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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Michigan Beer Label Competition Part 6: Ranks 1-5.

Sorry about the long delay in getting to the final results of the Michigan Beer Label Competition.  I’ve been traveling a lot and then lost one of my favorite people to enjoy a beer with.  A week before my brother lost his battle to the horrible disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), we shared several beers from Avery Brewing Company.  I bought them at the Avery taproom and brought them to hospice where he could try a few milliliters at a time.  We put the beer in his mouth by syringe so he could taste the beer and then put the rest in his feeding tube.  My brother was a courageous soul who had a keen appreciation for craft beer.  Cheers big brother!

Avery Taproom, 2011
Now on to the top five breweries in the Michigan Beer Label Competition.

Arbor Brewing Company/Corner Brewery.  Score: 26; Rank: Tied for 5th
Two breweries tied for the fifth slot in the competition with a stellar score of 26 out of 30.  I’ve combined the Arbor Brewing Company and the Corner Brewery because they are owned by the same folks and the two locations are very much linked.  Now that they are also opening a brewery in India, I may have to include that location as well, assuming that I could find some of their labels. 
Arbor Brewing has recently changed their beer labeling approach and have made their new labels sexy and artistic.  My ratings of their labels are based primarily on these new styles which I really like.  My favorite label is Bollywood Blonde, which features a smiling blond girl in a classic Bollywood dance pose. This woman looks vaguely familiar to me, like I might have seen her behind the bar at the Corner Brewery in Ypslianti.  I highly recommend both of these brewpubs, even if there is no blond beauty behind the bar when you visit.

 The brewery has great variety in their labels, with Buzzsaw American IPA on the opposite end of the scale from the Arbor Blondes.  My only complaint is the lack of consistent inclusion of the alcohol content on the labels.

Bell’s Brewery. Score: 26; Rank: Tied for 5th.
Also tied for 5th place in the label competition is Michigan’s largest brewery, located in Comstock near the city of Kalamazoo.  I have loved Bell’s beer for two decades and it was one of the great pleasures I discovered when I moved to Michigan.  Bell’s Brewery has my all-time favorite labeling scheme with their Third Coast Beer.  As you may know, Michigan has 3,288 miles of coastline with the various Great Lakes.  This is more coastline than any other state except Alaska.  Bell’s Brewery capitalized on this and developed labels for Third Coast Beer that depicted maps of small portions of the Michigan coastline.  Presumably, if you had a complete collection of labels, you would be able to put them all together and have a map of the entire 3,288 miles of coastline.  I have 21 different labels and I’m told there are about 5 more.  Once I complete the collection, I just might try to put them together digitally.  They have a few other series like this, including Bell’s Amber Ale.  Kudos!

Bell’s frequently mixes up their labeling and over the years has put out so many different beers that the variety is staggering.   This also means that they had a series of labels that are without questions the most boring and unimaginative I have ever seen--just black lettering on a white label.  This is kinda funny considering the brewery and their portfolio of beers.

I have several favorites as you can see here:

New Holland Brewing Company. Score: 29; Rank: Tied for 2nd.
Three breweries tied for second place in the Michigan Beer Label Competition with outstanding scores of 29 out of 30 points. One of these was the New Holland Brewing Company hailing from Holland in the Western part of the state.  I love the Mad Hatter theme they have for many of their beer labels and how they shake it up Hatter character for their vintage-dated Hatter beer. “10/6” indeed.

The brewery also has many other cool labels, such as PHΦ Divine Beer with its ode to art and architecture.  You just can’t go wrong with a couple of da Vinci works, the Acropolis in Athens, and the Pyramid of Cheops on the label.  I also like the eerie Night Tripper Imperial Stout label.

The brewery does a good job of including useful information on the labels and the beer itself is among the best in Michigan.

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales.  Score 29; Rank: Tied for 2nd.
Also tied for second is Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales in Dexter.  This brewery may well be Michigan’s most internationally recognized brewery.  I recently found Bam Noire being served in a little craft beer bar in Italy.  How cool is that!

Jolly Pumpkin does an exemplary job of maintaining brand recognition while having great variety in their beer labels.  The labels range from fun to mysterious, while still being uniquely Jolly Pumpkin.  The brewer also includes a few sentences about each beer on the labels and my only complaint is that IBU’s are never listed and the alcohol content is present only on a few labels.  For some reason I like the fact that many of the beer names are difficult to pronounce.

Among my favorite labels from this brewery are: Fuego del Ontoño, Sobrehumano Palena 'ole, and Madrugada Obscura Dark Dawn Stout.  If you like barrel-aged sour ales, then Jolly Pumpkin is your brewery.

Greenbush Brewing Company.  Score 29; Rank Tied for 2nd.
A tie for second place also goes to a newcomer from Sawyer—the Greenbush Brewing Company.  They just recently began selling their beer in bottles around the state and what a pleasure it was to try these excellent beers and gaze appreciatively at the artistic and imaginative labels.  The artist or artists should be given a pat on the back and several cases of free beer.

Perhaps more than any other brewery, the Greenbush labels are simply interesting to look at.  The art and the beer names work well together to tease the mind.  The labels also all have IBU and ABV.  The brewery also includes a few sentences on the label about the beer. These could use a little work.  If as much thought was put into these as was put into the names and artwork, these labels would be perfect.  What does “It’s a mystification!” mean anyway?    

Founder’s Brewing Company. Score 30; Rank: 1st.
The winner of the 2013 Michigan Beer Label Competition is the wonderful Founder’s Brewing Company located in the great beer city of Grand Rapids.  Founder’s beer is one of Michigan’s beer-crown jewels.  The brewery’s labeling scheme seem to tell stories and I get the impression that if I drink Founder’s beer long enough I’ll eventually get to hear the entire story.  Who knew that the Old Curmudgeon had a better half until last year?  Where does the Dirty Bastard fit into the story?  The reversible-figure dude in Double Trouble IPA must have an excellent back story.  Could it be something to do with the Devil dancer?  Maybe clues will be revealed in the next Back Stage Series offering.

I really like the artwork and variety and they consistently put the beer specifications on the label.  They also occasionally have great explanations about the beer.  If you have not tried Bolt Cutter yet, the story behind the beer name is pretty entertaining.  Congratulations to the Founder’s Brewing Company for setting a standard of excellence for not only great beer, but also for really cool labels.

Final Word
The label competition was entirely done by me, Zymus, and reflects my humble and admittedly biased opinion.  I tried to include all Michigan breweries that had developed labeling for their products.  My apologies go out to Liberty Street Brewing and Right Brain brewing who began selling their beer in bottles after I had started presenting the results in Beer Avatar.  My apologies also to those breweries I should have included, but somehow missed.  If you have comments about the competition, or any of my other posts, there is a place at the bottom of each post to state your opinion.


1 comment:

  1. Nice post - this is a thorough and impressive list. I'm actually writing an article about how those in the craft industry can make their labels stand out in the market. As someone who has clearly spent time and effort judging beer labels, would you consider being interviewed for the piece? Let me know and regardless great blog! (