Oh're going to see this guy again.

Who knew that beer labels were such a hot topic of conversation? Last week’s Labelmania post drove our traffic through the roof. Some great comments were flowing throughout the blogosphere with a fair amount of disagreement about our selections as well as many great suggestions on breweries we missed.

So how do we follow up a post about the best packaging in the beer world? How ’bout an in-depth look at the worst labels out there?

As with our earlier post, this isn’t about individual beer labels or any one major graphic/font/design issue. This is about overall presentation and how certain breweries simply don’t showcase their wares in the most flattering manner. While many breweries on my “Best” list were actually pretty terrible (hello, Redhook!), the opposite is true in this post. Some of my favorite breweries in the world will be found below. Bad packaging has utterly no effect on the quality of a product and I’m sure most brewers would argue that they spend far too much time worrying about what’s inside the bottle to bother caring about what’s on the outside.

That’s all well and good, but if we drink with our eyes first then we certainly BUY with our eyes first too. I humbly suggest that it would behoove some of the following ale factories to put just a touch more effort into dressing up their offerings. Prettier bottles aren’t going to affect the purchasing habits of devout fans, but they COULD attract some new blood. And really, isn’t that the whole point of marketing?

As with the “Best” post, I’ve broken down my “Worst” Top 20 list into four categories: Maddeningly Inconsistent, Deadly Dull, Amateur Hour, and the Worst of the Worst. Let me quickly say that I know this list is going to be MUCH more controversial than the earlier one. Aleheads fall in love with their favorite breweries regardless of the packaging and it’s easy to convince yourself that those ugly bottles you drink every day are actually quite beautiful. They’re not. I’m sorry. Take off your blinders. The beer inside might be gorgeous, but these breweries need to give their beers a serious facelift…



20. Shipyard: Might as well start with a brewery that can’t even seem to decide on its own name. Much like when Smashing Pumpkins kept vacillating by occasionally adding the definite article “The” before their name, Shipyard is sometimes just “Shipyard” and sometimes “The Shipyard”. “The Shipyard’s” Light Ale is easily their ugliest bottle, but their other offerings (Shipyard Summer Ale, The Shipyard Longfellow Winter Ale, and the wholly inconsistent Ringwood Old Thumper which Shipyard claims as their offering but presents as if it’s a contract-brewed beer) aren’t much better. They’re last on my list because their Signature Series brews (including, coincidentally, the Smashed Pumpkin) are actually quite attractive.

The Shipyard...Shipyard...The Shipyard...Ringwood. Wait...what?
Kudos to Shipyard for at least getting these bottles right.

19. Big Sky Brewing: Since they started canning their beers, their packaging has actually improved tremendously. They’re on this list for one reason…pick a goddamn logo and stick with it!!!!

Make up your fucking mind! Aaaah!!!

18. Middle Ages: This medieval themed brewery in Syracuse seems to have taken the shotgun approach to label design. They’ve got a plethora of different fonts for their logo and beer names. They’ve got a smorgasbord of aesthetic styles for their graphics. Some labels appear to have been designed by actual graphic designers (the Druid Fluid, the Tripel Crown) while others look like they were cranked out on a Commodore 64 by a Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast. About the only measure of consistency in Middle Ages labels is that they used the same busty lass on their Wailing Wench and Double Wench labels (with the Double Wench being, naturally, even more top-heavy).

I think their design department needs to take some Ritalin.

17. Dogfish Head: I always thought of Dogfish Head as a fairly marketing-savvy outfit until I saw Brew Masters and realized that the man helming the company seems to be a 5-year-old running around throwing darts at a board. A quick glance through DFH’s line-up reveals the same sort of ADD-inspired decision-making. The Raison D’Etre looks nothing like the Raison D’Extra. The 60, 90, and 120-Minute IPAs barely resemble each other, the Midas Touch doesn’t look like it was made by the same brewery…and don’t even get me started on their large format bottles. Dogfish Head uses some cool, funky fonts and has some great label art, but you could look at an entire row of their beers at a package store and have no idea they came from the same place.

The Calagione Marketing Approach is eerily similar to his Brewing Approach.

