Total Pageviews

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Michigan Beer Label Competition, Part 5. Ranks 7-8

Here are the next rankings for the Michigan Beer Label Competition.  The next post will announce the top breweries for labels in Michigan.  The tension is getting too much to bear.  It’s time for a great Michigan beer…

Saugatuck Brewing Company.  Score: 23; Rank: Tied for 8th out of 36.
Four breweries tied for 8th best labels in Michigan.  Saugatuck Brewing Company, in Douglas, began expanding their bottled offerings in the past several years. Now, there are about 10 varieties available to those who know where to look.  The brewery’s mainstay labels are pretty appealing.   The labels have the brewery logo across the top (I like the logo), the beer name in the middle, and a depiction of a scene that relates to the beer name on the bottom.  Many of the beer names celebrate the history of the Saugatuck area and the labels have an explanation of the names and artwork.  This scheme makes for a great regional beer experience. 

The brewery also offers some seasonal and one-time beers.  These labels appear to be developed specifically for the beer and do not follow the format of their mainstays, greatly improving their label variety.  My two favorites are their ode to Western Michigan’s rockabilly queen Delilah DeWylde and the Lost Boys and Continuum IPA.

Dewey Cannon Winery and Brewpub.  Score 23: Rank: Tied for 8th out of 36.
I have to admit that I knew very little about the Dewey Canyon Winery and Brewing Company until recently.  The brewery is located in the Southwest corner of Michigan in the city of Three Oaks.  I don’t think that they sell packaged beer, but they have developed labels for at least 4 beers.

The labels are oval and depict slice-of-life scenes that are related to the beer names and styles. The artwork is detailed and interesting.   I like the label for Dewey Cannon IPA, which depicts a cannon.  This same image is also used on the most of wine labels.  My favorite label from this brewery is Captain Easy, with the twenty-first century blond babe posing in shorts who looks like she should be painted on the side of a World War II bomber. I like the double-meaning for the name.  The only downside to the labels is that neither they nor the website show the ABV%.

Cranker’s Brewery.  Score: 23; Rank: Tied for 8th out of 36.
This brewery, out of Big Rapids, only started producing beer this past year.  Not many of their bottled beers have made to my part of the state, but the ones I have tried are really quite good and will likely improve with time once they start to build a market and can experiment a bit with the beer styles. Their website shows about a dozen types of beers and labels have been developed for them all.   All of the labels follow the same design with a stark black background, the brewery logo across the bottom, and the beer name written around an oval picture.

The artwork for the pictures depicts scenes from the 1920s or 1930s.  The artwork is really interesting and fun.   They had a label competition for their Bulldog Red Irish Ale, and this is the only label that does not fit well with the label scheme, but I like the label regardless. All labels have the alcohol content and the following words: “Bibete Cerevisiam Bonam Hominibus Bonis.”  According to Google Translate this means “Good men who drink beer,” which is very close the brewey's motto “Drink good beer with good people” or in Latin “Bibere bonum cervisiam cum bonus populus.”  Good stuff indeed!

Atwater Brewing Company.  Score: 23; Rank: Tied for 8th out of 36.
Atwater brewing has been a leading brewery in the Detroit area for 15 years.  They make a wide variety of good beers, with about 20 types shown on their website.  The brewery employs one basic labeling scheme that involves the circular brewery logo at the center, four colored spokes radiating out to the label edges, and artwork in the background.  There is lots of variation on this theme including a the normally mellow logo character going nuts on the label of Atwater’s Conniption Fit Double IPA. I found that detail to be quite amusing.

My favorite labels from Atwater, however, are the new ones depicting the hot Detroit beer ladies: Dirty Blonde, Teufel Bock, and Double Down Imperial Amber.  It seems that many Michigan Breweries have chosen to help sell their beer by putting pretty young women on the labels.  I think you can’t go wrong with this marketing technique.   

Oh and by the way, Atwater puts both ABV, IBU, and Plato on their labels.  Prost!

Brewery Vivant.  Score: 24; Rank 7th out of 36.
A relatively new treasure in the Michigan Brewery scene is Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids.  I don’t know what it is about the Grand Rapids area that has led to so many great breweries, but I’m glad I live close enough to visit.  The brewery’s packaged beer is in pint cans, except for their collaboration with New Belgium brewery in Ft. Collins, Colorado (that one is sold in 22 oz bombers).  They have three mainstay beers and several one-off or seasonal beers. All of the labels are shaped like a shield, with artwork that related to the beer name and or style. 

