Tag Archives: Beer Labels

Hey Ontario, nice cans!

As alluded to in my last post there is an abundance of craft beers in cans here in Ontario. As such, I thought I would honour this aluminium art form by showcasing a smattering of the inspired graphics I spotted at my local LCBO.

Personal favourites include the Spark House Red Ale (simple uncluttered design but quite memorable), the Hogtown Ale (reminds me a bit of Russell Blood Alley Bitter and home …sigh) and the Top Shelf Classic Lager (bring on playoff hockey this can screams at me).

Also kudos to the LCBO employees for not having the picture-taking nutter removed from the premises.














The Art of the Beer Label – BC Edition

I have decided to revisit one of my favourite blog topics, the art of the beer label, this time with an eye to what the creative brewers in British Columbia have chosen to adorn their bottles.

Not surprisingly there is a huge range of styles and themes chosen to represent the beer within. So let’s take a look at just a few of the bottles from our beautiful province and see if we can discover what the labels tell us about the brewery.


Phillips Brewing Company

Phillips Brewing Company seems to employ every style under the sun and every colour in the spectrum when it comes to their beer labels.  One thing with the Phillips labels, though artistic, they do not always feel reflective of the beer you are about to drink – Train Wreck for instance, with its’ Deco imagery, feels like it would be more at home on the cover of an Ayn Rand novel than a barley wine. Always inventive, if busy, I tend to feel like I love em’ or hate em’ when it comes to Phillips labels.

Phillips Trainwreck Barley Wine

Phillips Pandamonium Label




Driftwood Brewery

Driftwood Brewery tends to mix-it-up now and then with their labels moving from the naturalistic palette and colours employed in their standard lbeer line-up to more cheeky or edgy takes on their seasonal beers. Driftwood does a really good job of reflecting the beer style in the label. Personally, I think the Sartori harvest label is one of the nicest labels around.

Driftwood Sartori Harvest





R&B Brewing Co.

R&B Brewing Co. is another brewer that seems to employ a ‘do what you feel’ kind of attitude when it comes to their labels arguably with mixed results. One of the tough things for me is the colours and style of the R&B logo always seem at odds with the rest of the graphics. That being said I really like their seasonal Auld Nick label.


East Side Bitt R&B




Howe Sound Brewing

I have to admit I usually do not get what Howe Sound is going for with their labels aesthetically. I mean, I get the literal interpretation of the beer name, i.e. scotch ale on a tartan background, but I feel like their choice of labels lacks an overarching vision. That being said I think the Mega Destroyer label really nailed the spirit of the beer within.

Howe Sound Mega Destroyer


Howe Sound High Tide



Parallel 49 Brewing Company

Okay so personal preference here but Parallel 49’s whole cartoon-ish Sailor Jerry carnival theme just does not work for me; however, I can appreciate that they have obviously put some serious thought into the aesthetic they want to present to consumers. It feels very lighthearted like you should never take the beer inside too seriously.


Ruby Parallel 49




Hoyne Brewing

Far and away my favourite beer labels come from Hoyne Brewing Co. Artistic and playful but never derivative, Hoyne manages to walk that elusive balance between too much of any one thing while maintaining a core imagery that still lets the consumer know this is a Hoyne beer. The tie to the beer is subtle but present. Great colours, great lay outs, great use of fonts, great job!



Hoyne Devil's Dream



Vancouver Island Brewery

Vancouver Island Brewery has one of those label campaigns that feels a bit like we’ve been there and done that in terms of the graphics (a little bit Driftwood and a little bit Phillips). At the same time I do like their layouts, colour choices and the way they provide information on the beer inside. VIB always employs colours that embody the beer within i.e. Marzen with rich, fall tones. The Christmas label still creeps me out though.






