"Not Norm Ale," brainchild of Barry Fitzgerald of Lawrence, Kan., took the blue ribbon in the "Slick" category. "I heard about the contest late in the game, about a week before the entry deadline," Barry, a professor of illustration and graphic design at University of Kansas, explains. "To save time, I decided to design a label using a piece of art I already had in my portfolio and started sifting through piles of stuff. The (George) Wendt portrait basically jumped out of the file. I thought, who better as a symbol for beer than our old favorite, Norm?"
Fitzgerald explains how he came up with a way to show the "Cheers" star more respect when he named the beer. "I was reading about Wendt, and he was lamenting the fact that he has a hard time breaking out of the Norm stereotype, saying that he - George Wendt - is 'not Norm.' He had a new TV show, after all. Plus, it's a great play on words," he says. Fitzgerald's original portrait was painted in acrylics. He added the typeset name, then made a color photocopy for the final design.
Fitzgerald is a "born-again" homebrewer. "I brewed a few times, years ago, with disastrous results. I was sort of on my own without good instruction or guidance. I gave it up - the beer was lousy. But there is so much more information available today. And the ingredients are better than ever. It seemed like a good time to take up the hobby again," he says. His last three efforts, a porter, a winter ale, and a Christmas beer, were successes.
Alien Ale: Brewed in - Usquepaugh?
Michael Cadoret has been brewing his own for about six months. The spirit moved him while he and his wife, Sheila, were doing some vacation shopping at the Whip and Spoon, a kitchen store near Portland, Maine.
"I saw this section of the store with homebrewing ingredients and equipment. It reminded us of how our parents and grandparents used to make their own beer, and it seemed like a great idea," Michael recalls. After brewing a batch or two and really liking the results, Michael and Sheila decided they should put some effort into labeling the fruits of their labor.
"You know, if somebody gave me $25 and told me I had to buy either beer or brewing ingredients, I would buy the ingredients. It's a matter of pride - creating something you enjoy from basic ingredients. After putting that kind of effort into the creation of the brew, you should not leave it unnamed. It's an ego thing, doing your own labels. But it's a lot of fun, too," he says.
Once he made the decision to pursue labels, he did the next most logical thing: He got hold of a professional graphic artist. That artist happens to be his daughter, Nicole, attending Massachusetts College of Art.
"Dad had already asked me to help him design labels when the BYO contest was announced. The contest put us in high gear, and we started brainstorming names and design ideas," Nicole says. The second place winner in the "Slick" category, "Alien Ale," was the result of one of those late-night brainstorming sessions. Nicole put it together using a Macintosh computer running Adobe Illustrator.
By the way, "Usquepoagh" is not a made-up name. Michael and Sheila live there. It's in Rhode Island, though. Hey, but who's to say there isn't an Usquepoagh, Mars, too?
Does B-Brite Remove Bolted-on Labels?
Jim Roberson's "Strange Brew" took first place in the "Funky" category. Strange Brew's label was made of copper with brass bolts in each corner, creating the illusion that the label was bolted to the bottle.
"I was trying to create that classic copper and brass brewery look," Roberson explains. "I started by polishing a sheet of copperplate. Then, the actual label design was printed on clear plastic and applied, with the bolt heads put on top to finish the illusion.
"The idea just popped into my head after I decided to enter the contest." Roberson lives in Pleasanton, Calif. He's a sales rep for Rockshox, a firm that manufactures mountain bike suspension forks. "I like to play around with graphic design when I have time. The design for 'Strange Brew' was done by hand, cut and paste. Then I took it to an instant copy shop, where it was transferred to the clear plastic," he recalls.
Roberson has been brewing for five years and likes to try different styles. Theday we caught up to him, he had just bought ingredients for a wheat ale.
Roasty, Toasty . . . and Muddy.
Phil Chestnut is a Seattle sign painter who tinkers with graphic design in his spare time. "I was working on a blues calendar just for fun and had lots of pictures of blues musicians laying around. We had brewed a batch of stout that everybody loved - many were begging for more after we gave them some - and my brewing buddies asked me to name it.
It seemed appropriate to call it 'Muddy Water.'"
Chestnut stuck a beer glass in Muddy's hand and colored the label with colored pencil. "All by hand. I don't use computers for anything, at home or in the sign shop," he says. Muddy took second place in the "Funky" category.
Chestnut has been brewing for 15 years with his two partners, but they only started labeling about a year ago. "I had seen some labels in the brew shop. They inspired me to try my hand at it," he explains.
The trio brews an average of 15 gallons every week. Muddy Water was this year's Christmas give-away beer. It was dry, almost an imperial. "It was our most successful beer so far," Chestnut says.
A Fishy Entry
Troy Brandt's "Fish Oil Ale" took first place in the "Classic" category. No surprise, really. Troy is a graphic designer who recently branched out into beer labels!
"If I might offer a shameless plug, we recently launched a new venture, Jefferson Press Beer Label Designers," Brandt says. He put together a display kit for homebrew shops and hopes the beer label business will augment his established graphic design firm, Heaton Brandt Communications, in Edina, Minn.
Fish Oil Ale was a bitter, brewed for a fishing party with several friends. "We hang out at a lakeside cabin, fish, and drink beer. We are pretty lousy fishermen. We don't know how or what to fish for. We just use the excuse to get together and have a good time," he says. Brandt has been brewing for two years, mainly from kits.
Bottled with a Kiss
Scott Hannah's "Winter's Kiss Ale" took second place, "Classic." "I have been making a winter beer every year for six years, toying with the spices, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon. It's basically a plain amber with spices," the Seattle mechanical engineer says.
Hannah started brewing in college, when some buddies got the homebrew bug and spread it to him. He designed the label in black and white on a friend's Macintosh several years ago. This year, he rendered it in color for the BYO contest. "People take your beer more seriously if it's nicely labeled. It catches the eye, might make them more interested in it. Plus it's a way to show off," he says. Hannah has tried his hand at nearly every style. Lately he's been into IPAs and also recently brewed a rye beer for the first time.
3D and Glows in the Dark!
Heather Park's label was inspired. "Boo's Brew" was dressed to kill, in baked, glow-in-the-dark polymer clay. It took the "Editor's Choice" award. "I've been into clay lately," says the Boston University graduate student. "School is tough, and messing around with clay has been a real stress-buster," she says.
Polymer clay is a modern crafter's material. Also known as Sculpy (that's one of the brand names) it's easy to mold, bakes hard in the oven,and ends up very lightweight after baking. "I have been making all kinds of things from it:jewelry, magnets, figurines. I figured, why not a beer label?" Park says.
She crafted the label, molded it to fit the bottle, and baked it. She glued the finished label to the bottle for the contest. Boo's Brew was an American brown ale, similar to Pete's Wicked. "It was called 'Boo's' because that's what John calls me," Park revealed.
That's her fiancee and brewing partner John Letendre, who entered his own designs for the label contest. "My labels, of mere paper, didn't stand a chance against hers," Letendre says. They have been brewing for around three years, mostly heavy ales. They recently started doing all-grain. By the way, they have not set a date yet but recently bought a house in Natick, Mass.