Editor’s Note: Here’s a look at a new DFH bottle design which would immediately eliminate them from this list. Until I see it in stores, however, they’re staying right here.

Only Dogfish Head could thwart me in the middle of my own post.

16. Bell’s: What do the Hopslam, Two Hearted Ale, Oberon, Double Cream Stout, Java Stout, and the Oracle labels have in common? Absolutely nothing.

One of these things is not like the other...wait...I mean, ALL of these things are not like the others.



15. Ballast Point: Nothing sells beer better than the same exact label with a different picture of a fish on it. If I hadn’t heard from others that the Sculpin was a best-in-class IPA (and it most certainly is), I would have walked by it countless times. Even the fish look bored on the Ballast Point labels.

I swear that fish on the right is starting to nod off...

14. Green Flash: Uninspired names: Trippel! Porter! Barleywine! Imperial India Pale Ale! Wow! The exact same graphic package on everything except for color variations. A dull logo. Weak fonts. Add it all up, and you’ll be in a coma every time you walk by the Green Flash shelf in the package store.

I wonder if the Green Flash people know that you can name a beer after something other than what style it is?

13. Bar Harbor: A nice little brewery in one of the great towns in America, Bar Harbor’s labels marry the plainest text you’ve ever seen with a background image from one of Jack Handy’s Deep Thoughts segments.

If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is, "God is crying." And if he asks you why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is, "Probably because of something you did."

12. Duck-Rabbit: I thoroughly enjoy this Farmville, NC brewery’s offerings, but dear lord do they need to change their entire packaging. A brutal logo, the blandest labels I’ve ever seen, and thoroughly dull beer names do nothing to sell the great stuff in the bottles. Few breweries need to hire a Marketing Director as badly as Duck-Rabbit.

In retrospect, perhaps an illusion demonstrating the effect of gestalt organization wasn't the best choice for a logo.

11. Hoppin’ Frog: I’ll give Hoppin’ Frog this…they’re certainly consistent. Same cartoon frog carrying the same mug of beer in front of the same asymmetrical yellow rhombus. There’s no mistaking a Hoppin’ Frog beer, but every time I buy one of their brews I have the same thought: “This is the stupidest looking bottle I’ve ever seen.”

At least he's wearing a Santa hat on the Christmas beer. That's something, I suppose.



10. Rogue: I predict I’ll take some heat for this one since Rogue’s cheeky labels are beloved by many. But I’ve never found them to be anything but goofily amateurish. Most of Rogue’s labels show a cartoon of a man with his left arm raised in the air and his right arm firmly holding a mug of beer. There’s nothing wrong with their labels per se, but they just seem woefully out-of-date. Back when Rogue was first making a name for itself, the bottles seemed almost “indie”…the silly images, funny names, and “brew-it-yourself” attitude clearly set them apart. But in today’s craft beer world, with over 1,700 American breweries (and many more on the way), Rogue just seems a step or two behind. They need a fresh look and feel for their tired bottles…or at least a better artist to sketch the label art. It’s just not very good.

I know, I know...but I just don't like them. I'm sorry!

9. New Glarus: New Glarus makes some legendary beers, but you’d never know it from their bottles. More than any other brewery, New Glarus’s labels look like something you could whip up at home with some public clipart, a couple free fonts, and Microsoft Publisher. How much time do you think went into designing the Spotted Cow label? 8 seconds?

Is that cow having sex with Wisconsin?

8. Shorts: I remember getting my first bottle of delicious Huma Lupa Licious IPA and being struck by how ugly the bottle was. There’s nothing particularly egregious about the look of the bottle…it’s just…the art-work is so clearly second-rate. Look, I’m all for getting your friends involved in your business…especially when it’s a brewery. But if your friends have no artistic talent, DON’T let them design your labels! They can work the bottling line or make deliveries for you instead! Whatever you do, don’t ask them to paint a fucking magician for you! Aaaaah! It’s horrible! Look away!

I give you Exhibit A and Exhibit B, your honor. The prosecution rests.

7. Lagunitas: Their ugly dog logo needs to be sent away to a farm, but the most egregious thing about Lagunitas labels is their font choices. The Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale alone seems to have 17 fonts on the label. Most of their bottles look like they were designed by a middle-aged Mom “having fun” with Microsoft Word as she makes a Garage Sale flyer.

