When you’re just one bottle in a sea of craft beers, what you depict on the outside needs to be as big and bold as the brew itself.
In San Diego – the craft beer capital of America – good beer is everywhere, which means eye-catching packaging is almost as important as a satisfying mouthfeel. The city’s craft breweries pay extra attention to their label art, bringing in expert artists, not only because they want to stand out from the crowd, but also because they have stories to tell. After all, when you wait years to crack open a barrel, you want the outside of the bottle (or can) to reflect the artistry, the sense of expectation, and the sheer magic of the beer-making alchemy. Here are a few of our favorites from across iconic San Diego craft breweries.
Death of a Brewer Stout, 32 North Brewing Co.
The name behind this stout – loaded with caramel, chocolate, and vanilla flavors – came from the brewery’s running joke that they almost “died” from making it. Not literally. They just mean that the act of aging the stout in bourbon barrels for one year – their first-ever barrel release
– was so difficult in comparison to their clean beers (which they have more control over), it “practically killed them to get it just right,” says Steve Peterson, owner of 32 North. So when it came to designing the label, Corona-based illustrator and graphic designer Bryce Reyes decided to pay tribute to that struggle by depicting a withered skull adorned in a Russian military helmet – as it is a Russian imperial stout that they had to seriously soldier through.
Coast Wise Session IPA, Coronado Brewing Co.
While this beer’s merman character – hand sketched by local graphic designer Shawn Ritzenthaler – goes hand in hand with Coronado Brewing Co.’s mermaid logo, its message goes a bit deeper. “That’s actually Poseidon depicted on the can,” says Melody Crisp, director of marketing for the brewery. Why Poseidon? Because he’s known as the protector of the sea, and a portion of the proceeds from this bright and bitter beer go to the Surfrider Foundation, a San Clemente–based grassroots nonprofit environmental organization that works to protect and preserve the world’s oceans, waves, and beaches.
Buena Vista IPA, Booze Brothers Brewing Co.
The owners and brewers behind Booze Brothers, Dave and Donny Firth, grew up in Vista (located in northwestern San Diego County), concocting their first beers in their home garage before opening an official brewery in a business park down the road. Therefore, this IPA is something of a homage to their hometown as it is named after and depicts a local landmark: Buena Vista. “It’s a widely used street here, as well as a park with an amazing view” – buena vista meaning “good view” in Spanish – “that many of us grew up going to,” says Kris Anacleto, the brewery’s manager. To get at the “good view” aspect, the brewery’s resident artist, Ben Horton, illustrated the landmark’s beautiful mountainous and tree-lined landscape overseen by one giant eye.
Fathom IPA, Ballast Point Brewing Company
The front of the Fathom IPA can features a map of Ballast Point peninsula extending into San Diego Bay; on the back is a diver in an old-fashioned helmet, which resident artist Paul Elder originally painted for the Fathom IPL label. A fathom is a unit of length equal to six feet, typically used in reference to the depth of water – and the inside joke among the Ballast Point team is that the Fathom IPA has exactly six percent ABV, along with “just the right depth” of flavor.
All about That Base, California Wild Ales
The little creatures you see adorning the various sour beers, as well as the walls of the brewery’s rustic wood-lined tasting room, came from the mind and pen of Bill DeWitt, one of the three owners of the operation that specializes in barrel-aged and blended wild ales. “There are three main bacteria and yeast strains that we use when creating our signature sours: brettanomyces, lactobacillus, and pediococcus,” says DeWitt. “So I figured it would only make sense to turn these important components of our beers into little ‘Wilding’ characters.” In the process, you get a little lesson in brew science, too: Brettanomyces (who they just call “Brett”) is the microbe responsible for funk; lactobacillus (aka “Lacto”) is a bacteria responsible for a tangy, clean, sour taste; and pediococcus (aka “Pedio”) is a bacteria contributing other funky aromas and flavors to the mix.