2018’s best craft beer label designs.
2018 saw the craft beer boom continue apace, with the artwork adorning cans and bottles reaching new heights of creativity—these are Caña magazine’s top picks of the year.
Edit: The comprehensive 2019 edition of the very best in beer art and design is now available on canamagazine.com
Creativity in craft beer is at an all-time high. In the tanks, but on the outside too; label design turning art-form as more and more of the world’s top breweries are pairing with artists and progressive design talent. From label designs that could stand alone as conceptual artworks to daring aesthetics that define a brand, as the craft beer juggernaut rolls on, its relationship with the arts rattles alongside at a gathering pace; beer cans are officially the new record sleeve.
Caña is a craft beer magazine with creativity at its core, so we decided to draw up a list of our top designs of 2018. Problem was, there’s been such depth in talent this year, that was an almost insurmountable task. In the name of maintaining our sanity, we restricted our selections to one per brewery—plundering output from those beer makers who consider design as important as bucketloads of hops.
So here we have it: in alphabetical order, one design per brewery, Caña magazine’s top beer label designs of 2018 …
American Solera, Terpy Wet Hop DIPA.
Admittedly a new one on our radar this year, American Solera’s label designs are bold and distinctive, often resembling the sleeve of an early 1990s underground lo-fi record, and standing out from the oft-macho crowd of American craft beer with the soft-edged whimsy that aesthetic delivers.
Aeronaut Brewing, King Louie DIPA.
Aeronaut’s can art is heavily informed by the world of comic books, and this riotous number by artist Raul the Third was the cream of their 2018 crop—a boisterous bundle of brilliance.
Alefarm Brewing, Reach DIPA.
The reputation of Denmark’s Alefarm has soared this year, with artist Dan Johnstone’s ethereal artwork a mainstay throughout a clutch of excellent beer releases. Always beautifully composed, this label’s haunting undertones confirm Reach as our pick of the bunch.
Amundsen Brewery, DDH DIPA Space Tiger.
Teaming up with noted American illustrator, Peter-John De Villiers, Amundsen’s visual language is one of the strongest on the scene—this stonking collaboration with Verdant packing as big a visual punch as the dank 8.5% of juice inside.
Boundary Brewing, Mutual Feelings.
Celebrating their third birthday by brewing an oatmeal pecan vanilla cookie stout with Track, Odyssey, Verdant, Northern Monk, and Deya, artist John Robinson’s signature brushstrokes were at their most evocative on this powerful label design.
Brouwerij West, FA Really IPA.
With art from Shintaro Kago and design from Matt Varnish, Brouwerij West are pushing at the envelope of what can design can be—toying with the restrictive form of labelling, FA Really’s chaotic artwork leads craft beer visuals into a brave new world.
Canopy, Belgian Red Ale With Sour Cherries.
There’s nothing not to love about London brewery Canopy’s approach to can art, combining work from various commissioned illustrators to create playful new creatures with each release—it’s exactly the sort of smile-raising stuff that 2018 was crying out for.
Collective Arts Brewing, 2018 Barrel-Aged Imperial Porter.
Collective Arts—as their name suggests—are acutely aware of the intrinsic link between craft beer and creativity; demonstrated to the nth degree in this seasonal release that sees a limited edition print of Kait Cooper’s label illustration packaged and sold with the beer itself.
CRAK Brewery, After Sauna Pils.
Italy’s CRAK have churned out some nice designs throughout a year that has seen their stock rise across Europe (notably Croccante, a collaboration with Other Half), but this late addition—a December collab with Sleeping Village Brewing—wins out for its perfect colour combos and excellently sloppy illustrative style. Who doesn’t want a crisp pilsner after a sauna?
Cyclic Beer Farm, All of Them.
OK, so this is a cheat, but this Barcelona brewery’s label style is such that an individual design is impossible to pull out—and we simply could not omit this bold and brilliant aesthetic conceived by the excellent Lo Siento. Typifying their no-nonsense rustic approach to beer making, Cyclic’s inimitable stencil labels put their bottles in a league of their own.
DEYA Brewery, Paint it Black.
Cheltenham’s DEYA Brewing Company are one of those outfits whose label designs are consistently on point; choosing one from a raft of 2018 releases is tough business, but this little fella fronting a classic Black IPA (remember those?) just edged it for cuteness alone.
Whilst we can stand by the quality of the contents of all of our other picks, Canada’s Drav might teeter on the edge of what can be defined ‘craft beer’—however in times when more and more traditionally artisan brewers are seeing their core beers picked up by supermarkets and ‘craft’ as a concept continues to seep into the mainstream consciousness, their flawless branding from design studio Wedge is more than worthy of note.