You know, you can BUY fonts these days! Or even design your own!

6. Bear Republic: Word of advice, Bear Republic. You might want to pay your label designer a little more money so he/she can afford something other than crayons.

Here are some Magic Markers, kids...make me some beer labels.



5. Russian River: The number one rated beer in America and what font do they choose to use for its label? Motherfucking Comic Sans. Goddammit.


4. Dark Horse: Their logo alone would put them in the Top Five. What is it? A horse? A pine cone? A Swiffer duster? But the rest of their graphics aren’t much better. Dark Horse is one of those breweries that crosses the line from “whimsical” to just plain shoddy. Actually, I kind of enjoy buying their beers in SPITE of how ugly they are. They remind me a little of the “FLIM SPRINGFIELD” ad in the Radioactive Man movie episode of the Simpsons. “All right, this place must be hot! They don’t need a big ad, or even correct spelling.” Dark Horse MUST be good…they don’t need a decent logo OR well-designed artwork! Let’s buy a bottle!

Seriously...what is that thing?
This is why you don't design your labels AFTER drinking a keg.

3. Tommyknocker: Reader Resie Rae (let’s just call her Triple R) has noted that Tommyknocker is in the process of redesigning their legendarily ugly labels. Their labels are all characterized by some sort of dwarf/miner homunculus engaged in various acts of dwarvery/minery. Like many of the breweries on this list, Tommyknocker specializes in labels that are silly without being fun and far too “busy” without being interesting. I recognize that when I tell a company they need to self-edit it’s like a pot calling a pot a pot, but the difference is that I’m giving my words of wisdom away for free (Unless you’d like to pay for them. Would you? No? Just checking.).

Who thought it was a good idea to prominently feature David the Gnome on a beer bottle?
I beg you, Tommyknocker...get these new labels on your bottles TODAY!

2. McNeill’s: If you gave patients in the traumatic head injury ward a box of colored pencils (not too sharp, of course) and asked them to draw beer labels, they’d probably come up with something a little nicer than what McNeill’s slaps on their bottles. Seriously guys…your labels are searing my retinas.

Epileptics aren't allowed to drink McNeill's.

1. Weyerbacher: Weyerbacher’s labels are a special kind of awful. In a way, they sort of embody everything bad in the world of craft beer labels. They’re wildly inconsistent. The graphics are poorly designed and executed. Their font choices are just inane (I’m fairly certain the Double Simcoe IPA uses some variation of Papyrus which is just…I mean…fuck). They all kind of look like they were drawn up in a basic Paint program on a VGA computer in the early 90s. They don’t even really seem to have a logo…just the underlined word “Weyerbacher” in perhaps the worst font choice I’ve ever seen. I remember reading about how Bill James described Pedro Martinez when he was at his peak. It wasn’t that he did any “one” thing better than anyone else…it was just that he was exceptionally good at so many different things that he was the best pitcher in baseball by a mile. That’s Weyerbacher…I can’t say they’re the “worst” offender in any particular aspect of beer marketing, but they’re just so bad at EVERYTHING, that it all adds up to the #1 spot on my rankings.

A cavalcade of horrors. Weyerbacher is the Michael Jordan of bad beer labels.

Before the Barley-Bashing commences, let me remind everyone that I enjoy beers from ALL of these breweries and some of them (Lagunitas, Russian River, Hoppin’ Frog) are amongst my all-time favorites. We can’t all be good at everything, and given the choice between a great brewery with shitty marketing or vice versa, I’ll take the former every day of the week and twice on Sundays. I just hope that some of these ale factories recognize that competition is getting fierce these days and if they want to stay on top, they should consider putting just a little bit o’ money in the ol’ marketing budget.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to drink a bottle of Weyerbacher Double Simcoe with my eyes closed. Mmm…


  1. I know Bells has been a convenient punching bag lately, but I don’t think I’d put them on the worst beer label list. They’re not the best, and they’re not really consistent, but there’s enough there that I can always recognize a Bells at first glance. Their more understated labels (Best Brown, Porter, Kalamazoo, Expedition) are really nice.

    To replace it, I recommend Smuttynose. Their labels look like they were designed at least twelve years ago.

