With the number of craft breweries in America recently hitting an all-time high (the Brewer’s Association recorded 4,144 in November, the highest official tally since 1873), brewers are increasingly looking to label design as a way to stand out—and no one has followed the trend more attentively than Seattle’s Harvey Shepard. Beer nerds know the graphic designer as the force behind Oh Beautiful Beer, a blog created in 2011 to showcase talented designers and the labels they create.
If I’m scanning the shelf for a new beer to try, I almost always pick one with a label that appeals to me,” Shepard says. “When I see that a brewery has put a great deal of effort and resources into their design, I expect that they’ve put the same level of craftsmanship into their beer.
Despite his current focus on craft brews, Coors Light was actually Shepard’s gateway into the world of beer design. “Long before cracking my first beer, I was on a family vacation in Maine when I spotted a Coors Light bottle shaped like a baseball bat. I was flabbergasted. It still sits—unopened—at my parents’ house.” Today, Shepard’s blog spans more than 500 breweries and designers, documenting everything from Ralph Steadman’s Gonzo illustrations for Flying Dog to the art deco design of Big City Brewing and the simple beauty of Holy Mountain’s black-and-white line drawings.
With such a rich arsenal of content, a book seemed like a logical next step, and last October Shepard released Oh Beautiful Beer: The Evolution of Craft Beer and Design, which highlights more than 200 color illustrations and delves into the history of beer packaging as far back as 1876. Pinpointing success stories like New Belgium’s iconic bicycle logo, the robots of Tin Man Brewing, and the minimalistic numbers and symbols of Mateo y Bernabé, Shepard says “breweries that embrace branding as their voice are the most successful.” He also has a fondness for the iconic labels from Austin Beerworks, designed by Texas-based Helms Workshop (the firm also responsible for the Modern Times, Fullsteam and Bauhaus Brew Labs branding). Designer Christian Helms and the Beerworks crew made a list of every beer label cliché they could think of—illustrated hops, waves of grain, dogs, mountains—and made sure not a single one made it onto the label. “They instead concentrated on the bold, crisp beers and quirky personalities that comprised the company,” Shepard says. “The resulting cans are a proud, strong and uncluttered oasis.”
Scroll through the gallery above to see more of Shepard’s favorite designs.