Famous designers don't booze like you or me. When Jony Ive and Marc Newson get together for a few pints, for example, Newson once told me that they spend most of their time measuring the circumference of the glass. And when Milton Glaser is invited by the New York Times Magazine to set up a lawn chair on its front porch and throw back a few frosty ones, the world famous-designer spends most of his time critiquing the labels on the bottles.
Glaser's no stranger to beer design: he created the Brooklyn Brewery's logo back in 1990. Perhaps that's why he seems fairly critical about the design of the many beer labels he was invited to critique.
He's least kind to the big boys in craft brewing: Smuttynose, Dogfish Head, and Sixpoint. Of the Smuttynose Finestkind IPA, he says that the "old, disreputable geezers" on the label "don't represent sophisticated drinking." Sixpoint's Resin can design is "gratuitous" and features "elements put together [that] aren't really working." And kitty has claws about Dogfish Head's famous 90 Minute IPA:
The surface of this is so unpleasant. It sort of looks lumpy, like food that has gone bad. To me, this is antithetical to the idea of refreshing taste. Even though this violates assumption, it still doesn’t create a sense of anticipation about drinking it.
Of the design of other beer bottles, Glaser adopts a tone ranging from mild wonder to vague incredulity. Of Uinta's Hop Nosh IPA, Glaser says "this is a little bit like a label produced during the '30s ... if my theory about creating affection is true, then that may be enough of an imperative to buy this beer." He compares Evil Twin's Hipster Ale to his recent Mad Men work, then says the can is comparatively "poorly done in terms of its complexity." And to Glaser, Mikkeller's Beer Hop Breakfast design is nothing but "a pseudoprimitive drawing" that "has nothing to do with beer."
So which craft beer labels does Glaser like? He's a big fan of Left Hand's Nitro Milk Stout bottle design, which he describes as being unique in having "no specific beer reference at all. It could be for a pharmaceutical, a hand cream, or anything ... The product is distinguishable from everything else that’s around.” He seems to like the similar red-on-yellow color schemes of Omegang's Witte and Spoetzl's Shiner Bock labels.
But his favorite label, seemingly, is the Ralph Steadman illustrated identity of Flying Dog's Gonzo Imperial Porter:
With this Ralph Steadman drawing, the idea of transgression and resistance and bad taste is raised to its most obvious level. It’s also sort of dealing with masculinity, heroic figures and death. There’s a real narrative. It’s a demonstration that this beer is not playing by the rules.
That's right. Milton Glaser's favorite beer label reminds him of transgression, bad taste, and death. Anyone else get the impression Glaser might be more of a wine man?