Can-do spirit: the rise of beer-label art

Alice Lascelles cracks open beers in which artistry and adventure are all part of the brew

Top row, from left: Shadow Universe Oatmeal Raisin Stout, by Mondo. Body Riddle Pale Ale, by Whiplash. Dancing in Space IPA, by Two Tribes. Second row, from left: Here Comes the Sun Pale Ale, by Beerbliotek. All the Cool Cats Helles Lager, by Lost And Grounded. Art Series 10 Saison, by Burning Sky x Pig’s Ears Beer. West Coast Red Ale, by North Brewing Co. Third row, from left: Great Heights Pilsner, by Pressure Drop. West Coast IPA, by Brick Brewery. Dream Line Forms (21.01): 1 DDH IPA, by Northern Monk
Top row, from left: Shadow Universe Oatmeal Raisin Stout, by Mondo. Body Riddle Pale Ale, by Whiplash. Dancing in Space IPA, by Two Tribes. Second row, from left: Here Comes the Sun Pale Ale, by Beerbliotek. All the Cool Cats Helles Lager, by Lost And Grounded. Art Series 10 Saison, by Burning Sky x Pig’s Ears Beer. West Coast Red Ale, by North Brewing Co. Third row, from left: Great Heights Pilsner, by Pressure Drop. West Coast IPA, by Brick Brewery. Dream Line Forms (21.01): 1 DDH IPA, by Northern Monk | Image: Andy Price

What’s better than a home delivery beer? A home delivery beer in a beautifully designed can. “People used to associate canned beer with cheap offy tins, but our customers now overwhelmingly choose cans over bottled equivalents,” says Jen Ferguson of craft-beer specialists Hop Burns & Black in East Dulwich. Cans are more eco-friendly than glass, and they’re better at protecting the beer from air and light. But it’s the eye-catching artwork – weird, beautiful, sometimes even political – that’s really transformed the can’s image, says Ferguson. “It feels like record-sleeve art. Designers are pushing the boundaries of what can go on a beer label.”

Many of these designs (and the beers they adorn) are limited editions and get snapped up very quickly. Some are only available to subscribers; others attract long waiting lists. But dozens of new designs hit the market every month. So if you miss the boat on a good one, fear not – there will be another fine tin along soon. 

 

Shadow Universe Oatmeal Raisin Stout, by Mondo

The fractured, disorientating landscapes of the sci-fi world are the inspiration for the designs of Battersea’s Mondo Brewing Company. The man behind them is Luke Drozd, an illustrator with a taste for “art that is odd and joyous and things that are the right side of wrong”. This dark, slightly smoky stout is conditioned on raisins to give the roasted coffee notes a sticky, singed fruitiness. 5.1% abv, £4.25 from ghostwhalelondon.com

 

Body Riddle Pale Ale, by Whiplash 

Collages with a surreal twist are the hallmark of Sophie de Vere, the Dublin-based artist behind the designs for Ireland’s Whiplash brewery. “I’m smitten with nostalgia, the pleasure of finding something from the past,” she says. This mesmeric knot of limbs was created for Body Riddle, an American-style pale ale that pairs citrus and passionfruit notes with a lovely silky texture. 4.5% abv, £2.89 from honestbrew.co.uk

 

Dancing in Space IPA, by Two Tribes

Founded and run by a crew of musicians, producers and clubland DJs, Two Tribes is a brewery where artists of all stripes converge – its King’s Cross taproom hosts gigs and exhibitions. It has won several awards for its colour-saturated designs, which are all by DJ/multimedia artist Leo Zero. This flavoursome amber IPA has exotic notes of pot pourri and bitter orange. 6.5% abv, £3.50 from twotribes.co.uk 

 

Here Comes the Sun Pale Ale, by Beerbliotek 

The mission of Gothenburg craft-brewery Beerbliotek is to create a “library”, or Bibliothek, of brews – and there is seemingly no flavour combination it’s not afraid to try, ranging from a chilli ale and beer aged in cognac barrels to a coconut-milk IPA. And its can designs are just as vibrant as its flavours. This pale ale is tart and hoppy, with a crisp, dry finish. 4.8% abv, £5.05 from ghostwhalelondon.com

 

All the Cool Cats Helles Lager, by Lost And Grounded

Lost and Grounded almost broke the internet when it debuted its design for this speciality lager with a mellow, malty finish. Starring a cast of felines all known to the Bristol brewery, the collage is by Akora Design’s Sammy Davis, who also worked with Lost and Grounded on a special beer – and can – to accompany Martin Parr’s Only Human exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery last year. 5.1% abv, £3.85 from capsandtaps.co.uk

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Art Series 10 Saison, by Burning Sky x Pig’s Ears Beer 

Tiny South Downs brewery Burning Sky has a well-established following for its tangy “saison” beers but only recently started doing cans. This lively saison is seasoned with white, pink and green peppercorns, as well as two types of hops. The can – which made its debut at the Tate’s Beer + Art event last year – features a monochrome illustration by Simon Gane, an artist/illustrator with his roots in punk fanzines. 6.5% abv, £5.95 from hopburnsblack.co.uk

 

West Coast Red Ale, by North Brewing Co

North Brewing Co’s founders have been at the forefront of the craft-beer movement for decades – its North Bar, in Leeds, was one of the UK’s first dedicated craft-beer bars when it opened in 1997. Its designs – all by Refold studio in Yorkshire – have inspired many imitators too. This is a bold, nutty red ale with just a touch of toasted marshmallow. 6.7% abv, £4.25 from premierhop.co.uk

 

Great Heights Pilsner, by Pressure Drop 

This brewery in Tottenham, north London, collaborates with an array of street artists, graphic designers and illustrators, so every design is different. Its subject matter has ranged from mountain crags and skyscrapers to orchids and optical illusions. This dreamy can for Great Heights, a fresh, slightly bitter Pilsner, is by Natsko Seki, a Tokyo-born, London-based illustrator best known for her work on children’s books. 4.8% abv, £3.95 from hopburnsblack.co.uk

 

West Coast IPA, by Brick Brewery

Located in the heart of arty Peckham, Brick Brewery uses its beer cans to champion the work of up-and-coming talent from nearby Goldsmiths and Camberwell art colleges. This bit of eye-sherbet is by graphic designer and Central Saint Martins graduate Dan Chapman. The malty amber brew within riffs on the West Coast style – three types of hops give it notes of citrusy ginger and pine and a long, intense finish. 6.5% abv, £3.10 from brickbrewery.co.uk

 

Dream Line Forms (21.01): 1 DDH IPA, by Northern Monk 

The prodigious Northern Monk brewery in Leeds releases more than 30 different limited-edition recipes – and designs – each year as part of its Patrons project, which sees it collaborate with artisans and sportspeople across the north of England. This minimal, single-line drawing by Sam Nicklin is now a bit of a collector’s item. Each label peels back to reveal more information about the beer and artist. For the latest releases, see northernmonk.com

 

Alice Lascelles is Fortnum & Mason Drinks Writer of the Year 2019. @alicelascelles

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