behind-the-scenes look at the design industry from the female perspective.

Comments