The Session – Brew Zoo – Working with Ralph Steadman and Designing New Labels for Flying Dog Brewery
This is my first crack at “The Session”, where one day per month a plethora of beer bloggers white about a common topic. This month’s Beer Blogger Friday is devoted to beer labels with animals on them, and is called The Brew Zoo. Rick over at Lyke 2 Drink got to come up with this month’s topic. Being the Creative Manager at Flying Dog, I am in a unique position to talk about what I do for a living for this month’s session. If you know about us, you’ll know that most every style we have has an amazing illustration of an animal (Woody Creek White, Gonzo Imperial Porter, and our limited release Wild Dog being the only exceptions).
We’re very lucky to have Ralph Steadman illustrations on all of our bottles. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last 35 years, Ralph Steadman is one of the world’s most recognizable illustrators who worked closely with his friend Hunter S. Thompson.
I had just started working at Flying Dog last year when Ralph came to town to promote his book “The Joke’s Over”, a memoir about his relationship with Hunter. After watching his presentation (complete with over a hundred slides) in Downtown Denver, a few brewery employees went out with Ralph and his wife for a few drinks. There I got to talk to him for a little while as he related a few choice stories to us about hanging out with Hunter. Getting to meet Ralph better helped me to understand where his artistic style, cynical humor and sharp wit was coming from.
My time around Ralph inspired me, big time. When I was hired, one of the projects the brewery wanted me to tackle was a redesign of our labels. I was eager to keep the spirit of Ralph’s illustrations while better organizing and standardizing the label content. Due to circumstances beyond our control, the project took longer than expected, but our new labels are in the process of being printed, and with any luck they’ll start appearing on shelves before November 1. Below is our redesigned label for Doggie Style, our Classic Pale Ale.
You’ll notice similarities between this dog and our logo, as it plays a large part in the inception of the brewery. Rather than relating this story to you myself, please watch this video of brewery co-founder George Stranahan explaining where the Flying Dog came from (click the below image to start the video):
Since we’ve got the word “Dog” in our brewery name, it makes sense that many of our labels feature dogs on them. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill pooches, though. Many of his illustrations are mythical beasts related to the dog. The character on our Horn Dog Barley Wine is part Rhinoceros, part dog, part T-Rex. To me, this is the most wonderful illustration that we’re currently using on our labels. That is to say, amongst the labels we’ve got on shelves today. We have a few things up our sleeves that you’ll just have to wait to find out about.
The process in which we work with Ralph is relatively simple. We determine a style and then a name. Ralph lives in England, so we email him our general thoughts. Within a few weeks Ralph emails us a high-resolution JPEG which we then review. If we have any changes (which is extremely rare), we write Ralph back and he sends us finalized work. I then trim out the background in Photoshop and place the artwork into our label template. The non-traditional look of our labels makes them unique in the beer world. These aren’t symmetrical, centered, and certainly aren’t boring. Our labels give our beers a personality of their own, and we think of them not merely as pieces of paper affixed to a glass bottle, but as art themselves.