The artwork for the mainstay beers are all stylized Belgium scenes, while the artwork for the others vary substantially.  I particularly like the label for Kl├╝dde Belgian Style Dark Ale, and would love to try that beer.  You can see the label here:

The cans include all sorts of information about the beer, including food pairing suggestions, why the brewery uses cans, alcohol level, and the like. Brewery Vivant’s Zaison is my favorite beer for 2012.  Too bad I can’t find it anymore.

Sorry to stretch this out into yet one more post, but rest assured the next post will reveal the winners.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Michigan Beer Label Competition, Part 4: Ranks 12-14

We are getting very near the end.  This posting reports on the breweries that placed 12th through 14th in the Michigan Beer Label Competition, brought to you by Beer Avatar.

Copper Canyon Brewery. Score: 21; Rank: Tied for 14th out of 36.
The Copper Canyon Brewery, located in Southfield, tied for 14th place with three other breweries.  This brewery does not sell their beer is bottles, at least not widely, but have developed labels for many of their most popular beers. These labels can be found on their website: 

I think their labels are pleasing to the eye, interesting, and have a lot of variety.  My favorite label is the Buffalo Jump Stout, with its Native American theme.   Because these labels are not on bottles or cans, I judged the information content based on the website.  Each beer has a brief description and the ABV% is listed.  I’ve not yet stopped at this brewery, but the beer and food menu look great.

Big Buck Brewery. Score: 21; Rank: Tied for 14th out of 36.
Gaylord’s Big Buck Brewery also tied for 14th in the beer label competition.  The brewery sells a number of their beers in bottles directly out of their retail market.  The labels come in a variety of styles, from simple text with no artwork (e.g., Doc’s Extra Special Bitter), to photo based (e.g., Big Buck IPA), to graphic arts (e.g., Black River Stout).

Some of the labels are very well done and others are just fun.  I particularly like the Buck Naked light label, in part due to the play on words with the brewery name.  All in all, the brewery, website, and labels have a somewhat corporate feel.  The next time I travel up north, I’ll have to make sure to stop by this brewery/restaurant/retail market.    

Frog Island Brewery.  Score: 21; Rank: Tied for 14th out of 36.
I’ve followed the Frog Island brewery for more than a decade, from when it was contract brewed up to the brewery finally finding a home in Ypsilanti (or is it located in Ann Arbor or is it only contract brewed in Ann Arbor??).  I’m still not sure exactly where they brew their beer and their website is pretty vague on this as well.  You can see a further discussion on this topic elsewhere in Beer Avatar.

Nevertheless, folks in the Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area are fortunate enough to have access to 9 of Frog Island’s highly recommended offerings in bottles.  I really like most of the labels that they have developed.  The artwork in many of the labels is quite detailed and I found myself using a magnifying glass to catch them all. 

If I had to pick, my two favorite labels are Devil in the Details Imperial Stout and Moon Squaller Scotch Ale.  (Note: Squaller = one who utters in a screaming tone.) All of the labels include a statement about the beer and the alcohol level.  I hope that this brewery can establish a home somewhere and open up a taproom.

Short's Brewing Company.  Score: 21; Rank: Tied for 14th out of 36.
The other brewery that placed 14th, was Short's Brewing Company in Bellaire. Short's is one of my favorite Michigan breweries and the brewpub is well worth a trip to that part of the state.  Short's must have set a record for the greatest number of different beers that are produced on a fairly regular basis.  I’ve been collecting their beer bottles for some time and have nearly 50 different Short's beer bottles in my collection.

The artwork for nearly all of the labels are done in what appears to be watercolors and probably done by the same artist. The details are minimal and the artwork is above average.  Several of the labels are fun interpretations of the beer names, such as Hangin’ Frank and Bloody Beer. 

All labels are lacking in information.  There is no alcohol content generally listed and it’s often hard to imagine what the beer might taste like.   The brewery often includes ingredients that you don’t normally find in beer, such as their beer Key Lime Pie that includes lime, graham cracker, and marshmallow in the recipe (one to avoid by the way).  Having some statement of the flavor would be helpful.   At any rate, I’m always excited to find a bottle of Shorts that I’ve never before tried.