Russell Brewing Company

Russell Brewing Company has often opted for the no-label label with their specialty and/or beers in a way that I think works very, very well. In particular, the Blood Alley Bitter and the Russian Imperial Stout are a couple of the best bottles out there showing a great use of font, placement and negative space to create memorable bottles. I feel like the aesthetic choices they make really marry the beer styles within.

Russell Black Death Porter Russell Blood Alley Bitter Russell Russian Imperial Stout

Raspberry vs Blackberry – It’s Gonna Get Fruity in Beer

Steamworks Brewing Company Frambozen

Steamworks? In Bottles? Oh yes, you read that correctly. For those days when you just don’t want to haul your growler to Gastown for a refill, you can now pop into your favourite craft beer retailer and pick up a 650ml.


Here is a bit of information from the press release:

“Available for purchase August 27, 2012, Steamworks Pale Ale and the Steamworks Pilsner aim to bring the brewpub experience home with their refreshing and crisp craft brews. On a seasonal basis, Steamworks Brewing Company will also be releasing limited edition beers in 650mL bottles, including popular Frambozen, Wheat Ale, Heroica Oatmeal Stout and its highly coveted Pumpkin Ale.”



As any review of Steamworks new bottled brews would be amiss if it did not give recognition to their incredible label (or no-label) design work, here is a bit more from the press release:

“Adding to the excitement, Steamworks Brewing Company also enters the market as the first beer to feature the design of esteemed creative team, Laurie Millotte and Bernie Hadley-Beauregard of Brandever, one of the country’s most irreverent and popular wine label designers. Brandever’s work includes designs for Blasted Church winery, Monster Vineyards and Laughing Stock. In stores this week, Steamworks bottles feature whimsical and stylized Steampunk inspired images combined with Vancouver landmarks, brewery nuances and of course, steam.”

As an aside, I think I am going to make these bottles into Christmas lights -they are just that cool!



Oh yeah and there is beer in the bottles as well so let’s get our fruit on…

Frambozen pours a brilliant red colour with golden tones and very little head, which quickly departs. It is all about the berry on the nose, it is very light bodied, clean to drink with just the slightest hint of bitterness on the finish. Like the nose, raspberry really dominates everything else palate wise. I wish there had been more body to this beer and some tartness from the berries. Somehow the raspberry takes on an almost artificial quality, like raspberry flavour instead of real berry taste, but that’s an issue I have with lots of fruit beers. I had tried Frambozen at the Great Canadian Beer Festival and I really liked it so I assumed I would still enjoy it but somehow the bottled experience did not quite live up to the freshly tapped keg. Overall not a bad beer, a good summer sipper, but I would probably try it on draught over bottle.


Townsite Brewing Blackberry Festivale

So what is the new brewer on the block bringing to the table? A Blackberry Wheat Beer called Blackberry Festivale.

For those of you in self-imposed beer exile, Townsite Brewing Inc. is located in a historic building in the beautiful town of Powell River, British Columbia. The inaugural keg tapped on March of this year. They have four core beers in their line-up a Porter, a Wheat, an IPA and a Golden Blonde with seasonal offerings like the Blackberry reviewed below. According to their (fantastic) website the people behind Townsite are committed to:

1. Brew world-class beers
2. Promote beer culture and the responsible enjoyment of beer
3. Use sustainable business practices
4. Promote local economy and regional self-reliance
5. Support environmental stewardship and social responsibility
6. Kindle social, environmental and cultural change



First up, I have to give Townsite kudos for their vintage, art nouveau-esque label that incorporates lots of fun elements, nice fonts and an image of the historic building where the brewery is located. I love that all the newbies popping up throughout BC have made an effort to brew great beer and package it in great bottles. For me, this berry rumble almost became a battle of bottle aesthetics but I am easily distracted by pretty colours.

