All microbrewery aficionados know the beautiful and shiny wonderland that is the craft beer section of a liquor store.
A welcome change from the stifling, uniform bottles of mega brewers, many microbreweries pay close attention to what’s on their labels. Whimsical artwork, modern lettering, vibrant rainbow colors – these cans catch our eye before any bubbles reach our lips.
And, while we know better than to judge a beer by its cover, we can’t help but admire the artwork that Bergen breweries display on their cans. Here’s a look at craft beer label design behind the curtain.
Hackensack Brewing Co., Hackensack
Hackensack Brewing Co. never focused on producing cans until taprooms were closed due to COVID. The brewery only had two canned beers at the time.
In March, they found themselves with full beer kegs that they couldn’t pour into the taproom. So owner Mike Jones brought in his designer, TJ Grom, who worked in the printing house for years, to create art for 12 new boxes.
“It changed our whole business,” Jones says. The brewery is currently engaged in the production of cans.
Each can features a quote printed at the bottom, a Hackensack card incorporated into the background of the design, a Hackensack Brewing Co. logo, and the brewery’s slogan “Peace, Love and Beer”. Cans made during the pandemic carry a “limited edition quarantine can” mark – a detail that landed their cans in the Smithsonian’s American Brewery History Initiative in Washington, DC.
“We want people to instantly know this is our box,” Jones says. “There must be something on it that catches you and shows you it’s from Hackensack Brewing.”
As “The Sack” (the city’s new branding) continues to develop, the brewery hopes to convey a bit of Hackensack history to newcomers through their beer labels, he says. The brewery produced a Clinton Place Imperial Pumpkin Ale, for example – a nod to Hackensack Street, famous for its extravagant Halloween decorations.
Then there are the Easter eggs. Sometimes it’s cartoon references, quotes, or musical calls. Smoke on the Watermelon beer, for example, has the guitar chords at the iconic opening of the song referenced on the label.
“Not everyone gets the referrals, but they might get more. And when they do, they love it, ”Grom says.
“People everywhere can receive a can by trading with another beer lover, so it’s important that the can says something about us,” he adds. “They might never get a chance to come here, but they can see our cans.”
Go: 78 Johnson Ave., Hackensack; 201-880-1768, hackensackbrewing.com.
Bolero Snort Brewery, Carlstadt
Jim Kohl, the designer of the Bolero Snort brewery in Carlstadt, has drawn all his life. “Since I can hold a pencil,” he said.
A big fan of comics, Kohl used to create his own comic – great training for cartoonish bulls (Bolero’s mascot) and wacky designs he would someday do for Bolero labels.
Hula dancing bulls, bulls disguised as Mandalorians and vampires adorned the Bolero beer cans. Even the most understated designs often have hoof prints or a nod to the iconic bull Bolero.
“We produce so many different styles of beer, it’s important for us to differentiate them a bit,” says Kohl. “We want things to be consistent.”
What cohesion? So much so that the Snowbull Fights beer, which Bolero has been producing for three years, has an ongoing snowball fight scene. If you line up the labels for each year, they make a complete scene.
“We really like that art is collaborative, just like our clients are part of the process,” says Kohl. You will often find film references or recalls of old labels on the cans.
“We keep telling ourselves that we are the wonder of the beer world,” he says.
Go: 316 20th St., Carlstadt; 201-464-0639, bolerosnort.com.
Alementary Brewing Co., Hackensack
The look of Elementary Brewing Co. is clean and even – with flashy colors and cool imagery, befitting the science-themed owners Mike Roosevelt and Blake Crawford cultivated in their Hackensack Brewery.
“We have a point of view that we try to convey with the cans,” says Roosevelt.
The Alementary logo – which looks like an atom, a nod to Roosevelt’s past career as a molecular biologist (Crawford was a chemical engineer) – is prominent on all boxes. Sometimes a splashy design hugs the bottom of the box and the top stays clean and white. Sometimes the whole box is full of artwork.
Matt Faustini has been on the Elementary labels for years. He graduated in graphic design and worked for Marvel Comics. Fustini’s designs have evolved beyond the formula labels that Elementary used when it first opened to incorporate more whimsical and eye-catching designs.
One of Roosevelt’s favorites is a Baltic Porter called Warship, which was named after a 17th century shipwreck that was recently discovered in the Baltic Sea. The beer label shows a strange sunken ship in hues of black and gold, of course, finished with the well-known Allynary logo.
Go: 58 Voorhis Lane, Hackensack; 201-464-0639, bolerosnort.com.
Magnify Brewing Company, Fairfield
Eric Ruta, owner of Magnify Brewing Company and a native of Ridgewood, describes his brewery’s labels as bold and clean.
Stefano Salvatore – an old friend of Ruta who grew up in Wyckoff and now lives in Mahwah – has been making brewery labels for years. Designs take around three to eight hours and are a collaborative process between Salvatore and Ruta.
“There is a lot of consistency, themes common to all of our labels,” says Ruta. “If you use a cooler on your friend’s barbecue and it has a lot of different brands in it, you’ll know right away which can a Magnify beer is, even if you don’t know that specific label.”
You can recognize a Magnify can by the bold lettering that runs the length of the can, declaring the name of the beer, or by the clean patterns, stripes, or faded colors that brighten up the background.
“I think beer is by far the most important thing,” says Ruta. “But now, with so many breweries and so much competition, the label definitely has to look cool and be eye-catching. Labels and graphics are another way for us to get creative and create something we’re proud of, just like the liquid inside the can. “
Go: 1275 Bloomfield Avenue, Building 7, Unit 40C, Fairfield; magnifybrewing.com.
Brewing of the town of Brix, small ferry
You never know what you’ll get with a Brix City design.
Acid Blend Grape Tangie – one of Brix’s recent breweries – has a rich purple 70s-inspired label with a groovy pattern. The Heady Jams can is dripping with neon sugar skulls. The Fit For a Queen brew features a reclining queen in the style of a playing card. Do you see what we mean?
The most cohesive collection of Brix beers, says managing director Gabe Campregher, is the “Jams” series, which includes Blueberry Jams, Strawberry Jams, Mango Jams and more. Each fruity “jam” has a similar “trippy” aesthetic, Campregher says, covered in wavy psychedelic fruit.
So, indeed, it’s hard to put a label – pun intended – on Brix Can Art, designed by James Foley. But we’ll give it a try: if your beer looks like it was crafted by some color-obsessed jam band enthusiast, it’s probably from Brix.
Go: 4 Alsan Way, Little Ferry; 201-440-0865, brixcitybrewing.com.
Rebecca King is a food writer for NorthJersey.com. To learn more about where to dine and drink, please subscribe today and subscribe to our North Jersey Eats Newsletter.
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