In a saturated beverage market, individual breweries gotta stand out from the pack. If a can catches a customer’s eye, there’s a better chance for a sale. Plus, a cool design makes for a better experience, right?
Here are five local beer makers who consistently crank out cool labels that turn store shelves into art galleries.
Dancing Gnome, 925 Main St., Sharpsburg
When he’s not working the front of the house at Dancing Gnome, Chris Connolly is creating the artwork and layout for the brewery’s distinctive cans.
Typically, the beer comes before the design. Once the recipe is perfected, Connolly sends owner Andrew Witchey a rough draft or offers an existing work from his extensive backlog of ready-to-go ideas. Dancing Gnome has also employed the talents of Maralynn Jacoby at Bear Left Bear and street artist Don’t Fret to create eye-popping masterpieces.
“My favorite label is probably Swingin’ at Strangers,” Witchey says. “It’s just so ’90s it hurts, but still is within our branding space.”
Voodoo Brewing Co., 205 E. 9th Ave., Homestead
With locations in Homestead and New Kensington, Meadville-based Voodoo Brewing Co. has Tom Ness to thank for its quirky can art. Ness finds inspiration in TV shows, movies, conversations with co-workers and even his dog, who is featured on the brewery’s “They’re good hops, Brent” can.
Most often, the folks at Voodoo start out with a name, and then brewer Curt Rachocki formulates a brew to match it. Other times, the suds maker will describe the beer to Ness. If it’s light and bright with tropical notes, they move the art in that direction.
“I feel very accomplished when Mike Stacy, head of our packaging at Voodoo, comes to me and says the label makes him feel weird,” Ness says. “Calves Like Diamonds or Empty Calories would be in this group. I also usually use bolder colors on these labels, which makes it more fun for me, visually.”
Grist House Craft Brewery, 10 E. Sherman St., Millvale and 301 Sgt. Messerschmidt Rd., Collier Township
Grist House Marketing Manager Bailey Allegretti moonlights as a beer can Picasso. But rather than using paint and brush, she relies on her computer to help generate ideas.
“I often spend hours Googling word combinations looking for inspiration,” she says. “Maybe this is why I do so many landscapes; I find them very calming after a few hours with no ideas.”
Some older designs, which she thought would sit in her drafts folder forever, ended up as a perfect fit for new beers. The just-released Pineapple Hazedelic Juice Grenade exploded on social media, as did the Kaboom/Kapow Candy cans.
One of Allegretti’s favorites is Undead Unicorn — although by the end of the design phase, she felt like a zombie.
“I’m pretty sure that label took me longer than any other label I’ve ever done,” she says. “Originally the background was a forest and I just couldn’t get it to look right, so, thankfully, I scrapped it for the creepy greyscale wheat field you see in the final image. The forest background didn’t go to waste though; I used it for the Zwicked label a few months later!”
Inner Groove Brewing, 751 E. Railroad Ave., Verona
Inner Groove Brewing, named after the spot on a vinyl record where bands place hidden tracks, pours musically themed beers and has its own “graphic DJ” in artist Steve Meyer.
Meyer takes into account the type of beer, ingredients, color and current climate for his designs. Meanwhile, his longtime friends, owners Kevin and Jennifer Walzer and Tim and Kelly Melle, throw out song and album titles, lyrics or anything that jives with the new brew.
The Ephemeral Style label, which includes likenesses of the four owners, is a nod to the Gorillaz’s album “Demon Days.”
“The most difficult part of the process is respecting the original creative ideas around the music and album art, then coming up with a spin on it that is new and related to the creativity which already exists in the brewing process,” Kelly Melle says. “The art and the brewing coexist as one piece.”
Insurrection AleWorks, 1635 E. Railroad St., Heidelberg (Strip District location coming soon!)
Brad Primozic, co-owner of Insurrection AleWorks, is a chemist by trade and takes a scientific approach to brewing beer. His friend, Dan Weyandt, a tattooist who fronts the band Zao, provides the art for each offering.
Since they’re both music lovers, product names and can designs often pay tribute to their favorite bands and tunes. The latest release, Captain Trips, is an ode to Jerry Garcia’s hat, which the late singer and guitarist wore on the Grateful Dead’s eponymous debut album.
David Byrne of Talking Heads and the late Rapper Eazy-E were also recently featured on cans as anthropomorphic hop flowers.
Got a favorite beer can designed by a local artist? We’d love to hear about it.