Blackberry Festivale comes in a 650ml and weighs in at 5.5% ABV. It is a wheat beer at heart. Festivale pours a cloudy amber gold with tons of white head (and I mean REALLY white head, like unearthly, glow-in-the-dark, Hollywood actress teeth white) that never really wants to leave. You get the requisite wheat beer nose with lots of yeast and spicy notes. Flavour wise you still are pretty much solidly in the wheat beer realm with this cloying sweetness that must be the blackberry influence; however, my entourage all agreed that this is a ‘barely berry’ beer. By this I mean unless I saw the raining blackberries on the label I might have missed the fact it was a fruit beer and I definitely could not discern blackberry as the fruit involved. Yeasty on the finish. Not bad as a wheat beer but I am not feeling this ‘just add fruit’ mantra since I find the wheat character often overpowers other elements.


Ding, ding, ding, our winner is…

If you feel the need to go berry, I have to give my recommendation to Steamworks Frambozen.

Women and Beer, in Beer, of Beer

The other day I was listening to Under the Influence on CBC Radio and the topic was sex and advertising. The host, Terry O’Reilly, made reference to Old Milwaukee’s decision to revive the brand by introducing the Swedish Bikini Team. While this ploy did in fact pique interest in the beer it also created problems behind the scenes where the female workers at the brewery felt a hypocritical stance was being taken; sexual harassment is not okay in the work place but bikini clad blondes were the perfect spokespeople for the brand.

Old Milwaukee insisted they were merely parodying the cliché T&A beer ads of the eighties BUT the parody still incorporated beautiful women with ample T&A front and centre (and rear I suppose). Somewhat skeptical of this rationale, the female workers sued the company.











I believe it is fair to say women have a complicated relationship with the brewing world.

Beer for Chicks

Historically, the purveyance of beer was the exclusive work of women. According to a post from The Beer Chronicles, in the ancient world there was a law making it illegal for men to make or sell beer. Moving into the Middle Ages brewing was just another chore considered to be women’s work. So what changed? Well the Industrial Revolution mechanized and ultimately commoditized the manufacture of beer and ipso facto brewing now became the sole domain of men. This gender segregation between domesticity and economy would have long lasting repercussions.




When women once again found a role in the beer world it was not in an enviable or equitable position. The big mass market brews found that the one of the other things (aside from beer and football) that appealed to Joe six-pack was women in varying degrees of very small clothing. At this point in time, women and beer meant babes in bikinis or Bavarian costumes not babes as brewmasters or beer judges.










As the craft beer scene began to take root many women, previously alienated from the beer market, once again picked up their steins and said me too!

Conference Poster for Women Brewers












According to Realbeer.com, women drink an impressive 25% of the beer sold in the United States and this percentage only continues to rise. Blogs like Girls Love Beer Too, Women Enjoying Beer, and Daughters of Beer draw attention to the fact that, wait a minute, women appreciate beer as much as their male counterparts. There are courses and associations entirely devoted to educating women and increasing our presence on the brewing scene. According to the website chicks love beer the first microbrewery founded by a woman opened in Pennsylvania in 1987. There are literally women in every aspect of the brewing world from distribution, to importation, to sales, to cicerones.

Bavarian Babe

















Yet somehow the tired cliché of the Bavarian bombshell seems unwilling to die out.

Let’s take a for instance. As a recent volunteer at a local beer fest I was given what I assume was the girl’s version of the server shirt. Small and tight with a deep vee –one version even sported a subtle reference to ‘cans’. Many craft brewers continue to produce beer labels depicting scantily clad women. To be fair, one could make the argument that these depictions are artistic or satirical or kitsch but one point to consider is why we feel we need to equate beer with a sexy woman: beer is a consumable product, it is an indulgence, it is used and then it is thrown away. Beer for thought perhaps?

Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp












*Thanks to http://www.cbc.ca/undertheinfluence/season-1/2012/04/21/sex-in-advertising-1 and countless beer blogs and blog posts about women, for women and by women.