Fat Orange Cat, Vito, The Beer Whale Cat.
So much great work from illustrator Leslie Herman for Connecticut’s Fat Orange Cat Brew Co. this year, his singular style and irresistible furry friends helping the brewery stand out miles from the crowd. (And this is coming from a dog person.) With limited edition screen-prints of this and other designs available from Herman’s online shop, Vito is another example of art and beer crossing over exactly how they should.
Foam Brewers, The Factory.
Vermont’s Foam stand out as one of the very best beers that passed our lips this year (the utterly stupendous Like Clockwork NEDIPA fyi), and their label designs with distinctive cut-outs bring a carefree sense of fun to the table. For this brew inspired by Terry’s Chocolate Orange (seriously), the brewery enlisted Jamie Tam to bring alive his idea of a chocolate orange factory; four different designs brimming with offbeat imagination.
Forest & Main Brewing Company, Cosmic Disillusion.
Brewing out of a small town 16 miles north of Philadelphia, there’s a real air of 1960s counterculture to the artwork of renowned brewery, Forest & Main—the name of this beer a clue to their cosmic intentions. Characterised by soft pastels and hippie leanings, this ominous ode to the otherworld most typifies this brewery’s free-flowing spirit.
Garage Beer Co., Virtue Signal.
Barcelona’s Garage Beer have brought conceptual art to the craft beer kingdom by way of Sevkan Ariburnu’s boundless imagination. Who else has evoked modern life’s meathook reality by slapping raw bovine on a beer label? Whilst Ariburnu has conceived plenty of bona fide winners this year, no other design has been as provocatively unconventional as her work for juice bomb NEIPA, Virtue Signal.
Grimm Artisanal Ales, Rhythm Force Double IPA.
Another new one for the Caña radar in 2018, New York’s Grimm have consistently tantalised with beers and artwork that are equally seductive. This psychedelic bolt of brilliance by artist Gretta Johnson typifying just that above, standing next to a splendidly murky DIPA and brimming with character and effortless cool.
Hacienda Beer Co., It Just Does Weird Things.
It just does weird things. And sometimes that’s all you want a beer label to do.
Hoof Hearted Brewing, Drop the Fries.
Not sophisticated. Far from perfect. Never refined nor stylistically enviable. Always big bags of fucking fun. Hoof Hearted are a brewery that do not take themselves seriously, and this amalgam of Ronald McDonald turned serial killer, Queen Liz, and assorted ’80s rejects is testament to that.
Hudson Valley Brewery, Horizon Loop, Freefall, and Syzygy.
Another minor diversion from our rule, this trio of designs from the brilliant Evan M. Cohen couldn’t be separated—stacked on top of one another, the labels form a kind of ethereal triptych piece that reaches from mountaintop to the sparkling night sky. Consistently brilliant, Cohen’s work for this New York state brewery harks to classic record label design and revels in a soft pastel palette that is unmistakably his own.
LERVIG, House Party.
Nanna Guldbaek’s quirky doodlings for Norway’s unwaveringly excellent LERVIG were one of 2018’s highlights—virtually impossible to choose between, the label for this crushable 4% pale ale edges it for its showy, iridescent stock.
Left Handed Giant Brewing Co., Dream House.
Expansive, involved, and impeccable, this brilliant label is symbolic of James Yeo’s ceaselessly wonderful work for the equally excellent Left Handed Giant. In an illustrative class of his own, Yeo churned out winner after winner throughout the year, and we’re itching to see more from both these Bristol-based beauts in the 12 months ahead.
Mad Hatter Brewing Company, Feed Your Head.
Set up in 2013 with “no money, but lots of crazy ideas”, Liverpool’s Mad Hatter might have ceased trading this year, but not before this collaboration with Wylam showed us exactly what we’ll be missing. Here’s hoping that all those involved return in some form soon.
Magic Rock Brewing, Yeah Yeah Yeah.
Richard Norgate’s singular aesthetic for Huddersfield’s Magic Rock has evolved consistently since it first started turning heads—the crisp and minimal look of this Wylam collab was perhaps his finest moment yet.
Marz Brewing, Pigasus Strawberry Milkshake DIPA.
Chicago’s Marz have hands-down produced some of this year’s most staggering beer artwork. Designs in collaboration with artists Luke Pelletier and Jacob Ciocci could—and should—top any run-down of best beer label designs, but this from one of the world’s top designers, Clay Hickson (whose monthly publication, The Smudge, is probably one of the best things in print), was just too, too damn good for words.
