Drink with your eyes


TThe other day my colleague asked me, “Do you think about the label when you buy drinks? The question made me laugh, because not only did the art help convince me to buy a beer, but I bought cans JUST for the art – even beer that I strongly suspect to be. dislike – and I’m sure you will too.

There is something special about looking at this beautiful art every time you take a sip, connecting visual creativity to the liquid itself. Great chefs say we eat with our eyes first, and beer is no different, whether it’s nice poured in a glass or right out of the can.

Here in West Michigan we have several local breweries with fantastic art and beer to match. City Built Brewing is one of the leaders in the charge, with its label Prague Underground winning the award for best beer label in United States today.

The eye-catching City Built labels are designed primarily by local artist Kyle DeGroff, with help from artist Elliot Chaltry – who also works with BarFly – and input from owner Ed Collazo.

While City Built’s cans have always been nice, they started out as a mix of simplistic designs and a bit of art, overall minimalist. Towards the end of 2019, however, City Built started working on a few modifications to the beer, which provided the perfect opportunity to launch a new aesthetic.

“We started making beer that really turned me on, we developed a really good relationship with DeGroff Design, and then we had a pandemic that made Elliot available,” Collazo said.

DeGroff’s signature style uses a kaleidoscope of colors, patterns and shapes, while creating a clear and recognizable image from a distance. It’s eye-catching for those who have never seen it, and memorable for those who have seen it.

You may also have noticed that City Built’s cans have a sense of depth, both to the eye and to the touch. This is in part thanks to Middleton Printing, which uses a process of layering the ink and creating a kind of shiny “varnish” that catches the light. By the way, Middleton also helps put working braille on all of Broad Leaf Brewing’s cans.

Collazo enjoys working with the artist to create series of beers with consistent art on each can, like the Fibonacci sequence. While Collazo had an idea for a stout brewed at several different boiling times, mostly on an experimental basis, DeGroff was briefly in the rabbit hole of numerology, creating the perfect recipe (literally) for a new set of beers. The stouts were boiled at three o’clock, then five o’clock, then one and nine o’clock.

Although the owner helps with ideas, he never had to turn down the art presented to him by DeGroff and / or Chaltry. Next year, he hopes to bring another artist into the mix for an IPA series, once again delivering a cohesive look across the cans.

Western Michigan is known for both beer and art. Collazo and City Built want to create a great sense of community, and that’s exactly what they’re doing here.

“I appreciate the relationships we have built with our artists,” said Collazo. “And you know, they’re cool people to hang out with and we have tons of them in Grand Rapids, so for me, selfishly, I like that because they’re fun people to be around.

Cold beer, hot art

We asked other West Michigan breweries to send us some of their favorite labels and the thought process behind them.

Short Brewery:
Melt my brain

Our brewing, sales and marketing team work together to design and develop the artistic direction of each beer – lots of jokes and cultural references. We are working with a local illustrator (Hi Aunt Tanya!) To execute our vision. She did everything in colored pencil and now draws digitally. This specific art has evolved over time to include one of our own staff, with our regional sales manager Kerry Lynch on the label – we even recently remade the art for a more zen / less garish vibe for a new indica eraser of the same name that we release with Jolly Edibles.

Speciation cellars: Neontology

At Speciation, most of our art is drawn by the very talented @art_by_graves (Dave McKie). We choose an ecosystem to focus on each year, and 2021 is marine life! So, most of our illustrations feature various awesome aquatic creatures!

Grand Rapids Brewing Co.

At Grand Rapids Brewing Company, we approach our beer bottle program with a heritage aesthetic using local screen prints. We bring typography to the fore and add complementary design elements, with help from Creative Director Elliot Chaltry.

Broad Leaf Brewery:
Origins of the queen of space

We have tried to keep art at the forefront of what we do at Broad Leaf. Many of our themes – cult movies, space exploration, building planets, alien flora and fauna – already lead to livelier and more interesting art and storytelling. The art is made by myself or by a number of much more talented local artists. Michelle Thibodeau made our label for a beer called Space Queen: Origins. Space Queen beers are marketed under the Vivant and Broad Leaf banner as they form a bridge between the two tap rooms. The beer series started at Vivant and set us on a path that would end up influencing a lot of what Broad Leaf is.

Plus, one of the things we’re most happy with at Broad Leaf is that we’ve worked with the local Middleton Printing to put braille on our boxes!

Strange beers

I (Jay Ross) had the honor of designing all the labels in the Odd Side Ales story. My process cannot begin without a beer name. Every employee is encouraged to participate in the naming and design process. Once the decision is made, I can only wait for the images to come to my mind.


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