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The Art of Vermont Beer Labels

A bright red cardinal nests among greyscale twigs. The moon waxes and wanes in a tightening spiral. Hops circle around black aluminum and minimalist sketches in primary colors brighten a white background.
 

Recognize a  beer label somewhere in there, or maybe something you’ve seen on the shelf?

Vermont’s brewers express their companies’ ethos through the eye-catching art on their cans, often created by local artists.

Vibrant beer can art ties the beer and the brand together and enriches the drinking experience by offering enthusiasts a sense of place, says Heather Kraemer, one of the three owners of North Hero-based Kraemer & Kin.

The ethos of Kraemer & Kin centers  around the connection with nature, which is what draws visitors back to Vermont year after year and keeps native Vermonters close to home.

“When we talk about concepts, sometimes it is botanical, based around an ingredient that we forage or source, or it is more naturalist and conceptual, where it might feature the American red fox, but it’s always a concept that is found in Vermont and a lot of times, particular to the (Champlain) Islands,” Kraemer said.

Many of the Kraemer family beers are brewed with seasonal ingredients foraged nearby, such as a batch they made recently with garlic mustard, an invasive plant that “needed somewhere to go.”

Kraemer says Kraemer & Kin’s beer serves two purposes – delighting the palate and educating visitors and Vermonters about the importance of ecosystems found in the Green Mountains.

“Each of the labels is very aesthetically pleasing but they’re also very educational and that’s very intentional. We grew up in the woods with parents who are involved in forestry work as a career and we grew up close to the natural world, and that’s part of our ethos as humans,” she said.

The labels draw beer novices into the fold as well as hopheads.

“There’s definitely favorites. There’s many folks that come in and they say, ‘I’m not a beer drinker, but I bought this because of the label and I loved it,’ so they come visit us, which is amazing,” Kraemer said.

She says can art with a purpose elevates beer beyond a beverage and brings it, along with its educational mission, to a wider audience.

“The connective piece there is the natural world. There’s an abundance of those things here in Vermont: The slopes, the natural terrain. Beer is a year-round constant but being so tiny and very locally sourced, there is an incredible seasonality to our beer production and what styles and particular beers that we are presenting,” she said. 

“The natural world is for everyone, so that’s been really cool. We’ve started turning some of them into botanical posters, which has been a really big hit. We turned the fish and the bee into T shirts and those have been very popular. We get a lot of really positive comments and lots of really wonderful feedback and support,” Kraemer said.

Titan beer can  Creamsicle beer can

That feedback from beer fans can be essential as brewers and artists work on designs.

Brian Eckert, who co-owns Four Quarters Brewing in Winooski, says he struggled for some time with the art for Four Quarters’ beers, and today’s graphics are the result of a collaboration between the brewery and beer enthusiasts.

Four Quarters was named after the four phases of a life cycle in the natural world, but after so many people expressed enthusiasm for space-themed beer, that’s the direction Four Quarters decided to go.

“When I started the brewery, I wanted to be really mindful of all the ingredients, and every ingredient goes through these phases: Plant a seed, nurture a plant, harvest the seeds, and start all over again. That’s what Four Quarters means, and I happened to pick the moon as the logo because that goes through a cycle as well. People see the moon and assume it’s space stuff, so it has morphed into a little bit of that,” Eckert said.

Eckert and a local artist work together to create the labels. Some include NASA imagery, while others include watercolor images with fruit. 

“We have a lot of beer (titles) that come from music and so we try to tie that in with our theme and with the music, especially David Bowie songs, like ‘Moonage Daydream.’ I pulled a line out, Space Face, and created this IPA around it. The label itself I created and I put this little astronaut floating in space above the earth. There’s a lightning bolt across the face of the astronaut in reference to Bowie. Not a lot of people recognize that but those that do think it’s cool.”

That kinship with beer enthusiasts is part of Four Quarters’ brand. 

“Recognition is huge. When people see it out on the shelf somewhere, especially nowadays when there’s a gazillion different cans out there, we want the art to be high quality and reflect the quality of the beer.” 

Explore Vermont breweries on the Vermont Brewers Association’s Beer Trail.