  2. When Gramps visits the local package store with his favorite Alehead, I’m instantly overwhelmed by the sheer number available. The labels tend to run together quickly, and I find myself gravitating towards the “cool” names and styles. No idea what’s in the bottle, but if it sounds good, let’s give it a shot. It’s like asking an old guy to pick some music for a young person from a group of new bands whom the old guy has never heard of. Cool name, we’ll buy it. Not the best way to buy music, OR beer. I still like my trips with BB though.

  3. I think you have a pretty good list. That said, I’m not sure you can legitimately criticize Bell’s for being “maddeningly inconsistent” while simultaneously panning Green Flash for being “deadly dull.”

    I’ll say right off that Bell’s Double Cream Stout is a bad label.

    The other Bell’s labels fall into two general categories: the Two Hearted model and the others. Off the top of my head, I think Two Hearted and Winter White Ale have that kind of box with a graphic inside and the name printed above in an almost incongruously Roman typeface. I don’t know why Bell’s still has these, except that Two Hearted in particular is so iconic that it makes no sense to change it.

    The other Bell’s labels — Hopslam, Oberon and Java Stout, but also the Cherry Stout, Best Brown, and Christmas Ale, among others — seem perfectly complementary to me. Start with the graphic in the middle representing something about the beer (hops, summer and coffee, respectively among the three labels you pictured). There’s the Bell’s logo at the top. Finally, the title of the beer is consistently in a banner/wordart/font format that is appropriate for the contents of the bottle: bold and disheveled for the strong hoppy beer; a pretty normal, slender serif font for the summer wheat (OK, this is a stretch); and jittery-looking for the coffee stout.

    I also think you’re working off last year’s labels and some of this year’s, namely Oberon, are slightly improved.

    Ordinarily I wouldn’t argue with you that Green Flash’s labels are a little dull. Again, I don’t think you can simultaneously say that Bell’s labels are inconsistent and that Green Flash’s are too monolithic. But there’s an additional point worth making, as I suspect you know from your SoCal days: the Green Flash name and logo are a reference to the “green flash” phenomenon that occurs the moment when the sun sets over the Pacific. I think it’s utterly appropriate for every label to have the green flash icon on it.

    And yet, Green Flash is actually phasing out that label for its Belgian-style beers. Check out the new label for the Trippel, which is different from what you included above. Ditto for Le Freak. I don’t love these labels either, but they can’t be accused of being so monotone that they’re deadly dull.

    I’ll close with this: obviously this is an inherently subjective topic. For my tastes, I can appreciate a brewery that slaps ultra plain labels on its beer. It’s sort of like going to a bar where they have two beers on tap and serve free hot dogs. (Mmm, Calamari’s Tavern…) There’s a time and place for simplicity and so I respect the Russian River label, even though I agree I would have gone with a slightly different font.

    Font?! We’re talking about the fonts of beer labels??? Just shoot me.

  4. You made a mistake with the Bear Republic labels, Red Racer IPA is brewed by Central City Brewery in British Columbia.

  5. I knew somebody was going to point that out. I’ve made the same mistake a million times, though.

  6. I can legitimately criticize anything I want. It’s a blog…

    I expect that Bell’s, DFH, and Rogue will be the most challenged breweries on this list and rightly so. Their labels are beloved by many and this is, as you say, an EXTREMELY subjective list. But I think it’s OK to hold a brewery like Bell’s to a different standard when it comes to marketing. First of all, they have a LOT more money than most craft brewers (witness their $52 million expansion) which means I assume they actually have a legit marketing department. Plus, with the legal maneuvers they’ve made in recent years, they’re clearly very sensitive about their brand.

    None of Bell’s labels are particularly egregious, but I simply find them simultaneously drab yet all over the map. I really don’t like the Two Hearted packaging. It’s a bland picture of a fish, a lame font, and there’s no real color or visual interest. You’d also have NO idea which brewery made the beer by looking at the bottle which is just bad marketing. As for the Hopslam, while it’s a cute idea (man being crushed by giant hop flower), the image is oddly pixelated and funky like they took a too-small JPEG and blew it up. That’s fine for a cheap-ass beer blog, but not so good for a major craft brewer.