Staring into The Abyss

The Abyss 2010 Reserve

It has been awhile since I wrote a post entirely devoted to one beer but it has also been awhile since I had a beer so memorable that I wanted to devote a post entirely to said ale – the proverbial chicken and the egg paradox for beer if you will. I have been staring at my bottle of The Abyss for quite some time now waiting patiently for the best after date to come about. Every time I opened the cupboard there it was but no I could not drink it yet; so I waited, and waited, and then on a cold and rainy Saturday I finally opened it. Here is the description from Deschutes: “It’s dark. It’s deep. It’s mysterious. This imperial stout has immeasurable depth inviting you to explore and discover its rich complex profile. The flavour of this special brew draws you in further and further with each sip. The Abyss beckons. Enjoy the journey.”

The Abyss 2010 Reserve from Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon is a stout brewed with liquorice and molasses with 33% aged in oak and oak bourbon barrels. This stout clocks in at a hefty ‘winter warmer’ 11% ABV, and the beer comes in a black wax sealed bottle with a best after date so the drinker can enjoy the benefits of the bourbon cask aging. The Abyss has a great label, which gives the impression that fine aged ale lay within through its interesting use of texture and colour as well as the spartan amount of detail. It is one of the bottles that you just have to pick up and read. The Abyss pours a deep black with a big caramel head. Immediately you get a sweet molasses nose with hints of roasted coffee and something reminiscent of the nose on a nice whiskey. The mouthfeel is cloyingly sticky and heavy with a big molasses taste; full bodied is an understatement here. Interestingly the molasses flavour lingers in your mouth long after you finish. This is one of those beers that really needs to breathe and warm up to be fully appreciated. As time passes more subtle tastes come to the forefront such as, sweet liquor and earthiness. There is a real bitterness to this stout that mellows out as you drink. The high ABV can really stand up to the strength of the molasses where a lesser beer could easily have been overwhelmed. Overall a near-perfect winter quaff the kind that warms you from the inside out and feels like a meal in a glass.


It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (for Beer!)

It is dark, cold and rainy in Vancouver and that can only mean good news for beer enthusiasts because the seasonal ales are finally here again. The fast approaching holiday season seems to bring out the kid in all of us -beer drinkers and brewers alike. That time when we want to spice things up, ramp up the roasted malts, kick up the ABV, lovingly cask our beers in winter spirits like rum and brandy, sprinkle in a little dried fruit and add a titch of vanilla to create those ever so wondrous winter ales. Not to mention the plethora of fantastic (and cheeky) beer names and labels that adorn these seasonal creations. To kick off a series of blog posts relating to the wonder that is winter beer I thought I would give my top twelve seasonal beer names (not to be confused with my top twelve stocking stuffers):

1)      Ridgeway Santa’s Butt Holiday Porter AND Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout AND Seriously Bad Elf (three-way tie from the creative folks at Ridgeway)

2)      BrewDog There is No Santa

3)      Full Sail Wassail

4)      Blue Ridge Snowball’s Chance Winter Ale

5)      Deschutes Jubelale

6)      Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve AND Yellow Snow

7)      Moylan’s White Christmas

8)      Boulder Never Summer Ale

9)      Odell Brewing Company’s Isolation Ale

10)   R&B Brewing Co. Iceholes Celebration Lager

11)   Leavenworth Snowblind

12)   Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig

*Honourable mention to the Hanukkah themed He’Brew Jewbelation

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(Mis)adventures in Homebrewing – The Final Class

