Beer & Art

Beer and art bottles and cans featured

Drinks and the creative industries are synonymous with each other, caught in an existential loop where one inspires the other and so on. This connection was solidified in the 19th century with the emergence of railways and globalisation, and with that the necessity of marketing. Brands began to emerge, and quickly legislation followed to help protect these brands, and in 1875 the Trade Marks Registration Act was passed. Unsurprisingly it was a drinks brand that was the first to register a trade mark. Allegedly an employee of Bass brewery queued up from the small hours of New Year’s Day 1876 to be the very first. That’s how their famous red triangle was born.

With the development of packaging beer into bottles, a whole new canvas was revealed to the art world. Brands had the opportunity to make their products stand out on shop shelves through vibrant and distinctive graphic design. In the mid 20th century this was essentially a method for the small handfuls of massive breweries to mark themselves as distinct from one another. However, as the number of breweries available on our shelves grew exponentially with the revolution of small scale brewing, the importance of this branding grew too. Brands eventually moved away from mere graphic design elements and into the realms of art. Flying Dog famously pioneered this move in 1995 by partnering with Ralph Steadman to produce their labels. Steadman has one of the most distinguishing styles and the labels became an immediate success, with Steadman still producing artwork for Flying Dog to this day. This canvas for artists collaborating with breweries grew even larger with the advent of small scale canning, and now artists have the entirety of a can’s surface to design, not being restricted by the size and shape of a bottle label.

The concept of the can as a canvas has been taken further with breweries taking on house artists for a season and allowing them to express their style through each new release within that season. Similarly, Northern Monk have the ‘Patrons Project’, an entire range dedicated to pairing art and beer. These beers are one-off brews with full can labels designed by talented local artists, with the label being used either to showcase their existing art or a new piece inspired by the beer itself.

Although the opening up of the beer world to extremely artistic branding has been largely positive, there has been an awakening that some of this content can be in poor taste, and at times derogatory. Overtly sexualised images in branding, particularly of women’s bodies, to align with puns in beer names, is thankfully almost a thing of the past. As with all art there is a fine line to be tread between encouraging good taste, and outright censorship. As a community we have to work together to ensure branding and art in beer is still fun, without it being offensive.

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