    I also think the owl graphic on the Brown sucks, the Double Cream is (as you said) just bad, and I’ve never been a fan of the Third Coast or dated looking Winter White. But that’s just, like, my opinion man.

  7. Though I agree that there’s something incongruous about following up a “Maddeningly Inconsistent” list with a “Deadly Dull” list of breweries that are TOO consistent.

    I guess I’m looking for a happy medium. I like breweries that vary things up enough that you can clearly tell the difference between their offerings but not SO much that you don’t know which brewery the beer came from. I think a lot of the breweries on my Top 20 list do that well (Left Hand, Great Divide and O’Dell’s are masters at this).

  8. Triple R, ‘eh? I’ll go with that. I am a redhead, so it works. LOL

    As for bad labels, I’ve got one I absolutely hate, and I’m not quite sure why. Boulder Brewing’s Planet Porter- is it the shitty chalk quality I hate? Or is it supposed to be a mix of watercolor & chalk? Whatever- it SUCKS. Maybe it’s the telescope on a fugly blanket in the foreground? Or perhaps the kid quality of the night sky- blue-ish background. Check! Splattered white dots for stars. Check! Uck! I mean, really? With the plethora of pictures of space available, they couldn’t come up with a better night sky? If they’re gonna do a chalk like drawing, they should hire Julian “Chalk Man” Beever – he’s phenomenal! The label on Boulder’s Buffalo Gold ain’t much better. Judas Priest, people! Quit making shitty labels that make me want to tear my hair out!

    As for the Lagunitas labels, my rep that distributes their beer tells me they’re all stoners, so that explains a lot. But they do make damn good beer! At least their stoner ADD doesn’t extend to their brewing abilities, & thank the beer gods for that!

  9. Just to add an extra nail in the Weyerbacher coffin, their labels are made of the same sort of material that you’d use on bumper stickers. Not a paper label, but some shiny plastic that’s nearly impossible to get off if you’re cheap like me and want to reuse the 22oz bottle for homebrew. Southern Tier uses the same type of labeling but for some reason their bottles aren’t quite as shiny and cheap looking. Weyerbacher’s labels look like something you’d order out of a catalog if you wanted to bottle up your own beer for Christmas presents. Peel off the back and stick em’ on.

  10. I agree with your assessment of the Weyerbacher look; I just wanted to join in on the adulation for Double Simcoe IPA. That is a fantastic beer, don’t miss a chance to try it if you are an IPA fan.

  11. FOR SHAME! Duckrabiit is out of FARMVILLE in the EASTERN NC NOT ASHVILLE NC … I guess the label was so bad you didn’t read it?

  12. Definitely, Dave. Weyerbacher makes some spectacular beers and the Double Simcoe is just delicious. But I swear that’s some version of Papyrus on the label…

    I’d also like to point out that Dogfish Head Pangaea doesn’t just “kind of” use Papyrus…the beer name is written in straight-up, no-question Papyrus.

    Why is this a problem? Ask any graphic designer which fonts are the most over-used and unattractive and the first two that EVERY ONE of them will say are Comic Sans and Papyrus (with Copperplate also high in the running).

  13. Interesting look at some labels. A few pieces of info that you may not be aware of, though it may not change your mind about anything, but it’s worth knowing:

    1. Rogue: That’s not just some random “cartoon of a man” but is their head brewer John Maier. The others are specific, and very real, people whose appearance on the label is because they have something to do with that particular beer.

    2. Lagunitas: All of the Lagunitas labels are designed by owner Tony Magee.

    3. Bear Republic: Ditto, Owner Rich Norgrove does all of their labels.

  14. Thanks, J. I knew #1…Maier is obviously a legend in the craft beer world. Didn’t know #2 or #3 though…thanks for those chestnuts.

    Doesn’t change my opinion of their labels, but I think it sheds some light on a key aspect of why these breweries might not have the best “marketing”. When you’re a small craft brewer and you have to do everything from bottling to quality control to balancing the books to label design, you can’t really afford a professional graphic designer.