Frankenmuth Brewery.  Score: 22; Rank: Tied for 12th out of 36.
Michigan’s oldest brewery scored a tie for 12th place in the beer label competition.  I recently purchased Frankenmuth Brewery’s 150th anniversary dark lager.  It is a little misleading, as the brewery called the Cass River Brewery back in 1862, and later the Geyer Brothers Brewery, before it became the Frankenmuth Brewery in 1899.  There is also a period of time where the brewery was closed after being hit by a tornado in 1996.  Nevertheless, it is an impressive history and length of time to be brewing beer.  And, as you might expect, the labeling from this brewery has undergone many changes throughout the years.  Here are two labels from when the brewery was called Geyer Brothers.

Currently, Frankenmuth brews a set of 6 year round beers.  Just a few years ago, the labels for these beers all had a unique character, with for example Red Sky Ale having a kind of funky, modern look and Batch 69 American Paled Ale having a patriotic look and so on.  A year or two, ago all the labels changed and they all now have the same basic look, with the brewery name and logo displayed prominently in the center surrounded by a black background.  The borders of the main label and the neck label varied in color and decoration depending on the beer.  Yes, this was a little boring but the brand recognition at least is there.

 What scored points for Frankenmuth Brewery was their annual release of a 750 ml holiday beer.  Each year these labels are different and in many years, the labels for these limited release beers are signed by the brewmaster.  It is an actual signature, rather than just having it as part of the printed label.  Indeed, in 2012 I purchased a bottle of New Years Imperial Stout that had the hand written message “Julie laughs like she is wasted.” I later found out that Julie is the brewmaster’s daughter.  Fun stuff.  I’d like to have a few brews with them sometime.

New Year Imperial Stout with Comment Written by Brewmaster
Dragonmead Microbrewery.  Score: 22; Rank: Tied for 12th out of 36.
Dragonmead Microbrewery, from Warren, also tied for 12th place.  Dragonmead is one of my favorite brewpubs to visit.  I like the medieval theme, stained glass windows, and extensive selection of amazing beers.  The brewery only sells about 4 or 5 varieties of their beer outside of the brewery.  The artwork for the labels is based on a shield design, with the brewery’s cool logo at the top, the beer name and style in the middle, and a scene in the background.  The shield ensures good brand recognition, and the names, colors, and background artwork give them decent shelf appeal.  My two favorites are Sir William Extra Special Bitter and Armageddon Grand Cru. Dragonmead labels often tells you a little about the beer, but do not provide the beers’ alcohol content.  

Stay tuned to Beer Avatar as we count our way down to the winner.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Michigan Beer Label Competition Part 3: Rank 18th

Here is the third installment of results for the 1st Michigan Beer Label Competition, brought to you by Beer Avatar.  This post reports the results for the 6 breweries that were ranked 18th out of the 36 breweries in the competition.

Michigan Brewing Company. Score: 20; Rank: 18 out of 36.
Six breweries tied for 18th place in the competition with a score of 20.  One of these was the Michigan Brewing Company from Webberville that went out of business this past year.  This brewery contract-brewed many beers over the years, including an early version of Frog Island beer and Kid Rock’s forgettable Bad Ass beer. I only judged the 7 labels that this brewery put their own name on.   

I really liked the fact that the brewery used famous Michigan scenery for several of their labels, particularly the Peninsula Porter and the Mackenac Pale Ale. These labels are fairly simple in design but they are pleasing to the eye.  The brewery also had some decent artwork for their Celis brand beers that the brewery purchased in the early 2000s. I believe that the labels changed very little from the time is was brewed in Austin, Texas.  The Celis brand of beer sure has changed hands a number of times as can be read about here:  (Now that the Michigan Brewing  Company’s equipment and brands have been sold to pay creditors, the Celis brand will continue is journey.)  The information content on the labels is pretty poor.

Schmohz Brewery, Score 20; Rank 18 out of 36. 
The Schmohz Brewery, from Grand Rapids, has only had fairly wide distribution of their bottled beer for a few years.  I really liked the fact that at one time they sold a combination 6-pack where you could try 6 different beers.   

