The old adage says, "Don't judge a book by its cover." In honor of Charleston beer week we ask, can that saying be translated into, "Don't judge a beer by its label?"
If so, we apparently don't do a good job of adhering to it. According to studies from the Nielsen Company, Clemson University, and Anglia Ruskin University in the UK, design is the single most important factor affecting how consumers decide which new craft beer to purchase.
Though there are conflicting opinions on what specifically makes a label appealing, the broader conclusion is simple: Bold, interesting packaging sells. So who better to design bold and interesting labels than visual artists?
Local artist Chris Kemp has become one of the premier illustrators on Folly Beach, designing logos and flyers for everyone from the Warrior Surf Foundation to Chico Feo to the Folly Beach Farmers Market. He's also designed apparel for McKevlin's Surf Shop and it was here, by happenstance, that he met Revelry Brewing co-owner Sean Fleming. "Sean came in to buy a board one day," says Kemp. "And I kind of sold myself and we realized we had some common threads and I started painting the murals at Revelry."
Kemp is now the creative director at Revelry — when he's not surfing or slinging suds behind the bar — and though he may be new to designing beer labels, he's got some help. "It's a team effort," says Kemp. "I have a really good relationship with all the brewers so we talk about what they're brewing and thoughts are just kind of passed around. Ultimately, it comes down to what's visually compelling."
Graphic designer Jay Fletcher, who designed Revelry's original logo, as well as the logo for one of Mt. Pleasant's new breweries, Two Blokes, has a more direct approach to beer labels. "I design the overarching brand first," he says. "Figure out what the vibe is. Who are we trying to appeal to? The broader brush strokes."
In addition to his work for Two Blokes, Fletcher is also in charge of branding and beer can design for Fatty's Beer Works, opening soon at 1436 Meeting St.
"The way I've always approached beer can design is less is more," says Fletcher. "Make it simple and make it clean."
When Fatty's owner David McLain contacted Fletcher, he already had a concept in mind, centering on a time-traveling brewmaster. The idea has been refined, but the time-traveling character stuck. "We got the captain Fatty guy and with each new beer that they release the captain will have a different hat and a different outfit that will correspond with the name of the beer."
A Charleston resident since 2001, Fletcher thinks local designers have something special to offer the Charleston beer scene. "You can find somebody skilled anywhere and have them do the work but I think there’s an edge a local designer would give it,” he says. “We just understand the vibe of Charleston and what’s going to resonate, who the competitors are. Your head is much more wrapped around the project before you even start if you’re local.”
Helen Rice, co-founder and creative director of Fuzzco, believes in local, too — and she also believes in a solid foundation between designer and brewery. Like Fletcher, Fuzzco has been in partnership with multiple local breweries. They designed the original White Thai can for Westbrook Brewing Company and are still the creative minds behind COAST Brewing Company’s branding.
“A lot of the beer can designs come from collaborations between our designer and COAST themselves,” says Fuzzco project manager Carly Ann Wright. “Based on the name and what kind of imagery the beer evoked for them, we’ll do a couple of different concepts before we settle in on what we’re going to go forward with.”
And the beauty of working with a brewery? Fringe benefits. “Part of our work is trade so we also have a COAST-stacked fridge,” says Wright with a laugh, adding, “You’ve got to know what it tastes like if you’re going to design the label.”
Crosby Jack, label designer for Freehouse Brewery, has been creating murals in the Lowcountry since 2011. A few years after seeing his work all over Charleston, Freehouse Brewery owner Arthur Lucas met with Jack, and was intrigued by what he had to offer. “I brought a shoebox full of beer labels because I had a beer label collection. Hundreds of beer labels that I had been collecting over the past three years,” says Jack.Needless to say, Lucas contracted Jack to design Freehouse’s beer labels.
Describing his meetings at the brewery with Lucas, Jack says, “We smell the beer. We look at it in the light. What’s it taste like when it’s first poured? What’s it like when it warms up?”
Being the hands-on artist he is, Jack creates his labels using the printmaking skills he studied in college. “I do linocuts,” he says. “These aren’t made on a computer. I’m literally sitting down with multiple sheets of linoleum and I’m carving away.”
He then scans the prints and sends them to his partner, Shawn Terpack, who refines them digitally and gets them ready for printing.
Whatever their techniques, Charleston artists seem more than satisfied with their label-making arrangements. Not stifled by their beer pushing partners, they craft customized visuals to best suit their clients. Jack says, “The label should capture the essence of the beer,” noting the competitive convenience store shelves. “You only have a couple of seconds to communicate that essence to the buyer.”