Creative Labels from my Classmates

Well last night was the big finale, the epic showdown, the battle royale or more accurately the night we finally got to sample our homebrews. So did it go well? Short answer: No, not really. Long answer: We learned many important lessons about the potential pitfalls in homebrewing – not sure this is making me feel better yet but time heals all wounds even pride. To be fair it was not an unmitigated disaster, some of us had highly drinkable beers and none of us had anything so repugnant that we poured it down the drain. But somewhere in this homebrew middle ground, or beer limbo if you will, there were definitely a range of interesting tastes and smells. I think the most surprising thing for me was despite all following the same recipe we ended up with different tasting beers. This can be partially explained by the fact we did not all stick to the recipe exactly; one person dry hopped their beer, one used honey for their primer, and another got creative with two different sugars. As we learned later, many other variables can impact the final taste. To begin our tasting we went over some of the common descriptors used in judging beers and got evaluation sheets to assess our beers. We sampled all of the beers and discussed the different qualities we were getting. What follows are my notes on the individual beers (based on the class recipe*) bolstered with comments from our instructor Adam and the other class members:

Beer Aroma Appearance Flavour Mouthfeel Overall Impressions
1 Subtle hops, fruity (banana like); quickly dissipates Light amber orange-red; slight cloudiness, nice head retention; off-white head Slight hop bitterness on the finish; nice malt/hop balance Light body; little carbonation Could use more hop presence

Fixes: hop pellets, higher fermentation temp, different grains

2 Malty sweetness with an almost floral hop element Lighter amber more orange than red; slight cloudiness; good head and lacing Nicely balanced with more bitterness than the first beer; clean Slight creamy or slick taste (possibly diacetyl); a bit of astringency Better hop to malt balance

Fixes: Change yeast to accommodate low fermentation temperature

3 Sweet fruit, apple like nose Golden-orange; minimal head retention Fruit again but not sweet more like fermented fruit; metallic taste Little carbonation; slightly astringent; dry A distinctly different taste than the first two beers

Fixes: Sanitation issue

4 Sweet, fruity with nutmeg on the nose; Spicy Medium Amber; Nice head but did not linger; sedimenty Hop at the forefront that gives way to a burnt aftertaste More body than the other beers; dry Definite spice,  heavier all around beer, stronger

Fixes: Lower fermentation temperature

5 Banana, fruit nose; little hop Medium Amber; too much carbonation at opening; somewhat clear; off-white head Sweet maltiness; prominent hop; Phenolic elements (plastic, medicinal) Light body; lots of carbonation A taste element that should not be present

Fixes: Sanitation issue

6 Pleasant subtle hop nose with a different sweetness Golden-orange; clear with off-white head; good head retention Strong honey taste; hops not a strong element; too sweet Light body; very clean to drink Feels immature but unique with the honey taste

Fixes: Longer fermentation

*Two class members opted to make spiced beers; one made a pumpkin beer and the other used cardamom and mace.

Closing thoughts on my first homebrewing experience: I am glad that I took a course to give me some experience before brewing my first beer at home. As a hands-on learner I really need to see the process and participate to fully understand. In some ways I almost feel like the class gave me too much ‘other’ information since there are a lot of technical terms, variations in equipment and differing techniques one may use but this does not all have a direct bearing on that task at hand. For me, this was my first time even seeing homebrewing equipment so I was as green as one could get. I will definitely try another hombrew recipe but I am not sure I will ever endeavour to be a hardcore homebrewer. Don’t get me wrong it is a lot of fun; however, I feel like I would have enjoyed the process a lot more if I had access to a bigger space and more equipment. Perhaps next time I will just jump the queue and try my hand at commercial brewing : ) Also, I am a bit of a fickle beer geek; I get bored of even my most favourite beers rather quickly and I want to be constantly stretching and challenging my palate. Next time I will brew a smaller batch so I do not end up with sixty-six of the same thing. In many ways the class made me want to head in the direction of beer judging (those who can’t brew judge?) I really enjoyed learning the vocabulary to accurately describe what I am tasting and smelling when I drink a beer. In the meantime I am going to revisit my homebrew to see if I get lucky with another bottle…

The Art of the Beer Label

I have a confession to make: when I am unsure about which new beer to try I often pick the one with the most creative label and conversely (and perhaps more detrimentally) I often avoid brewers with less-than-stellar aesthetic sensibilities. Despite how often we are plied with the euphemism to not judge a book by its cover we just darn go ahead and do it anyway. Part of this is necessity; if we were allowed to pour a sample glass before buying a bottle or can we could judge a beer using all of our available senses. But this is perhaps the fevered dream of an as-yet-unbuilt beer utopia… As such this post will be grounded in cold hard truths of reality and entirely devoted to some of my favourite beer labels.