    Truthfully, I don’t care if Lagunitas just writes the names of their offerings with a Sharpie on the bottles…I’m still going to drink everything they make. The only reason I want them to have nicer labels is so that newbies who have no idea which beer to buy at a well-stocked package store will gravitate towards their offerings. Honestly, if I hated a brewery, I really wouldn’t care what their labels looked like. The breweries on this list are ones I happen to like a lot. I want them to put more effort into marketing so that they can stay competitive in an increasingly over-crowded industry.

  15. I’m a graphic designer and a craft beer lover. These two qualities are rarely mutually exclusive. Creative types love to drink. Small (read: local distribution) craft brewers might be wise to cultivate relationships with a local designer or two to solicit ideas, or to perhaps barter – that’s right, barter! – for advice or art.

    Bigger brewers – most on this list, and Bell’s and Rogue in particular – have no excuse. If you’re putting your best work IN those bottles, you should be putting equally praiseworthy work ON them (or what kind of box they’re wrapped in).

    Judging a book by its cover is completely in practice here; plenty of people are going to form their initial opinion based on their reaction to packaging. Amateur, obfuscatory or just plain eye-bugging art isn’t the way to do it.

  16. Huzzah! Someone that actually knows about this shit agrees with me (sort of)! I feel vindicated (sort of)!

    Great points, Doc Orlando. Considering how many out-of-work graphic designers I know right now, I suspect that an up-and-coming brewery could acquire a freelancer for peanuts. In response to J’s earlier point, in a way I think it’s cool that Tony Magee and Rich Norgrove do the label art for Lagunitas and Bear Republic respectively. It’s their vision and they certainly have the right to dictate the branding. But everyone can’t be great at everything. Tony and Rich are clearly fabulous brewers…I just think they could use the services of someone like Doc Orlando and his ilk when it comes to marketing.

  17. I’m a designer as well, and although I agree that many of the brews on this page are nowhere near as well-branded/well-designed as their counterparts on the previous Labelmania post. Out of fairness, though, I do have to point out that displaying the labels out of context doesn’t really make for a fair comparison – in some cases, variation in label composition may be borne out a bit better by the presence of a consistent neckband, the color of the bottle, or just the inherent ‘whitespace’ provided by the bottle itself. Inconsistent design might make more sense when the brewer knows their bottles won’t be displayed side-by-side – it’s a question if they’re marketing the beer or the brand.

    In any case, Russian River usually does pretty well with branding, at least on their taps. Perhaps someone on staff knew that Comic Sans is the font choice of K-5 teachers and tried to make a play for some misguided classroom metaphor to highlight the ‘Younger’. But really, this beer is too brilliant for that kind of treatment – leave the irony to the PBR drinking hipsters.

    Even though I view the world through a designer’s eye, I’d prefer an unimaginative label any day… actually, I’ll even prefer a horribly designed label*, so long as it’s attached to a fantastic brew.

    * so long as the label features neither celery nor Christopher Walken, because no matter how brilliant, one beer cannot wash away the heebie-jeebies.

  18. Soychicka…you’re certainly not alone in finding fault with my “worst beer labels” post. I’m clearly not a designer and don’t have a designer’s eye. These selections were based on my gut reactions to the labels I see in package stores. While I generally choose new beers based on the reputation of the brewery and the style of the beer, a pretty bottle can certainly be the x-factor in getting me to purchase a brew. My “categories” in this post are admittedly misleading. As a number of people pointed out, it’s hypocritical to complain that one brewery is repetitive and boring while another is wildly inconsistent. I should have just ignored the categories altogether and just explained that these breweries simply don’t do a good job showcasing the great products inside the bottles. The beer is the most important thing, and in that regard, these breweries all do a helluva job.

    I suspect you would NOT enjoy my latest homebrew which has a picture of Christopher Walken picking his teeth with a celery stalk on the label. I call it my “Walken Stalkin’ Stout”. I brew it with celery salt and a cold, hard pocket-watch.

    1. “I suspect you would NOT enjoy my latest homebrew which has a picture of Christopher Walken picking his teeth with a celery stalk on the label. I call it my “Walken Stalkin’ Stout”. I brew it with celery salt and a cold, hard pocket-watch.”

      This is great! Ahaha….where’s the pic?
      That would definitely stick out on the shelf…hopefully in a good way.

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