Making Of A Beer Label

Not sure how many readers will be interested in a post about the making of a beer label, an Upright Brewing label to be exact. Perhaps this post is of only interest to myself, but let’s find out.
As some know I design artwork for breweries, including Upright. I have learned about a number of topics while designing the
14 or so labels that have gone to print, including layout, design and, unfortunately, the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau).
I am currently working on the label for Late Harvest, an amber-brown Farmhouse Ale spiced with Peppercorns, Grains Of Paradise and Pomegranate Seeds before it was aged in Pinot Barrels, where it picked up some wild yeasts and became to be a pretty sour beer. The underlying drawing of the ‘Late Harvest’ label is pictured above.
The big question was how to translate this beer into a label. The name ‘Late Harvest’ actually came after the label design idea, so we had almost nothing to go on. Eventually we came up with the idea of integrating the harvest and working farmers, which lead me to center the artwork around a hand – specifically, a dirty hand stained by the earth, spices and fruits. I think it best communicates farming and harvest.

In the image I have penciled out the very basic design of the hand with grains and seeds both falling and being tossed up like a hand pulling a handful from a bag.
I scanned the image into Photoshop and am in the process of layering various colors on top of the black and white drawing to add much more depth and detail to the hands. Hard to say exactly where things will go, I haven’t even figured out the background yet. I like to leave the first drawings somewhat open so that I can add in any ideas that come to me along the way and change things that do not work.

Below are just a few of the layers of the Upright Oyster Stout label that highlight how they came together. This is just a simplified version of the different elements:

Of course, designing the label is not just about the art but about the design. The shape of the bottle must be taken into account, most importantly the circumference but also the height of the flat surface area. Do you want the viewer to have to turn the bottle to see the whole image or put it right up front?

Government Warning is probably the most annoying thing about putting together a label. It takes up a ton of space and you are not allowed to play with its size or shape much. In fact, the size of the Government Warning is directly proportional to the size of the label and bottle as a whole. There are complex calculations that you have to take in to account when figuring out how much space it must take up. And you can forget about changing its color, font or on putting other distracting colors or art behind or even beside it. This will quickly get your label rejected. I say quickly, but not really, we are talking at least 2 weeks before you hear back after submitting your label for approval, many times it is rejected for something as simple as needing a bolder font by whoever happened to look at your design. This ends up adding an astronomical turnaround for you to fix one little thing. You quickly learn these things must be planned and submitted many months in advance.

I think that covers it for now, look for an update on the Late Harvest labels progress in about 1 week. Should be interesting to see how it is coming together.

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Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact:


  • Mike
    Sat May 29, 2010 7:48 PM

    I love design talk and to see how it all comes together. Label names and design can bring people to try something new.

    Thanks for showing how it comes together.

    • Mr. Murphy
      Mr. Murphy
      Mon May 31, 2010 7:50 AM

      Really nice job on the labels…I appreciate the quality.

      • ericmsteen
        Mon May 31, 2010 5:10 PM

        the labels you make are fantastic.

        I’m very curious about some of the laws that restrict labels. I wonder if you know of any labels that have been rejected before, and if so, why were they rejected? The classic story is the Lagunitas Censored. Do you think the government warning on the label is important?

        • Samurai Artist
          Samurai Artist
          Tue Jun 1, 2010 12:05 AM

          yeah I know a few, like all of the intial Upright labels. Hopworks, and a few more. I was planning a post about racy labels and the rules about nudity and sex on beer but was waiting for some new fresh rejection that I can relate it to.