Tag Archives: lager

Judging a Beer By Its Label (part 1 of 2)

It’s a very risky game.  Sometimes it pays off brilliantly, other times…you end up spitting out the beer and pouring it down the sink.  But picking a beer just by the label design alone can be a really fun way to discover new types of beers and learn more about your own personal tastes.  Plus every time you buy a beer based on its design, a graphic designer gets its wings.  Or something like that.

There are too many beers to list on which ones have been a success, a failure and a surprise, so I’ll just list a few highlights. This entry is going to be separated in to two parts.  The first one the good beers with good designs and the second being on the bad beers with good designs as well as the surprises I’ve had.

GOOD DESIGN, GOOD BEER

Hobgoblin Ale – It’s been mentioned here plenty of times before and I SWEAR this will be the last time I mention this beer from Wychwood Brewery for a while, but it’s important! This was the first beer I felt that I HAD to buy on the design alone and not look at any of the details that point out alcohol content or taste notes.  I believe it was 2004 or so and at the time I was really in to fantasy novels.  While “preparing” for a weekend trip to the cottage with a few friends I came across this beer and found myself really impressed with the design of both the label and the bottle.  At the time, I hadn’t seen any designs that went beyond a crappy logo and standard beer bottle (or even a “stubby” which was a rare treat at the Beer Store).  And as you all know, this beer my stand-by drink to this day.  Hell, I had one on tap (the beer has an AWESOME custom tap by the way) just last week and it hasn’t lost anything in taste for me.

Boneshaker Unfiltered IPA – I found this beauty about a year ago when I made a trip to the Amsterdam Brewery here in Toronto and the label just blew me away.  But then again, I love William Cheselden’s Osteographia, so whatever.  The colour scheme, smooth bottle design and yes, the choice of typeface all contributed in making me wonder what this beer was all about.  I picked up three bottles on the spot.  Turns out, it’s a DAMN good IPA.  So hopped up that you can actually taste a kind of earthiness and so bitter that it is still the only beer that can make my throat go dry.  And as you folks out there who either read this blog or know me in person know, that’s just the kind of bitterness I like.

This brew very recently (about two months ago) went on tap and has been a pretty good success.  In fact, it was hearing about one of the few bars that carried this that led me to find the Town Crier/Halfway Beer House, which is now my favorite pub in all the city (more on that place in a later post).

Arrogant Bastard Ale – I like this design because it matches perfectly with the reputation that the folks at Stone Brewing Co. wants it to have.  It’s aggressive, it’s mean, it will spot a weakness in you and exploit it to the point where you leave the room crying.  Even by tasting the beer, with it’s strong punch of hops, one can tell that this is a beer for Tough People and I think the design puts forth that image incredibly well.

But aside from the design, what REALLY won me over was the copywriting on the bottle.  Here’s how it reads:  “This is an aggressive ale. You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. We would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory–maybe something with a multi-million dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing you it’s made in a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beverage will give you more sex appeal. Perhaps you think multi-million dollar ad campaigns make things taste better. Perhaps you’re mouthing your words as you read this.  

DON’T YOU JUST WANT TO DRINK THAT?

Coney Island Lager – The label is in more detail at the head of this post.  This I think was one of the first craft brews I picked up when I went to New York City and actually had an appreciation for beer.  The label alone was enough to make me wonder what the hell this drink was about because, quite frankly, a pants-shittingly terrifying Carny on the label (which also reminds me of the good ‘ol fashioned Carnival signs back in the day when people didn’t think stuff like that looked terrifying at all) is enough to make me laugh and pick up the bottle.  It could taste like brown sugar in water, I don’t care.  You have to try it and you’d be half-tempted to keep the bottle as a souvenir. The same goes for most of the labels put out by Shmaltz Brewing Company.

But as it turns out, it was a pretty damn refreshing drink.  Very nice malt and earth flavours with an very nice aroma that just worked.  I definitely wouldn’t say no to this brew on a hot summer day.

So that’s it for this post.  Toon in soon for part 2 where I discuss the good designs with bad tasting beer as well as the surprises I had.  I might throw in a third post, but we’ll see.

But hey, I can personally taste and try so many beers, so if you have any DAMN good brews with some equally DAMN good designs on the labels (or heck, if you just want to suggest a brew to me) e-mail me at robin@therobinleBlanc.com! Or, you know, COMMENT.  Because that’s even easier.

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Gateway Beers Part 1

GATEWAY BEERS.  Yes, like Marijuana is a gateway drug to heroin, cocaine and LSD AS WE HAVE ALL LEARNED AT SCHOOL, so too are there beers that can get you hooked and lead to something more complex.  Sure, you might be at a party and someone offers you a Chimay or St. Andrew’s Ale.  What’s the harm?  It’s a party after all and you want to be cool.  Plus that girl Sandy you’re sweet on is drinking a La Fin Du Monde and SHE seems pretty on the ball. But in two month’s time WHAMMO. You’re at a local shindig and creating a scene because the bar doesn’t serve any reputable Abbey ales.  You’re kicked out.  You’ve alienated all your friends, your family doesn’t understand you and your local priest thinks you’re beyond hope.  It’s a sad, horrible life.

I’ll stop now.

Basically, this was inspired by the friends and family I have who have said “I don’t really drink beer, but when I do I usually drink _______.  What should I have?”.   So to start off, We’ll hit the most common one I’ve heard.

I USUALLY DRINK HEINEKEN (or Bud, Molson, Steamwhistle, Labaat, Busch…)

We all have at some point.  As a Canadian, it almost seemed like my duty to drink Molson.  My old drinking buddy and I used to buy Steamwhistle by the pitcher and during my senior year at high school I drank nothing but Heineken. But as I discovered myself, there is so much better out there.

If you are used to these light coloured (and flavoured) beers, stepping towards something darker and richer might be too much too soon and have you running away.  You might want to take baby steps.  And with that, I’m going to suggest a good Pilsner.

Pilsner is a style of beer in the lager family and is named after the city it was created, Plzen, Bohemia (now Czech Republic) and was made by people who were sick of these dark cloudy brews that, at the time, seemed to go sour a lot. They dreamed of a beer that didn’t seem like a meal and this was their answer.  The combination of the lager yeasts, the pale grains and the natural soft water of the region made for one delicious brew.  If you want a damn good pilsner beer, throw away that Heinie and grab a brew made in Plzen.

Going by what’s available in the LCBO stores here in Ontario, my main suggestion in this style is going to be the Plzen-based Pilsner Urquell, which can be found anywhere in bottles, cans and sometimes on tap in pubs.  The first thing that will hit you about this beer is the colour.  A beautiful golden wheat colour that will make you instantly thirsty.  When you try it I guarantee it will be a whole new world for you.  The crisp, biscuity quality to it, the subtle spices thrown in…yeah, there will be no going back.  As Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune said in their fabulous book The Naked Pint, it’s like going your whole life eating waxy halloween chocolate and suddenly taking a bite of an 80% cacao chocolate bar.  You really never knew something so light could taste so GOOD.  And why should you?  You’ve been drinking Molson or Bud.  It’s all you’ve ever known.

And that’s the first Gateway Beer I have for you.  There will be more in the future and then we’ll move on up.

But for now, I’m off to have a drink.

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