High Humour and Collaborative Design Mark Canada’s New Beer Logos and Labels
By: James Burt
While it wasn’t long ago that the most unique labels in Canada’s beer commercial outlets were ‘Maximum Ice’ and ‘Lite’, today’s Canadian brewing market is presenting unique, unforgettable names such as ‘Local Hoption’ and ‘Whistlepig Stout’. Along with the intended comedy factor, each label is created to brand a beer that is as individual as the graphic on the can, growler, or bottle.
“A lot of the names come right from creative brewers, as in our case,” said Great Lakes Brewery’s marketing and communications manager Troy Burtch. “Mike Lackey, our brewer, was brewing in small pilots back in 2007 to 2009. In all of his activity, he just got creative with the names and they stuck.”
Great Lakes Brewery has seen success with their staples Pompous Ass English Pale Ale and Swamp Juice Pale Ale blend, both with colourful graphic designs. Like Burtch described, as Great Lakes grew over the last decade, creative labeling has become an intense yet enjoyable collaborative process.
“Our labels for all the new beers are done internally. Once we’ve got a new beer, we come together as a team—marketing, branding, owner, LCBO team—drink a few beers, throw some names off the wall, and see what everyone likes. We get an idea of the name being straightforward, with some cheekiness of course, yet with an approachable title.”
Once the Great Lakes Brewery makes a beer name decision, they turn to a further team to get a desired look for the label with only a few protocols in mind.
“That’s when we have artist Garnett Gerry and graphic designer Fabian Skidmore come in. Both of them worked at the Only Café on the Danforth. Garnett had fun with doodles for beers he had there, and we’ve hired him based on his pictures. Once he gets with Fabian, they dually pound out good imagery for each new batch.”
For many breweries, if an aspect of nerdiness or geek-based jokiness shines through in the names of their beers, it’s intentional.
“Sure, we’re super geeks,” said creative director Brent Braaten of Halifax’s Good Robot Brewing. “But that’s part of the brewery life itself. We hold events onsite such as pinball and video game events. We do silent readings where people come in to read, drink, and only order a beer in a whisper. It’s part of the brewery so it gives us lots of ideas for the new beer names and labels.”
Along with Great Lakes, Good Robot prides itself on graphic collaboration based on experiments in the brew house, along with a few refreshments to help drive creativity.
“We started the brewery with three beers, reflective of the owners,” said Braaten. “Now we’ve got all kinds of experimental beers. Our marketing director Josh Counsel and I drink beer and keep a Google page of drink name ideas. It’s really long and some are better than others. But we always take notes. I akin it to sculpture: you take a formless mass, cut off what you don’t need, and shape it correctly.”
With a backlog of beer titles such as DeWolfe of Wall Street American Pale Ale, Tom Waits for No One Stout, and Mississippi Goddam Barley Wine, Good Robot is looking to experiment further while also re-launching successful concoctions that now have recognizable names within the community.
“Our Shocking Pink Gose Radler was done as a special drink for a queer film festival, and we brought it back twice this past summer based on its popularity. Our brewer bought a whole bunch of Oceanic hops, so he’s got to come up with some new labels for whatever he makes from those. Also, we’re moving into canning and bottling our existing beer along with new ones. That includes one called Extra Big Ass beer…”
Braaten paused before giving a laugh.
“…we’re pretty confident it’ll look good on the shelf!”