Taste is subjective. What I appreciate in a beer label may not be what you enjoy, and this is good thing since brewers express themselves in a myriad of ways from the fairy-tale beauty of Pretty Things, to the adverserial taunting of Stone, to the medeival nerdiness of Russian River. So what do I like in beer labels? I am not sure I can put my finger on any unifying stylistic elements but I do admire many differing qualities including but not limited to simplicity, clean lines, creative use of colour, witty banter, historical references, an overarching theme and perhaps above all an effort to stand out from the (six) pack. What follows are some of my favourites in no particular order:

How to Read your Beer Labels or WTF do all those Abbreviations mean?

As an avid beer drinker sometimes I am dismayed by my complete and utter ignorance when it comes to deciphering beer labels. As a beer blogger this ignorance is blissfully overlooked as you become some sort of de facto expert by proxy of sounding like an actual expert.

But my inadequacies came to the surface the other night when someone casually asked about the presence of Plato on our beer selection.  Apart from the degree of philosophical discussion that may arise once said beer has been consumed I was at a loss. This got me to thinking about the other abbreviations that adorn beer labels -I presume for some purpose other than filling up space. The brewer and the name of the beer are a gimme, this is also true for the bottle deposit but what could I learn from the other shorthand?


ABVAlcohol by Volume. This indicates how much alcohol is in the bottle. Ethanol is the type found in fermented  beverages but other types also appear in beer in small quantities. The higher the alcohol, the more rich and complex the beer tends to be. High alcohol beers also often have a thicker, smoother mouthfeel.

IBUInternational Bittering Units. The accepted method of expressing hop bitterness in beer.  This refers to the amount of dissolved iso-alpha acids (bitter hop resins) present in the beer given in parts per million (ppm). Essentially, the higher this number, the more hoppy the beer.

FGFinal Gravity. This is a measure of the density of the beer at the time of bottling and is used to determine the alcohol content of the fermented beer. Sometimes you’ll see the term Apparent Attenuation (AA), which refers to the difference in original and final gravity.  Attenuation is the degree to which residual sugars have been fermented out of a finished bottle.

Plato – European and American scale of gravity based on a percentage of pure sugar in the wort.  This indicates the ratio of fermentable sugars to water in the beer. It’s based on the specific gravity and is given in degrees. A newer, more accurate version of the Balling scale.

Lovibond, SRM, or EBC – All terms describing the color of beer. Lovibond is a beer and grain colour measuring system that compares vials of beer to vials of coloured liquids. SRM (Standard Reference Method) is expressed as ten times the optical density of beer as measured at 430 nm in a spectrophotometer. EBC (European Brewers Convention) is continental standards organization for brewing. EBC is most commonly encountered as a term applied to malt colour. For all scales, the higher the number, the darker the beer.

Bottling and Expiration Date – If they list this, beer labels generally give one or the other. With the exception of higher alcohol beers meant for aging, beer is generally good for about one year after the bottling date. If the expiration date is given, this means that the brewer feels the beer will not be at its best after that date.  With the introduction of cask beers there is an increasing amount of beers sporting a Best After date as well.

Other information that can be found on beer labels includes, but is not limited to, serving temperature, recommended glassware, storage recommendations, food pairings, brewery information (address, website etc.), ingredients, musings, government warnings on the dangers of alcohol consumption etc.


And just for fun…


The collecting of beer bottle labels. — labeorphile, n. 


The study of beer bottle labels. —meadophile, n. 


The collecting of cardboard beer coasters. —tegetologist, n.


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