Mikkeller NYC, Marietta Red.
A Godfather of craft beer creativity, Keith Shore’s distinctive style got a surrealist edge when the master of madness, David Lynch, collaborated on a beer inspired by his iconic Wild at Heart.
Misterio Brewing, Crop Circle Farmhouse IPA.
Charlotte Taylor’s impossible geometry for Galician brewery Misterio was one of our discoveries of the year—and, whilst they’ve only bottled three beers and one collaboration thus far, the tone has been set for a design-conscious beer-maker to keep ones eye firmly affixed on.
North Brewing Co., Cobra and Phases.
James Ockelford’s exemplary work for North Brewing is another case of a brewery owning their visual language—instantly recognisable, memorably powerful, this faultless colour coupling clinched it for us.
Northern Monk, Blues Run The Game.
You could take your pick of designs from Northern Monk’s brilliant Patrons project, but this peerless collaboration with illustrator Lucy Ketchin really stood out for us.
Omnipollo, Anniversary Coward.
There’s not much more to say about Omnipollo artist Karl Grandin than has already been said. A true pioneer of bringing art to the beer world, this swastika-crushing homage to the iconic and provocative Yellow Belly is symbolic of the Swedish talent’s visionary work.
Other Half Brewing, Hypersleep.
New York’s Small Stuff consistently come up trumps with blisteringly good design work for Brooklyn’s world-famous Other Half; the drop-dead colours of this stout collaboration with Civil Society—designed in collaboration with Garrett Morin—a real highlight from another winning 12 months.
Stillwater Artisanal, The Shelfie Set.
Stillwater have long been at the forefront of taking beer design to new levels. Whilst this—three individual beers—might be cheating our self-imposed rules, we couldn’t resist honouring it, collectively, as one of the year’s most brilliant labels. Irreverent, innovative, impossible to ignore.
The Veil Brewing Co., Numb.
One of the world’s most highly-regarded breweries, Richmond’s The Veil don’t have a distinctive house style, but that hasn’t stopped them turning out some visual bangers—this eerie celestial number the pick of the bunch.
Tired Hands x Mikkeller, Sneek Peek.
Perhaps another cheat, but seeing as Mikkeller is effectively three different breweries—and that this is a collaboration with Tired Hands—we’ve let it slide. Not least because, like Collective Arts’s earlier entry, Sneek Peek typifies the coming together of beer and art by way of the label itself being a limited edition artwork. A collab between Mikkeller Editions (which sells limited prints of Mikkeller artist Keith Shore’s famous Henry and Sally artworks) and the renowned Pennsylvanian brewery, the six colour Risograph print was limited to 500 copies. Let us raise a glass of blended saison to more real-life art crossovers in the coming 12 months.
To Øl, 1 Ton of… Christmas.
Employing flash photography to focus the subject and blur the background to nothingness, Kasper Ledet’s haunting work for To Øl’s 1 Ton of… series is most notable in this memorably creepy Christmas design. A pioneer of bringing the art world to craft beer design, Ledet continued to inspire throughout 2018, making this a difficult choice that was surely influenced by the time of the year.
Track Brewery, Skyway DIPA.
Manchester’s Track have recently moved on—like everyone else—to cans. Let’s hope it doesn’t distract from the perfect visual presence they’d cultivated with their bottle releases. For us, Skyway just edges it thanks to its colours and casual whimsy. Beautiful.
Verdant Brewing Co., Tu Meke.
Verdant are another of those breweries pairing brilliant beers with brilliant design—yet another impossible pick, the playful irreverence of this pale ale label was contagious enough to bring it to the top of the pile.
Like Brew Your Mind and North Brewing, there’s an essence to the design of Deptford brewery Villages that is inescapable and alluring. Not all breweries are out to make bold statements, and that’s just fine—combining offbeat colours and textures, theirs is an aesthetic that smoulders from the bottleshop shelves.
Whiplash, Eventually DIPA.
If Ireland’s Whiplash were one of the breakout breweries of 2018, designer Sophie De Vere was surely the scene’s breakout artist. A restless collage maker, De Vere’s brilliant cut-ups characterised the flawless output of this Wicklah brewery. Artworks in their own right, Sophie’s designs have been responsible for pushing beer art to new heights.
Wylam Brewery, The Northern Powerhouse Brew Series.
Wylam’s usual can design is as faultless as their brews, but this eight-beer series of collaborations with fellow northern breweries was a cut above—itself a kind of work of art, inspired by and launched to coincide with The Great Exhibition of the North, a three month celebration of northern English art, innovation and culture helmed by the cities of Newcastle and Gateshead.