The labels use a comic-book-art approach, which gives them good connection/branding among the labels but also for some labels a slight impression of adolescence.  I think the brewery, in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, play up young (ok, any age) male infatuation with breasts, as evidenced by the obvious cleavage in many of the labels and the beer names, with Treasure Chest ESB, Amber Tease Ale, Hopknocker Imperial IPA, and Bra Buster Bock chief among them.  


They have wonderful variety among their labels and the creativity is certainly there.  The labels have good information content, including the ABV% and a brief statement about the beer. Warning: The statement about Treasure Chest has the words “mesmerizing” and “caressed” in it.  Wink, wink!  

North Peak Brewing Company.  Score 20; Rank 18 out of 36.
Traverse City’s North Peak Brewing Company also tied for 18th best beer labels in Michigan.  This brewery makes excellent beers as would be expected from Ron Jeffries (Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales).  I also like the stylistic labels and the squat bottles.  The labels all have the same design with occasional subtle changes that really add to the appeal.  The design is quasi-chevron field, with the beer name in script across the middle, the beer style written across the bottom, other text around the field, and a stylized, silhouette creature at the top.  The creatures are visual interpretations of the beer name. 

Nearly all labels include alcohol content and bittering unit information. For some labels, other features are added which make them even more appealing. For example, Nomad Hard Dry Cider has an apple leaf added to the top of the field to make it appear to be an apple.  My favorite added detail, however, can be found on Diabolical India Pale Ale.  The alcohol level and the IBUs are both 6.66.  Now that is devilish!

Motor City Brewing Works. Score 20; Rank 18 out of 36.
Motor City Brewing Works has been a mainstay of the Detroit brewing scene for more than a decade.  They embrace the city and their role in its history.  They also make some great beer.  Did anybody else get a toolbox of Motor City beers for Christmas?  

 The labels generally embrace the auto industry/blue collar theme, with gears on some labels and bolts and wrenches on others.  The basic idea is creative, but tends to get overused among the various labels.  

The labels contain a brief description of the beer and the lack of pasteurization and filtering.  Alcohol levels are also included.

The label for their Honey Porter is quite interesting but I have no idea what it is about. The artwork depicts three penguins standing in building with what look like Tuscan columns. The building is shown as opening to a winter landscape.  How all this related to an unnamed honey porter must be a brewery secret. Any ideas/?

Tri-City Brewing Company.  Score 20; Rank 18 out of 36.
Tri-City Brewing Company in Bay City was one of the 6 breweries that tied for 18th place in the beer label competition.  Although this brewery has been in operation since 2007, I only came across their bottled beer a few years ago.  I was excited to try beers that had been brewed in this part of the state.  I think they make excellent brews and I simply must make a trip to the tap room sometime soon.  The brewery has at least 9 labels that are all very distinct.  The artwork for many of the labels is pretty basic, such as the label for Brownhoist Nut Brown Ale. 

The brewery does a have a couple of labels that are creative and pleasing.  Included in that list are Giant Slayer Russian Imperial Stout and Fortunato Belgian-Style Trappist Ale.  I like the intentional medieval feels to these labels.  I wonder, however, what the Trappist breweries of Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany think about the brewery calling its beer “Trappist.”?  I doubt the monks ever get to Michigan.


 Mt. Pleasant Brewing Company.  Score 20; Rank 18 out of 36.
The Mount Pleasant Brewing Company, hailing from the city for which they get their name, also tied for 18th place in the beer label competition.  This brewery makes a wide variety of beers ranging from a red ale, to a double IPA, to a pale ale spiced with herbs.  They have labels for about 14 of their beers.  Nearly all of the labels follow a railroad theme.  The majority of the labels follow the same basic graphic design of a train engine with a snow-capped mountain in the background, the beer name written at the bottom, and the brewery logo at the top.  Not all that artistic or creative. There are some subtle details that change for certain beers.  A good example is the horse head on the train engine for their Iron Horse IPA.  

Most of the labels are two-colors and not that stunning.  More recent labels, such as Freight Train Double IPA are much more artistic, detailed, and interesting.  It also doesn’t hurt that this is an excellent DIPA. 

Look toward Beer Avatar forfurther results of the Michigan Beer Label Competition.